How to Learn Yoga From a Baby
While learning to crawl, sit, stand up, walk, run, and climb, babies and toddlers perform many movements and positions very similar to yoga asanas. We can observe, and play with babies and toddlers at ground level, in a physical conversation to discover two things:
- Babies and little children can teach us the basics of Yoga.
- Children prove the benefits of hanging upside down.
The next very short, but so charming video illustrates the first point. Later we examine gravity inversion as a means of combatting the constant downward pushing force of gravity.
The Origins of Human Movement Behavior
Why Are Human Babies so Helpless at Birth?
The reason humans babies are so helpless at birth, compared to other mammals, is due to the huge size of a human brain. A large brain requires a large skull. After a longer gestation period than nine months, the baby's skull would be too large to pass through the birth canal. So even though a human baby could do with much more time in its mother’s womb, to get ready to come into the world, if its head grew any bigger, it would not be able to come out. This is why, for a further six to nine months after birth, a human baby is in the so-called “in-arm” phase. A bit like a kangaroo baby, a human baby has to be held all the time until its body is strong enough to learn to move on its own.
From birth onwards, all humans embark upon a long and intense period of physical training. The first thing a baby has to learn to do, is to hold the head up without it falling down all over the place. And that is just the beginning!
Holding the Head Up
The proportionate size of an adult’s head is 1/7th of our entire whole body height. The head of a newborn baby, on the other hand, is about 1/4 of its whole body size. So there you are, just born, compared to an adult, your head is the size of a giant pumpkin. Now you've got to train your tiny little neck muscles to hold that thing up, without it falling off your shoulders. Just learning to hold the head up takes about two to three weeks of hard, intensive, and sometimes painful training, eventually leading to walking upright as defined by human evolution.
Evolution of Human Body Movements
The development of human motion in a Darwinian sense began from
- climbing trees to standing, to cave dwelling and
- running upright to escape from predators
- while carrying a baby or a weapon
In this way, humans developed quite a unique vocabulary of movement.
Try These for Some Yoga Asanas!
Turning Out Hip Joints
If, for example, you want to do the Lotus position, start with the simple tailor-sit you enjoyed as a baby who just learned to sit. Getting off chairs and using the floor is a good idea. Just copy the baby. Sit on the floor, knees bent, feet together, straight back, and bring the knees to the floor. If your knees don't reach the floor, place little cushions under them for support. Later, when you are looser, take the cushions away.
It now becomes clear that the basics of yoga coincide with natural, inborn positions and movements for most economic and efficient physical behavior. My little friend Ana proved this point when she dropped in for a short game of yoga to our mutual benefit as shown in the next video. Oh, how I enjoyed her loosening my upper back at 4:21!
Playing Yoga With Anna to Stay Fit
What About Balance?
Standing, Walking, Climbing, and Running
Before a baby learns how to stand upright to walk, it has to perform thousands of deep squats. A nine-month old little athlete, grunts and puffs for strength in its legs to get up and find balance.
They never give up until they can walk, run, skip, and jump. Why does this drive for moving ever have to stop?
Now imagine you are a little toddler again, and you climb your first stairs. Do you realize that those first steps you climbed were giant steps, reaching up as far as your thigh?
Could you do that today? Climbing thigh-high steps requires humongous effort from the thigh muscles. Try climbing stairs, three steps at a time!
The Fight Against Gravity
Downward Dog Pose - Gravity Inversion
Why Do Children Love to Hang Upside Down?
Children often know instinctively what is good for their bodies. We always have a special treat at the end of a children's dance class. I, the teacher, pick up each child, by their ankles and hang them upside down; one at a time, of course.
They love hanging upside down because it helps them stretch, relax and grow; it reverses gravity, and takes the weight off their little growing bones.
Similarly, in yoga, the plow, candle, headstand and handstand are all inversion poses that aim for the same results: most beneficial for circulation, balance and increased brain power.
Children love hanging upside down so much, they keep asking "again, again!". After picking up each child in the class to hang them upside down, I got very tired. I sometimes even got a backache. Then I wished some giant could pick me up by the ankles and shake me loose from all the heavy lifting. How could that be achieved?
Discovering Gravity Inversion
Then, to my delight, I discovered the Gravity Inversion Table which does just that for adults! I purchased a Gravity Inversion Table immediately and have been using it about once a week for 10 minutes for many years. I never suffered with back pain, a stiff neck or tight shoulders ever since.
As you can see on the next video, the ankles are firmly held in a padded clamp. A slight raising of the arms controls the downward angle towards hanging completely upside down. Both the Yoga Swing and the Gravity Inversion Table allow gentle traction in the opposite direction to the norm. Gentle traction against the constant downward pulling force of gravity is exhilarating. How come? Just like children, adult bodies too enjoy instant relief from gravity once in awhile.
Benefits of Gravity Inversion
This is what I have learned from using my Teeter Gravity Inversion Table over many years: hanging upside down is extremely beneficial to the body.
The benefits of hanging upside down are:
- a great sense of decompression,
- a feeling of being lighter
- straighter, and
- a lot more relaxed
Gravity Inversion is an excellent way of preventing and curing back ache, neck and shoulder tension, and getting rid of stiffness in all the joints. Relax, stretch out, grow, rest, and boost your circulation. You come off taller, lighter and upbeat.
Children Are Good Movers - Learn From Them
Children can move in so many mysterious ways. Just spend one hour in a room, or on a grass field in the park playing with a lively one-year-old, and copy all its movements. Observe the positions, and, with proper breathing, you are doing yoga free of charge. The experience will give you the best workout you will ever have. Then consider that you, yourself, used to move like that baby when you were his/her age. Some of your original agility will return. It is never too late to increase your movement vocabulary for greater health, comfort and strength, so go for it at the next opportunity!
Which Baby Asanas Shown Above Can You Do?
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The Plank Pose on Tip of Big Toes!
How many of the asanas pictured above can you do? How did you score in the Quiz? And those are only a few examples. I hope that “How to Learn Yoga from a Baby” has been a bit of an eye-opener for you. By watching and copying your baby you can discover many more variations. Go on, get up, make some space and try some of the frolics your kids get up to, just for the fun of it, and please put your questions for discussion and share your discoveries in a comment.
© 2012 Juliette Kando