LIKE MANY TRADITIONS, Yoga is handed down from one generation to the next and is often shared within families. In my own family, my mother was a dedicated Yogini. My mother’s guru (teacher) was Goswami Kriyananda, the founder of the Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago. I can remember going to initiation as a little girl, and receiving my first mantra [sacred syllable] when I was six years old. I learned pranayama [work with the breath] and meditation when I was very young and continue to practice these techniques daily.
Now that I am a mother, I am excited to share Yoga with my son Cruz. I practiced Yoga throughout my pregnancy, and went back to the physical practice when he was six weeks old. I would lay him down on my mat, and go through my own practice while he cooed and giggled at me. After a few weeks he started to get a little anxious because he wanted to move too! I started to pick him up and involve him more in my practice. This was the birth of our personal Mommy & Me Yoga classes, classes that provided the inspiration for a weekly class I teach that is open to mothers with babies ranging in age from four to thirteen months.
I experimented with many different Yoga postures to see what made sense to share with my son, and what was best to do on my own. Some of the postures I practiced with him happened to be postures that strengthened and toned the muscles that were overstretched during pregnancy. My physical benefits from our practice include core strength, opening the chest (often tight from breast feeding) and toning the upper arms. The emotional benefit of connecting with my son and sharing the gift of Yoga has been amazing. Watching his joy of movement is truly inspirational.
In class settings, helping new moms rediscover their physical strength while spending quality time bonding with their baby has been a joy. Each mother has her own journey into parenthood, and every day there is a new story to share. For this reason, we begin our class with each mom sharing something that happened that week with her baby. A new tooth, sleeping through the night, and discovering solid foods are all cause for celebration. The babies delight in visiting with their friends, and dancing with mommy. I believe that they are also learning about the importance of health and wellness, as their mother models this behavior for them in such a positive way.
The learning is not just a one-way street. The babies in the Mommy & Me Yoga classes are natural yogis and powerful teachers. So much of what we learn in Yoga involves staying in the present moment and not getting lost in past events or anticipating the future. Babies are completely in the moment and eager to engage in movement. Also, practicing beginner’s mind and attitude – including laughing when we fall can be incredibly challenging for an adult, but is second nature to the little ones. The babies teach us to have a sense of humor, go with the flow, to stay present and to embrace change. These are powerful lessons for new (and experienced) moms. Yoga means union. The connection between the mother and baby is a beautiful example of the living tradition of Yoga. The familial bond is a form of union with the divine. We slow our breath down, stay in the moment, and fully absorb the gift of family.
Flying Baby: Place the baby with his torso on your shins, draw your knees towards you and then straighten your legs.
Boat Pose (above): Lift your legs to a 45 degree angle (you can bend your knees to modify) with your upper body leaning back and the chest rising. Feel the strength in your belly as you hold your little one.
Tree Pose (previous page): Place the baby on your hip, as you lift your foot to the inside of your standing leg and find a deep sense of inner and outer balance.
Going to a Mommy (and Daddy) & Me Class: A number of studios offer Mommy (and Daddy!) & Me classes. Check schedules (which can change often) and ask questions about the class before attending to find the right fit for you and your baby. Some classes focus more on the mother’s Yoga practice while the baby is watching and lying on the mat. Other classes have a much more interactive focus on parent and child. A variety of postures can be practiced with the baby in your arms.
The class etiquette in a parent/child class is different from an adult class. Babies always come first, so if your little one is getting fussy or needs a diaper change, everyone in the room understands. Remember to take cues from your child. They will let you know if they need to move more, or if they just need a hug. In any case, it can be a fun bonding experience filled with some giggles, some breath and some sweat.
Desi Bartlett MS, CPT, has been teaching health and wellness for more than 20 years. Originally from Chicago, she has a degree in kinesiology and her master’s degree in corporate fitness. Desi holds advanced certifications in Yoga, personal training, group fitness, and is a certified pre- and post-natal fitness specialist.