If you’re a long-time reader of Mama and Baby Love, then you know well how much I love yoga. I think its a huge help for moms (pregnant, postpartum, and at all stages) to maintain health of mind and body. This post goes even further and explains why yoga is so beneficial for babies and kids, beginning poses/stretches to try (with photo tutorials!), and a collection of my favorite resources for doing yoga with your baby and child. Here we go!
Benefits of Yoga for Babies
Doing yoga with or next to your baby is a wonderful thing for mama. But having your baby do yoga, helps them sleep better, digest their food better and improves brain development.
From the book, Itsy Bitsy Yoga, by Helen Garabedian, the Top Twelve Reasons Why Babies and Toddlers Need Yoga:
1. To help them sleep better and longer
2. To improve digestion and ease gas pain
3. To turn fussiness into happiness
4. To promote a healthy, physically fit lifestyle
5. To strengthen the parent-child bond
6. To increase neuromuscular development
7. To cultivate self-esteem and positive body image
8. To boost the immune system
9. To reduce stress and develop relaxation techniques
10. to reduce anxiety
11. To increase body awareness
12. To aid the natural development of movement from birth to walking
If you are interested in learning more awesome ways to be healthy and be a great mom, check out Art of Motherhood School.
Benefits of Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Yoga is SO important for toddlers and preschoolers. Most people know yoga is great for relaxation and emotional regulation, but they might not know that it is also crucial for brain growth. That’s right: Yoga will help your child learn to speak, read and write.
Brain cells, neurons, do not form neural pathways until exposed to environmental stimuli that our senses transmit to our brains. Each experience – listening to a story, smelling a rose, eating a piece of candy – stimulates brain cells to send out dendrites to join up other with brain cells to create neural networks (bridges, pathways, whatever you want to call them) through which information can be exchanged.
I could talk about neuroscience for days, it’s one of my favorite things to study, but suffice it to say for now that the more your child experiences, the more neural pathways there will be in her brain, and they will be strengthened and reinforced through continual stimulation and the greater the capacity for knowledge acquisition and retention. For the rest of their lives.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that children need more positive than negative experiences. Positive experiences grow neural bridges while negative ones can delete, shrink or warp them.
The last 10 years of neuroscience research has shown us that the brain is plastic, meaning anyone can change and grow their brain at anytime. But, oh, those early years. You will never see such growth and plasticity as you do in the first seven years of life, and particularly years 0-3.
So how does yoga come into play by building the brain and making your kid smarter? In three ways.
Jumpstarting the Nervous System
The first is the traditional way in which most people understand about yoga. Yoga turns on the parasympathetic nervous system. A quick way to remember what the parasympathetic system does is to remember two words: rest and digest. It’s what helps you digest your food, go to sleep, helps make you calm, rational choices and actions, and allows your pre-frontal cortex (our “new” brain) to be in charge. Little kids act like caveman maniacs and teenagers make such poor rational choices because their prefrontal cortex is still forming until age 25! Add stress into the mix, and boom! All calm, rational thought goes right out the window.
The sympathetic nervous system is your old brain – fight, flight or freeze. This is the part of your brain that is concerned with survival: Eat, mate, survive and repeat. That’s all it cares about. Any time you are stressed, your body is operating from that caveman brain and your whole body system is only concerned with the thought, Who or what is trying to kill me and should I fight it, run from it or play dead to hope for the best? When you operate in survival mode, your neurons are not making connections and neural pathways because your brain is too busy trying to keep you alive.
Not only do young children have underdeveloped pre-frontal cortexes, they get stressed just like adults. They need security and routine and loving care, and need to be taught how to relax and regulate their emotions so they can be happier and more peaceful. When they can give their brains time and space to learn and grow, they can reach their full potential.
