I often wonder if the ancient yogis went around observing animals and children, named poses after them, and just reminded adults of what we've forgotten.
Cats and dogs instinctively reach forward with their paws and stick their bottoms high in the air as they lengthen their spines. My daughter flips upside down on the couch into a supported headstand while watching TV. And every morning my son curls his knees underneath him and rests his head on the bathroom mat while he waits for me to get out of the shower. My son's pose is appropriately named Child's pose, or balasana.
It is restorative pose. In yoga when we arch our backs or do a chest opener it's considered to be an energizing pose. When we bend forward it is restorative. That's why we go forward and backward endlessly during classes to find the balance in between. However, sometimes we simply need to be awakened and other times we just need to be nurtured.
Child's pose is the yogic way we can soothe ourselves if our moms aren't available to hold us.
To begin, rest your knees and shins on the floor. Sit back toward your heels. If you cannot rest your bottom on your heels, that's OK. You can put a pillow on the your calves and rest your bottom there, or leave your bottom suspended in the air -- being mindful to relax it back toward your heels as best you can.
If you have a larger chest, stomach or if you are pregnant, widen the space between your knees to accommodate your chest or belly. Rest your torso down on top of your thighs. Bend forward and bring your forehead toward the floor. If your forehead does not reach the floor, you can use a pillow or stack your fists one on top of the other and rest your forehead there. If your forehead touches the floor or your head is resting on a pillow, your arms can rest tucked into your sides or you can extend the arms forward, palms down on the floor, to stretch your shoulders.
To enjoy this pose even more, extend your vertebra from the tailbone to the crown of your head. This lengthens out any roundness you may have in your spine. Think of a tube of toothpaste and squeeze the toothpaste from your tailbone out the top of your head. With every inhalation keep extending your spine a little further and with every exhalation let your back relax. Think of marshmallows melting on top of hot chocolate. Your back muscles can just ooze over the tops of your legs and melt into mush.
As you enjoy Child's pose, you may feel like you are protected, sheltered and safe. You are, so long as your kids don't get the smart idea to dog pile you.
In addition to feeling secure, your lower back muscles are being lengthened, your quadriceps (the tops of your thighs) are stretching, your traps (your upper back) is expanding, and the muscles in your forehead that are resting on the floor, your fists, or the pillow are releasing tension.
Child's pose is truly a cocoon of comfort. No wonder it is the place from which my son chooses to emerge each day. Like the yogis before me, I will follow him and his sister around with my pen and paper and report back to you next month.
Rebecca Thorpe is a group fitness and Yoga Alliance-certified instructor, teaching classes at Whitman College and the Walla Walla YMCA.