Relaxing jointly with your baby triples benefits. You relax, (s)he relaxes,
the two of you relax together. Relaxation is an essential part of all yoga
practice: it integrates breath and movement and enlivens the subtle energies
of the body. It is a skill that your baby acquires for life, at a time when her
nervous system is at its most receptive. The earlier you start relaxing with your
newborn baby, the easier it is to experience the benefits of joint relaxation and
the more profound these benefits can be.
Start with awareness, add mindfulness: you are doing yoga. Like anything in yoga, relaxation is all to do with regular practice and its cumulative effects that ancient sages in India have documented a very long time agoDon’t think that you are going to wave a magic wand to make your baby relax. You, the parent, are going to take the lead, first as an observer and then as a doer. But all the steps are easy, enjoyable and rewarding. Worth trying?
Your baby relaxes, so you relax…
First, watch how your baby relaxes naturally. All babies do… After a bath or a satisfying feed, you feel him getting warm in your arms. His breathing becomes more even, all tension is gradually released from his little body as he surrenders to sleep. Stay with the sensations of this transition state. You are connected. Take a moment to feel how your baby’s letting go makes you feel. Most other things can wait. Your self-awareness opens a space of ‘joint relaxation’. If you have tried ‘skin to skin’ with your newborn, you already know that this is a space of coherence and attunement. A physical space of non-doing and togetherness that helps babies grow and parents to recharge their batteries.
After you have familiarised yourself enough with the experience of watching/feeling your baby relax – it may take a few days or a couple of weeks, not more – the art of joint relaxation is there for you to make this happen at any time. But how?
You relax, so your baby relaxes…
Surely you have already noticed that when you are calm, your baby is easier to care for.
She responds directly to your mood and your state of being. Calmness does not last
long as babies cry loud and fret when they get tired, hungry, needy, angry too if misunderstood. Their crying is designed to to get you to respond to them in a state of high alert. Nerves get fraught. The idea of a nice yoga relaxation lying down on a mat could
not seem further away from the now. But there are other ways of relaxing. At Birthlight, we recommend starting with simple Instant Relaxation practices that are easy to do for any parents while caring for newborns.
Here are three body-based practices you can try:
For each of them, you need to have physical contact with your baby even if it’s just placing one hand on their body. You can be in any position.
- Close your eyes-open your eyes x 3 times, with breath awareness
Close your eyes for a few seconds, making sure you are safe where you are. You go within, the world is out there, remote. Sounds become more perceptible. Your baby is here, close, quiet or crying. Open your eyes: you are back in the here and now. It’s demanding, but do not do anything. Close your eyes again. Go deeper within. The world is all around you. It feels more familiar. Open your eyes once more. You are definitely here and so is your baby.
As you close your eyes for a third time, you go within, but it does not feel so far away. And when you open your eyes again, you feel a strange but pleasant balance between going inwards and being out there in the world with your baby. In between closing and opening your eyes, you have experienced relaxation. Check how you feel after repeating this practice a few times and check how your baby responds over time. Check how your breath has changed without you doing anything to change it.
- Walking-breathing-relaxation with babies
Most babies love rhythms and most non-Western people use rhythms more than we do in baby care. In this practice we combine simple walking steps and breathing awareness to relax while carrying a baby in arms or in a sling. Indoors or outdoors, only a small space is needed. Inhale over 2 steps forward, exhale over 2 steps backwards. Find your rhythm, slow, medium, faster, following your baby’s response and your inclination. It’s a walking dance. Stand still and breathe for a couple of breath cycles, then start again. Perhaps try 3 steps forwards and 3 steps backwards, if you don’t get out of breath. Stop, breathe, start again. You have created a space of joint relaxation through shared rhythm, synchrony.
- Feeding relaxation
Baby feeding takes a lot of time through days and nights. Even in the early weeks, when feeding can be challenging in all sorts of ways for both mother and baby, instant relaxation can make a difference. As you prepare to feed your baby, exhale with a long haahhh. Then twice more. After 3 long voiced haahh exhalations, you have accessed your parasympathetic nervous system and all the benefits of the calmness mode. Oxytocin, the hormone that facilitates the ‘let down’ reflex for the milk to start flowing through breasts, is released in your bloodstream. With shoulders dropped, lower jaw relaxed, you are ready not just to nurture your baby as you feed him but to receive nurture from the process. Dads and bottle-feeding mums also release oxytocin by doing this instant relaxation. Oxytocin keeps woes and worries at bay for a moment of interactive nurture. Over time, these precious moments become a way of being, creating an even keel through the inevitable ups and downs of baby care.
Beyond exasperation and exhaustion, joint relaxation with babies helps us access the deeper levels of feeling that lie under the fluctuations of day to day emotions and energy. When we access deep rest, it is easier to also access a space of acceptance and unconditional love. Nurture and self-nurture are blended into one. Joint relaxation with babies is a treat, the best kept secret of early parenting.
If you are interested in learning more about this please consider our training course, Yoga Relaxation Techniques for Parent & Baby