Fostering the Mind/Body Connection
Second, yoga is at its simplest, is movement linked to breath. Movement taps into the sensory-motor system and the brain makes connections. If there is one thing I have learned from my daughter’s Sensory Processing Disorder, it’s that the mind-body connection is real. If you are talking to a child, trying to teach them manners or their ABCs and there is no movement going along with the learning or very soon after, there is a good chance nothing will be retained. You can yap yap yap all day long and it’s like Charlie Brown’s teacher, the wha wha wha wha trombone sound will be all the kid hears. Children’s brains are not going to make connections that allow them to remember what they’ve learned unless there is movement happening as well. That’s why playground time is SO important.
In a perfect world, we would teach then move, teach then move, teach then move. Teach them math then it’s time for PE. Language Arts then playground. Science lecture then….yoga! In a perfect world, right?
Mind then body. Mind then body. Mind then body.
All day long.
The other HUGE benefit of yoga with toddlers and preschoolers is that it builds their self esteem. Yoga is art. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be absolutely perfect. It may be the only physical activity they try that they get it “right” because no matter what their body does, no matter what their gross motor skills are, no matter what their body awareness levels are, the child gets the authentic internal praise”I did it!!!!” and external praise from a loved one who witnesses and says, “I see you! You did it!!!”
And lastly, it is amazing for bonding. A good relationship with a child, above all else should be the priority, of every parent and teacher. I am not a fan parents and teachers allowing permissiveness, or even extreme attachment parenting, in an attempt to not hurt a relationship, but I am a fan of building a solid, tight and deeply connected relationship BEFORE firm and fair discipline and hard lines are drawn. And yoga is a great way to do that. Lots of praise, lots of quality attention, lots of eye contact, and lots of loving touch are all the ingredients for a deep and loving connection with a child.
How to Teach Your Baby to Say ‘Om’
To do this with your child, simply take a deep breath. I exaggerate the breath for her now, but when she is older, I will be less dramatic and more “yoga like.” And you say something like, “Mama is taking a Deeeep Breath! It makes me feel calm and happy. Can you take a deep breath?!” For an older toddler, you can add, “Put your hand on your belly and feel it move up and down when you take a deep breath.”
Yoga Poses and Stretches for Kids and Babies
There are countless varieties of yoga poses that are good for kids. Here are some of our favorites!
In and Out
This pose is called In and Out and is a great first yoga pose for babies. It helps them pass gas!
First, you place baby on their back, as you can see we are just on the floor, but you can use a yoga mat if you want.
Always ask your baby if they want to do yoga first. They understand way more than we give them credit for, and they will let us know if they are not in the mood.
Then you start by holding onto their legs, anywhere that feels comfortable to both of you. And then you bring their legs to their chest, like so and gently press into their stomach…the combination of the pressure and movement helps them pass gas.
Then you extend their legs out like this. You say what you are doing as you are doing it. As you bring their legs in, say Iinnnnn! And as you bring their legs out, say Ouuuuuttt! You want to say in a sing-songy fun voice. Sooner than later, they will learn to associate the word you are saying with the movement, and thus you are also helping them with their language development!
Do In and Out several times, till your baby wants to do something else!
Oh, how I love this pose! It’s one of my favorite yoga poses. It is a great all over body stretch and you are giving lots of muscles in your arms, back and legs a bit of work out too.
Now, its been awhile since I have been in a regular yoga routine for myself, so don’t laugh at my technique! And besides, you are doing yoga no matter what the pose looks like, as long as you are breathing. In through your nose and out through you nose!
Start on your hands and knees.
Then you lift your tail bone in the air and put your body into an upside down V. Your hands and feet should be equal distance apart. Try to balance your body’s weight equally between your hands and your feet. You are trying to get your heals on the ground and your back flat at the same time.
If that is not possible, bend your knees to get your back flat and then slowly work on your flexibility, so that you can straighten your legs and then get your heals down. Come in and out of the pose as you need to rest. A pregnant variation of this pose, would be to place your hands on a wall and to make a 90 degree angle with your body.
Even babies can do Down Dog! Babies will naturally do Down Dog as they are learning to crawl and walk, but at about 9 or 10 months, you can teach them to do it when you say Down Dog!!
