Babies are born with spines in a “c” curve. They have been furled into fetal position, not unlike a fiddlehead fern in the spring. Like the fiddlehead unfurls with time and growth turning into a lovely full, upright, and open fern leaf, the human baby, with time, and an innate blueprint of movement patterns that involve pushing, pulling, and reaching, will develop the necessary cervical, thoracic, and lumbar curves of the spine that are the internal architecture allowing humans to be the only bipedal vertical mammal on this planet. The centerline and midline of the body also form as the infant spine develops along with the vestibular and proprioceptive senses that involve balance and a sense of where our body is in space. The nervous system, which is very immature at birth, operating tens times slower than the adult nervous system, learns to regulate, and the brain grows 85% of its full capacity in the first year after birth! There is no doubt about it; babies are very busy as they develop into vertical human beings! They work hard to learn to lift up their heads, which are a great deal bigger than their bottoms! They follow their senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch to explore their strong curiosity about their new world outside of the womb. They learn to find movement that follows the reach of their senses so that they can touch, feel, taste, smell, see, hear, and grasp. Babies have distinct cries to let us know their needs; hunger, burping, gas, sleep, and the need to be moved and settled. They try desperately to communicate with the adults who care for them. They are sentient beings who have been learning a great deal in the womb and have preferences and imprints already formed before they are born. They have learned a great deal from their fetal womb life from their mothers, and also from their other parent.
Babies’ developmental movement patterns take them through a natural sequence that, when encouraged and supported, enables them to find their way to an aligned seated “mountain” pose using their sit bones like their “first feet” to push down into the ground defying gravity while elongating their spine and rising upwards. This an equal and opposite force, or “yoga,” union of actions! When we see babies sitting this way, they look fully present and focused, open, and calm…like little Buddha’s! This is so much like what adults who practice meditation and yoga, are trying to attain themselves! Babies’ movement patterns to arrive independently in aligned vertical sitting, or standing, are all foundational yoga poses! Perhaps the original yogis practiced by observing babies! Let’s consider the general order of developmental movement patterns that develop the spinal curves, muscle strength, feed the curiosity of the senses, and help establish the foot bones. All of them together encompass backbends, forward bends, side stretches, chest openers, twists, balance, alignment, breathing, integration, and rest!
It is a true wonder that all of these actions are contained within an inherent movement “blueprint!” Babies need floor time and playful encouragement and support to move through these patterns. It is beneficial for the adult caregivers and older siblings to get down on the floor with babies and engage in these actions too! Health spines for all! But what are some ways we adults can use yoga to help the babies who are adjusting to enormous changes from the self contained womb world where their needs were met automatically to their new world post birth that involves learning to breath, suckle, digest, eliminate, deal with gravity, settle the nervous system and regulate, have the senses more deeply engaged, and so much more? Here is the yoga we can offer to the babies for helping their nervous systems, for soothing, settling, and experiencing joy which helps release more oxytocin, the growth and love hormone!
Babies offer us so much in regards to asana practice. We can offer babies the practices of yoga that relate to being in the world off the yoga mat. Pranayama, Chanting, Aligning, and being Responsive.
Ellynne Skove, MA, E-RYT, LCAT, NCC, BC-DMT, RPP is a licensed movement therapist and nationally certified counselor with a focus on pre and perinatal psychology and health. Her work of 30 years is informed by dance/movement therapy, yoga, Orff music education, Body/Mind Centering, Dynamic Anatomy/Topf Technique, improvisational dance, Polarity therapy, and somatic trauma healing. Ellynne has served as a supervisor to graduate students of dance therapy, taught professional development trainings in the US and internationally, and has had her work published in professional journals. She is the Founder and Director of GoGo Babies and True North Wellness where she works with families and individuals from pre-conception onwards. Ellynne has developed and directed movement therapy programs for numerous schools and theraputic nurseries in New York City.