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How to Learn Yoga From Your Baby or Toddler (the Child Becomes the Teacher)

Ex dancer, choreologist, and fitness expert. Author of The Kand Technique, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.

Happy-baby-pose also called Ananda balasana

Happy-baby-pose also called Ananda balasana

Any parent who knows a little about yoga will agree that many of the movements made by babies and toddlers are very similar to yoga asanas. From a choreologist's point of view this is not surprising since, upon analysis, yoga is very closely related to human movement development from birth onward.

This article explains the origins of human movement and demonstrates many naturally inborn baby and toddler yoga moves. While playing with your child you can copy those moves. Treat the child as your teacher. Together you can enjoy playing and discovering yoga as a fun and entertaining way to get fit.

A Movement Conversation With Ana

My little friend Ana dropped in one cold winter morning 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 With Your Child at Ground Level

Instead of sweating it out at the gym, why not just play with your child at ground level in a physical conversation to discover three things:

  • Babies and little children can teach us the basics of yoga.
  • Children prove the benefits of hanging upside down.
  • Your body has done all this before.

As soon as you start learning yoga from your child, the muscular system begins to remember long-forgotten moves from the days you yourself were a baby, then a toddler, exploring the wonders of human movement capabilities. How blissful was this very short pre-school time, before you, like all other children in formal education, were told to "sit still and behave." From then on we all became bound for life to chairs, tables, and desks. Here is a unique opportunity to re-live that wonderful youthful, carefree and happy time with your baby or toddler.

The Correlation Between Baby/Toddler Moves and Yoga

To understand the correlation between baby/toddler moves and yoga let us go back and look at early child development from a movement perspective. But first, watch the next charming video (50 seconds) of the toddler teaching a whole class of clumsy adults.

Early Child Development

Learning to Move Is Not That Easy for a Baby

From birth on, all humans embark upon a long and intense period of physical training comparable to the intensity of the training of an athlete. We all know and accept the fact that the movement vocabulary, fitness level, and endurance of children by far exceed the physical capabilities of adults, but why should this be so? In so-called "primitive" or non-urbanized societies this is not (yet) the case.

Origin of Human Movement Behavior

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.

Evolving this way, humans developed quite a unique and technically challenging vocabulary of movement. Re-learning kids' moves helps to become agile and comfortable at all levels of action. Be it squatting, crawling, climbing or hanging, jumping or running. Coincidentally or possibly devised by really wise people, many yoga asanas represent basic positions needed to achieve such a rich movement vocabulary that small children possess naturally. The amazing thing is that kids do it automatically and with great ease. It may be time for us to find our physical inner child?

What a big heavy head the baby has to learn to carry!

What a big heavy head the baby has to learn to carry!

Holding the Head Up

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! The proportionate size of an adult’s head is 1/7th of full body height. The head of a newborn baby, on the other hand, is about 1/4 of its whole body size. So imagine, 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 rolling down your shoulders. Just learning to hold the head up takes about two to three weeks of hard, intensive, and sometimes painful training.

More Training

While learning to crawl, sit, stand up, walk, run, and climb, babies and toddlers perform many movements and positions very similar to yoga asanas.

Try These for Some Yoga Asanas!

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.

There is no reason why adults should lose the mobility they once enjoyed as children.

There is no reason why adults should lose the mobility they once enjoyed as children.

Yoga Moves to Try

The above four asanas (yoga poses) are from left to right:

  1. W-sitting (Virasana)
  2. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
  3. Shoulderstand/Candle (Sarvangasana)
  4. Cobbler or Tailor Pose (Baddha Konasana)

Standing, Walking, Climbing, and Running

Before a baby learns how to stand upright to walk, they have to perform thousands of deep squats, most of which fail and end up plonking their butt on the floor. A nine-month-old little athlete grunts and puffs for strength to get up and to find balance.

They never give up until they can walk, run, skip, and jump. Why does this drive for moving ever have to stop?

What about balance? Don't fall over with that heavy head!

What about balance? Don't fall over with that heavy head!

Climbing Stairs for a Toddler Is No Mean Feat!