Anytime you see your baby naturally do it, say “Yay!!! Down Dog!!! Good job!!! Then do it yourself and say again Down Dog!! Similar to the concept of how you would teach them sign language by repeating the word and showing the sign over and over again.
Eventually, they put the word recognition and the body movement together and ta da! They can do Down Dog! Let me tell you it’s the best feeling in the world when they do their first yoga pose on their own!
This pose is a great way to sneak in some tummy time for those babies that want nothing to do with laying on the floor, stomach down. The words for this pose are: kick, kick, kick-ey co-bra.
Every time you lift up a leg, say one word. So you are moving their legs and singing on the same beat. Hold their legs gently. If they squirm away, just keep singing and smiling and try again in a minute. You always want to keep their knees on the floor, to protect their low back.
Mama’s can do Cobra pose too! Lay on your belly, with your legs together, and your hands underneath your shoulders. Then lift your chest up off the ground as far as is comfortable. Its a nice ab and low back stretch and strengthens your arms as well. You can keep your elbows on the ground if your low back doesn’t like too much of a stretch.
This is such a fun yoga pose for babies! It almost always gets me a big grin and giggles.
To get your baby in position, you sort of “hog-tie” them, by taking your first finger and thumb and clasping their feet. Then use the other three fingers to grab their hands. Then bring their hands and their feet to the center of their bodies. If you can’t get their hands and feet to touch in the middle, that’s OK. And if they aren’t in the mood to have their hands grasped, you can just do their feet.
Then you roll them to one said and say Rrrrooolll.
And then bring them to the center and say LLLiiiii.
And then bring them to the other side and side and say Ooooooo!!
Go back and forth saying, Rol. li. O!!!! When they are a bit older, or just get used to the pose, you can go back and forth more seamlessly and pick up the pace! If you are doing this on a tiny baby, you need to go pretty slowly or they can get overstimulated.
This baby yoga pose is also great for little tummy’s and aiding in digestion. It’s a fun workout for their legs and helps them learn how to kick!
Hold your babies legs however is comfortable for you both and then just bring one knee up and into their tummies and say Paaadddhhaa!
And then switch and do the other leg and say Haaasssttaaa! Continue going back and forth and switching legs, I usually do about 10 times. Remember to do it a fun sing-songy voice and spend lots of time smiling and making eye-contact with your baby.
Lay babies on their back. They can be on the floor or on your lap facing you. If they are on the floor, you can have your legs like mine in the picture and do a little stretch for yourself as you lean forward to put them into the pose. If they are on your lap, sit with your back against a wall for support and bend your knees up so they can see your face good.
You gently hold one leg and the opposite arm. Then you extend their arm and leg out. Try and get their arm to touch the floor and pull their leg out straight to give their shoulder and hip a good stretch. Then let their arm and leg relax by bringing the arm down and putting a little bend in their knee.
While you are extending their arm and leg you sing/say “Tiny Tugs!” Give them lots of eye contact, smiles and encouragement!
For this pose, kids start in mountain pose, with their feet as close together as possible and their hands in prayer position in front of their hearts. Then they do an explosive jump and jump their feet into a wide angle and their arms out by their sides.
When you do it, to show them how, be very expressive, excited and always look them in the eye. I am not sure why looking them in the eye helps them learn, but it does. Say, Star Pose! As you jump into the pose and then wiggle your fingers as you say Twinkle! Twinkle!
Another variation is to move one hand up and one hand down, alternatively, as you rock from one foot to the other, all the while singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
For babies or toddlers, you sit them in your lap or lay them on the floor on their backs and move their arms for them as you sing the song. If you are moving their hands, one hand should be up and one should be down and then switch on the beat of the song.
Another variation for bigger kids (3-5) is to have them jump back in and bring their legs together AND bring their hands to their midline by clapping. Coming to the midline and crossing the midline are hugely important during the years of 0-5. The more your child does it, the more neural pathways and connections are built in their brain and the easier it will be for your child to learn how to read and write later.
