BABY YOGA? You must be joking, how on earth can babies do yoga? Surely this is unnatural and dangerous, one of these yoga fads that discredits yoga as a reputable ancient practice brought to the West by famous Gurus after years in their Himalayan caves. Babies are not on ascetics’ radars nor even under them.
But they had mothers, sisters and perhaps daughters, women who massaged babies to help them grow strong and beautiful in a tradition going back to the dawn of humanity. In India, until recently, massage strokes and rhythmical movements akin to yoga were part of baby care in homes across social and religious divides.
At Birthlight, we have renewed the connection with the nurturing home practices in which Yoga and Ayurveda are anchored in tandem. Breath, touch, voice, relaxation in close contact develop confidence, trust and mutual understanding between parents and their new babies.
Over and above anything, in par with milk, babies need to be greeted, acknowledged, celebrated: loved on their terms.
Baby Yoga gathers embodied practices that modernity has caused us to reject or neglect. We start with what we call ‘relaxed handling’, finding ease and comfort in the ways we hold, lift, lower, and carry babies. Installing a baby in a car seat, walking upstairs or downstairs with a babe-in-arms and even changing a nappy can be done not just mindfully but with relaxed gestures that can make all the difference, as they are repeated day in, day out.
Isn’t the purpose of yoga to develop our self-awareness so that gradually we reduce stress-building patterns, we breathe more freely, relax and sleep more deeply, are more present in our interactions? If there is one relationship that is likely to push all our buttons at once, it’s the unknown terrain of learning to care for a newborn baby. But if we let them, babies can be our best gurus, teachers of unconditional love and masters of incomparable ‘Infant Joy’ whenever we get it right.
I did not invent this. I was not taught by yogi but by Amazonian Indigenous parents whose parenting culture is one of attentive gentleness throughout the region. But I recognised the principles of yoga, and since the global urban culture most of us have babies in is open to yoga, it seemed important to get off the mat and “remember’ ancient body rhythms. We still own these rhythms, deep in our body memory. Setting these rhythms free in connection with babies is BABY YOGA.
Whether parents are in a paternal or maternal role or both, discovering and accompanying in wonderment how babies grow by attuning to them is a special privilege. Newborns show us how they continue their foetal movements after birth and use them to create their earthlings’ spinal curves. Movement integrates babies’ senses and nervous system in delight, provided it’s age appropriate. Relaxation is key to infant feeding and once babies can feed well, feeding relaxation can ease daily tasks with a restorative, energy renewing practice.
Don’t mothers need Postnatal Yoga? They certainly do, but if Postnatal Yoga classes separate from rather than connect them with their babies, something goes amiss. With a little imagination and flexibility, postnatal yoga can be inclusive and transformative with mutual benefits for mother and baby.
BABY YOGA reconnects us to the roots of Yoga. By learning to nurture the miracle of life with each new baby, we access the spring of spirituality in a humble, physical, practical way that does away with any pretence and self-delusion. Day by day, babies smile more, showing us how we are on the path.
Birthlight Tutor & Founder
Dr Françoise Freedman is the Founder and Director of Birthlight. She is a pioneer, Senior Yoga Teacher, acclaimed writer and lecturer of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. More>>