To understand the full impact of how much effort a small child needs to exert to climb stairs imagine you, yourself, are a little toddler again and you want to climb your first stairs. Put the situation into proportion: 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 or four steps at a time!

Downward Dog Pose to relax, grow,  and explore the world upside-down. Try gravity inversion!

Downward Dog Pose to relax, grow, and explore the world upside-down. Try gravity inversion!

Babies can do the Plank Pose (Phalakasana) before they can walk. Can you?

Babies can do the Plank Pose (Phalakasana) before they can walk. Can you?

The Fight Against Gravity

Why Do Children Love to Hang Upside Down?

We always have a special treat at the end of a children's ballet class. I, the teacher, pick up each child, by their ankles and hang them upside down; one at a time, of course. "Again, again!" they shout when they are upright again. Children often know instinctively what is good for their hard-working bodies. 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.

Yoga Inversion

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 brainpower. However, it's not the same as losing all of your weight to gravity, without head or hand support. For that great feeling of total weightlessness, you need to precariously balance horizontally around your center of gravity, the pelvis.

The kids came to class for the upside-down treat at the end.

The kids came to class for the upside-down treat at the end.

After picking up between six to eight children per class to hang them upside down, understandably, I got very tired. I sometimes even got a backache! Then I wished some giant could pick me up by my 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 one immediately and have been hanging upside down about once a week for 10 minutes for many years. I have never suffered any back pain, stiff neck or tight shoulders ever since. Thank you, children.

How Does It Work?

As you can see in 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 can enjoy instant relief from gravity once in a while to get all their bits back into place.

Benefits of Gravity Inversion

  • helps to prevent and cure back, neck, and shoulder tension
  • gets rid of stiffness in all the joints, with a great sense of decompression
  • gives the feeling of being lighter
  • makes you grow taller
  • stretches you out, makes you looser
  • boosts your circulation
  • straightens your posture
  • relaxes your worries away
  • helps you come off well-rested and upbeat

Which Gravity Inversion Table to Get?

I recommend the Teeter Inversion Table because after all these years of using cheaper models I have come to the conclusion that my current Teeter Inversion Table is the easiest to assemble and to use, with the most sensitivity for balance, without jerking as most of the others did. The Teeter is also the most comfortable on the ankles for prolonged use.

To Conclude

It now becomes clear that the basics of yoga coincide with natural, inborn positions and movements for most economic and efficient physical behavior.

How many of the asanas kids perform every day, as pictured above can you still do? And those are only a few examples. I hope that this article has been a bit of an eye-opener for you. By playing, watching, and copying your baby or toddler you can discover many more variations. Go on, get up, make some space and try some of the frolics your children get up to, just for the fun of it.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or ask questions in the discussion below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is it safe to play baby yoga with my child if I have a bad back?

Answer: That depends on the severity of your back pain. Rolling about on the floor with a small child is a great way to lose stress and tension. If the pain comes from spasms or tension, and is purely muscular, then the muscles can be loosened with gentle pressure from the baby's weight. For example, allowing the baby to sit on your back while the parent is in the child pose as shown in the first video.

As long as playing baby yoga doesn't hurt, but feels good while you are doing it, it can be very beneficial for a bad back.

Of course, the ultimate solution for a chronic bad back is the regular use of a gravity inversion table as explained in this article:


Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on March 07, 2015:

Hi MonkeyShine,

No, it's not my baby, it's my friend's. I glad you got the gist of this article and that I was able to transmit some of the fun and advantages that can be experienced from learning yoga from little ones. Also the recognition that once, long ago, we could all move the way they do is encouraging I think.

Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on January 30, 2015:

The baby sucking his big toe belongs to a friend of mine.

Mara Alexander from Los Angeles, California on January 30, 2015:

This is a great hub, with explicit words like, precious, adorable, cute, miracles, and OUCH, to describe it. I really enjoyed reading this hub.

Is that your precious baby, with the toe to mouth? :)

Madeleine on January 29, 2012:

This is a very very good post, Sue. I enjoyed reading it. The pictures are invaluable and you are right, the term 'baby yoga' is what the baby teaches the parent, not the other way around. My hat off to you for writing such a wonderful and inspiring essay.