Frog Pose, for your child, is essentially Garland Pose. So Mamas, when you are demonstrating this pose for your child, YOU get all the benefits! And whether you are trying to conceive, pregnant or somewhere on your post partum journey, this pose is SO good for you.
What I love about watching my daughter do yoga, and other kids for that matter, is witnessing how natural yoga comes to them. Check out her form-absolute perfection on her first try!
Her heels are firmly planted on the ground, and the weight of her body is evenly distributed throughout her feet.
Her knees are pointing up and her toes are directly forward. Often times, the only way and adult with tight hips can get into this pose, is by turning the feet outward at angle and splaying the legs open a bit.
Her pelvis is under and her spine is perfectly straight.
She was even able to put her hands in prayer and balance.
When they are in frog pose, you can say “What does the frog say?!” And reply with; ribbit, ribbit!
I also will do the Baby Signs for frog (you just stick your tongue out.)
As they get older, they can start hopping and jumping around like Frogs!
Donkey is the next stage of advancement after your child has learned Down Dog and later mastered. It’s such a fun yoga pose for your child. The pride they feel when they can accomplish it, is priceless.
So just like any other pose, you show them the pose first and then ask them to do it.
For Donkey, you show them Down Dog first and then say “lift your leg for Donkey!”
You can say; “What does the Donkey say? He says Hee Haw!
This is the child version of one legged Down Dog, but when you show them, lift your leg slightly and keep it somewhat bent. They are not going to be able to do a perfect one legged Down Dog, so show them the version of the pose that is attainable to them.
And remember, however your child express this pose or any other pose, is absolutely perfect. They are perfect, their little bodies are perfect, their individual gross motor skills development is perfect just as it is.
As long as you are breathing, you are doing yoga!
Butterfly pose is such a fun and easy pose for your toddler. You can start teaching this pose as soon as they have mastered sitting up. In fact, most babies, as they are learning to balance while sitting up, will naturally put their feet together in front of their bodies, to create a more stable foundation for themselves.
First you need to do the pose yourself and show little one what it looks like.
So once you have done the pose your self you can help your little one by putting their feet together for them. Then show them how to move their knees up and down by gently, doing it for them.
Then move your own knees up and down and show them again. And say Butterfly!!! You do it!!!!
I like to say Butterfly slowly and rhythmically, almost like I am chanting and I move my legs in the same rhythm that I am speaking.
Then I like to say, now open up your feet like a book! I do the sign for book, and then I open up my feet. So the outside of the feet stay together and inside of the feet open up. Then again, I say your turn!!!
Then I usually do the sign for Butterfly and go back to “flapping my wings”.
In an older kid class, I may take my first two fingers and use them as my “antennae” and play around with them really getting into pretending we are butterfly’s.
Butterfly pose is a great pose for Mamas too, it is one of the best poses for releasing tension in your hips, groin and inner thighs. Which is oh so important if you are trying to conceive or are pregnant.
And as always give them lots of praise when they do the pose. Try not to say good job, but other things like yay! you did it! what a beautiful butterfly! how does it make your legs feel?!
As this age, the bridge pose is heavily assisted by parent or caregiver but as they grow and develop, they start to do it on their own. Eventually they will even will grab their ankles with their hands or learn to clasp their hands together underneath their body like the adult version.
All you do is hold their feet steady with one hand, you can also squish their feet inbetween your legs to hold their body steady. Then with the other hand, very slowly and gently lift their pelvis off the floor. Be careful to keep their shoulders on the floor as they practice this pose. And of course, you say, Yay! Bridge Pose! Good job! as they do the pose.
For Mama’s, this is a great pose to relax and reduce stress but its also a fantastic workout for your thighs and butt if you really hold the pose a long time. I don’t know about you, but my post partum butt can use all the help it can get!
