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When I have an infant to care for, I’m lucky to wash my face most days, let alone sneak in a complete yoga practice. As amazing and magical as it is to have a new human in your life, they’re pretty darn demanding.
Parenting can take a surprising toll on our bodies. Caregiving means lots of time spent sitting, and even the most aware yoga practitioners tend to hunch their posture when they lean forward to engage with their baby. Sitting to nurse, feed, or rock an infant can cause tightness along the hamstrings, bum muscles, and spine. And when we bend over to interact with them, we often ignore our posture and round our backs. Layer in the fatigue from the lack of sleep, and it’s no wonder new parents often feel disconnected from their bodies.
Although many of us previously relied on our yoga practice to keep us physically and mentally grounded, coming to the mat can be difficult when you have a baby. And if you are lucky enough to finally find time to practice, it’s often interrupted. Repeatedly.
Thankfully, there are yoga poses you can practice while you’re hanging out with your infant during those first several months. Even when babies start to become less sedentary and more mobile, you can still hang out on the floor with them, whether they’re rolling or crawling or just grabbing their little feet. (They’re the original Happy Babies!). They’re the ideal yoga partners.
Not only will these poses help you reconnect to your body after such a significant life shift, but they can help you connect with your baby and increase your level of oxytocin, which is the love and bonding hormone.
5 yoga poses you can practice with your baby
If you’re a birth parent, first discuss with your physician when you can safely resume physical activity. Then you’ll need to adjust your expectations about how your yoga practice will look. One of the ways we become flexible as caregivers and parents is not only through our bodies, but our willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. If your baby is not into you doing yoga or a pose doesn’t feel good for you, come back to it later. Simply being present with your baby is the true yoga practice.
You can practice these postures one at a time or together as a sequence. And, of course, aways exercise awareness and caution.
1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Downward Dog is a great way to counteract the toll that all that sitting takes on your body. It lengthens the back of your body, plus the inversion element creates a nice release in your neck.
How to: Kneel on your mat and place your baby on their back in front of you. Come to your hands and knees above your baby. Curl your toes under and lift your hips into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Adjust your Downward Dog as necessary to accommodate your body’s needs. For example, bend your knees if your hamstrings are tight or take your arms a little wider to create more space in your shoulders.
You may need to lift your head slightly to make eye contact with your baby, but try not to strain your neck. Go back and forth between lifting your head to make eye contact and allowing your neck to relax and your head to hang. (Be careful if you have long hair as the grasping reflex is strong!). After a few breaths, carefully come back to hands and knees, check on your little one, and perhaps repeat.
2. Chaturanga Dandasana Variation
Young children require a lot of carrying and lugging: the stroller, the car seat, the diaper bag, the baby. Your arms and chest need to be strong to support all the lifting. This variation of Chaturanga strengthens your upper body for the task. It also incorporates baby smooches.
How to: Kneel on your mat and place your baby on their back in front of you. Come to your hands and knees facing your baby. Walk your knees back a few inches so you are in a supported push-up position. Inhale here.
On an exhale, bend your elbows into a modified Chaturanga. Try to lower enough that you can sneak a kiss before straightening your arms and lifting your chest as you come back to your starting position. (If you are unable to get low enough for a kiss, make a kissy face. Do 5 rounds. Feel free to lift your knees for full Chaturanga if your arms are strong enough to support you. Get creative to get those kisses.
3. Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose)
When you’re tired–as most new parents are!–you tend to slump. You may round your spine and tuck your pelvis. Bending over your baby to change a diaper or nibble a sweet cheek reinforces that movement. Boat Pose encourages you to engage your core to help keep your back long and straight. Sitting on the floor tends to help you more easily balance the natural curves of your spine.
How to: Sit with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Situate your baby so they’re sitting with their bum against your pelvis and their back leaning against your thighs. Maintain a long spine and begin to tip your torso back until you are balancing on your sit bones. Slowly lift your shins off the floor, keeping your knees bent as you come into Navasana (Boat Pose). If you feel unstable, keep your feet on the floor or try lifting one foot at a time. You can hold your baby’s hands or sides or reach your hands behind your thighs to help you balance and make a protective enclosure for your baby. Stay here for 5 breaths. Return your feet to the floor and pause before repeating once more.
4. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) Variation
Babies are notoriously gassy because their digestive systems are immature. They usually need a little help burping and releasing wind. This variation of Uttanasana can potentially soothe your baby’s tummy while toning your own. Gently nudging their knees into their chest can be helpful. Helping them do this while balancing with your arms spread wide helps you build core strength and stability.
How to: Place your baby on their back on a bed or couch. (Always keep careful watch of your child when they are on any elevated surface.) Stand in front of them and gently bend their knees. Hinge forward at your hips and place their feet against your lower ribs. Adding this little extra pressure will bring their thighs closer to their chest and hopefully squeeze some of that extra air out. Float your arms out to the side. Hold for 5 breaths and then place your hands on either side of your baby and slowly press yourself back up. Feel free to repeat until you hear your desired results.
5. Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend)
Research has found that prolonged sitting contributes to lower back issues. Janu Sirsasana offers caretakers an opportunity to lengthen the spine while you’re sitting. Also, the leg position opens your hamstrings and hips while allowing you full use of your arms for baby hugs and tickles.
How to: Sit on the floor with your baby on the floor in front of you or on your lap. Bend your right knee and draw your right foot toward your inner left thigh. If you need, take a pillow or block beneath your right knee. Keep your left leg straight and inch it out to the side and lay your baby in between your legs facing you. Inhale and lengthen your spine, and then exhale and fold at your hips to lean forward and a little toward your straight leg. Extend your arms and walk your hands forward to encourage more space in your back. If you are able to fold low enough, steal a few kisses. Remain here for 10 breaths. Come back to sitting, switch your legs, and repeat on the other side.