This is the tot variation for Warrior yoga pose. This pose is so much fun once baby can stand! They don’t have to be able to stand by themselves, just be able to stand while holding onto something. They love it! One of my favorite things about teaching yoga to little ones is seeing their face light up when they get feedback from their parent or teacher that they did it!
This variation of warrior pose is for babies who can stand and pull themselves up, but they don’t need to be walking yet. At this stage of development, you encourage them to crawl to the wall, or put baby close the wall and help them pull up, so that both their hands are on the wall helping them stay up. Then gently and slowly take one leg up behind them and say, warrior! Say it in a gentle, peaceful but excited, sing-songy voice. Then switch legs. Lots of eye contact, lots of repeating the name of the pose, lots of encouragement.
To get them to comprehend this pose, you do it to give them a visual first. YOU stand facing the wall, with the palms of your hands touching the wall, then lift one leg up behind you and say, Warrior and smile big at them! Don’t lift your leg too high, just below knee height, similar to what they will actually be able to physically accomplish.
If they don’t pull up by themselves you can try and place them in a standing position. Then lift one of their legs up and say “Warrior!!” “Yay! You are doing Warrior!” “Good job!”
Then lift their other leg up and repeat the praise.
When they crawl or walk over to the wall, give them praise. When they pull up and put their hands on the wall, give them praise. When you or they lift their leg, give them lots of praise! Don’t expect them to be able to do it right away, most times its takes them seeing you do it and having you help them several times before they can do it on their own. You will be surprised how quickly they pick it up though, when learning is fun they are like sponges and instantly comprehend and make connections.
This is another pose that is great for digestion. If baby is constipated or gassy, this will make them much happier. You are moving their legs clockwise, in the same direction their digestion moves.
You start by pressing their thighs into their tummy, like In and Out. Then moves their legs in a circle.
As you are moving their legs, you say/sing Corkscrew. You make one rotation each time to you sing the word corkscrew, so draw it out a bit. Of course, make eye contact and smile. And give lots of praise after you have finished this pose!
This pose is a great back stretch for our little babies. Its similar to the adult yoga pose Supine Spinal Twist. Supine means to lay on your back, by the way. 🙂
To do this pose, for baby, tot or mama, lay on your back. Bring your knees together and drop them both to one side. Slowly turn your head the in opposite direction of your knees, while keep both shoulders on the floor.
For babies, you move their legs for them. To move their head, try and use a toy, or in my case, during this picture, a sweet little friend to get babies attention and get them to look in the right direction. And as you are doing the pose, you say Twistee!!! Doing this on tiny babies, is great to help them learn how to do eye-tracking and builds up neck strength.
For tots and older kids, just show them how to do the pose by you doing it yourself. Then say, “You do it!” or “Now, its your turn!” Remind your tot or child to breath in through their nose and out through their nose while they are doing the pose.
I Love You
For babies that still don’t mind being on their back, lay them down with their feet going towards your body. Take their hands and bring them into the middle of their chest. This simple action of bringing their hands to the midline of their body, helps them with crawling and clapping. And then you say Iiiiiii!
Next, bring their arms out wide, give them a big stretch, but be gentle. Remember, the younger the baby, the slower your movements should be, so they can process what you are doing. As their arms are out wide, you say Llllloooooovvveeee!
Then bring their arms back to the midline of their chest, but cross one hand over the other and sort of rock them back and forth and say Yyyyooooouuuuu!
Do this several times. For older babies and toddlers, who don’t want to lay down, you can do this with them sitting in your lap, facing out to be able to look around.
To start, you put them in your lap, facing out. Then gently hold their toe out, like so. Eventually, you want them to grab their foot and then you move their legs, but when they are just learning the pose, they usually don’t grab their foot. Once you have moved them into position, you sing/say “Moon Toe!” You go back and forth, doing the pose on each leg.
Then you can do “Double Moon Toe!” By bringing both feet out.
You also want to show them how YOU can do the pose.
Especially for older tots, who will not let you “move” them into the pose and only want to do it themselves. It’s a great stretch for Mama, but if you haven’t stretched in a while, don’t bust your leg up fast. Be gentle with yourself, until you are more flexible, and bend your knee if you need too. Once you have your leg up, say things like, “Watch Mama do Moon Toe!” or “Mama’s Turn!” and then you would say to them, “Now, its your turn!” Don’t be discouraged if it takes awhile for your baby to pick it up on their own. Repetition is key. Eventually they will get it, and then you wont be able to get them to stop!
The way you do it is you sit on the floor with your legs together and feet pointed up towards the ceiling. Make sure both sits bones on are the floor (your sits bones are the bony bottom part of your pelvis). You can feel those bones better by rocking side to side slightly. This pose is a modified from the adult yoga Staff Pose.
Then raise your arms up over your head, as if you are trying to reach the ceiling. Your spine is nice and straight and you are looking straight ahead at your child. When you raise your arms, you say “SOOOOO!!!”
Then you bring your arms down and try and touch your toes and say “BIIIIIGGGGG!!!” I do it pretty dramatically, as you can see in the video and make a thump on the floor when I bring my hands down.
It’s a great stretch for Mama’s.
For a baby 9 months or older, till about 20 months, you alternate between showing them how and helping them by raising their arms for them and bring them down for them, as you say
If you have been doing yoga with your baby since they were born, like us, this the time yoga gets really fun and exciting. You can really start to play and interact with your baby at a different level. Its so amazing to watch them learn. Their little brains are like sponges! They are just so smart and absorb everything you do and say.
My daughter will do So Big if I prompt her or she will just randomly do it when she is playing the floor with a toy. All of sudden she busts out the yoga and makes her mama proud!
Check out the video here!
A Yoga Burrito Game
This is a fun game to play when your yoga class has started to loose their attention span. This redirects them, helps get some energy out and then they have some more focus for poses afterward. I love group yoga classes, but a home practice is just as important, especially for kids.
And so is playing with your little one. I know that sometimes I struggle with figuring out how to play with my daughter as she goes through different developmental stages. Most of the time I just follow her lead, at this age she is making up all kinds of stories and adventures right now, but sometimes it’s nice to have something to pull out of your hat for them.
Proprioceptive input are sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissue and it helps them have better body awareness.
So to play Yoga Burrito, get out your yoga mat and lay it face down. Then tell your little one that you are gonna roll them up like a burrito!
Start rolling them up, nice and slow at first, and make sure they don’t get scared, let them know you can stop at anytime if they don’t like it. You can speed it up later if you like, but be careful of their necks. Always leave their head out of the burrito.
Once you roll them up, you can pretend play that you are gonna “eat” your burrito, giving them lots of kissings, smiles and eye contact.
As you and your child get more comfortable with this game, experiment with pressing down gently as you are making the burrito. In massage these are “compressions” and in the sensory/occupational therapy world they are called joint hugs. Press down on places in the body that can handle a little extra weight, like the hips and buttocks, thighs and upper back-not their little tummies or necks.
After several rounds of you rolling up your little one, tell them to go get a doll or stuffed toy, so they can play Yoga Burrito with their toys.
Playing with your child is wonderful, because it helps you get down to their eye level, it shows them that you value them and the things they like to do. All the touching and eye contact also make for great bonding too.
Best Yoga Books and DVDs for Kids
I am a Certified Yoga Instructor and a Certified Itsy Bitsy Yoga Facilitator and I have been teaching yoga on and off since I was 18 years old. Currently I teach 30 plus, 3 year olds yoga at the private school I work at in the mornings.
I have read tons of yoga books and watched even more yoga DVDs. I love trying them out, learning new poses, or picking up on phrases that teachers use to describe the poses.
I often get asked what books and DVDs I recommend, so I thought I would give a run down of my favorite books and DVDs for kids.
Will you Try It?
Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried any yoga with your children, or what questions you may have! I’m excited to chat with you about it!