When we are children, we are the embodiment of pure humanity. We do not filter our thoughts or feelings; we love hard, play hard and respond to our world with innocence and honesty. As we develop, we begin to lose these characteristics to different degrees and for a variety of reasons, such as to remain safe in a world that is decidedly not innocent or honest. As much as acceptance of the realities of adulthood is an essential part of reaching maturity, connecting with your childlike essence can bring refreshing insights into your internal being and stimulate spiritual growth. In yoga practice, the inclusion of child’s pose (balasana in Sanskrit) stimulates this connection, in addition to providing a delicious physical stretch for the spine and hips.
To move into child’s pose, begin in an “all fours” position, with hands and knees forming a rectangle – sometimes called “table pose.” Take a moment to check in with your alignment, making sure your wrists are directly below your shoulders and your knees are directly below your hips. Your toes can be tucked under your foot with the heel high, or untucked so that the top of your foot rests on the mat or floor; experiment with what feels best for you. Ensure that the insides of your elbows face inward, with a gentle bend in the elbow to engage the triceps. Your gaze should be directed between your hands, ensuring that your spine and neck are straight. Take several deep breaths, filling your lungs as fully as possible on each inhale, and releasing all of your breath by pressing your ribs together with each exhale. Engage your abdomen strongly, imagining your belly button reaching for your spine.
Inhale deeply, and, as you exhale, allow your gluteal muscles to move back toward your heels, as far as feels comfortable. This movement allows your arms to extend straight out in front of you, with your palms flat on the mat or floor. With each inhale, lift your torso slightly; with each exhale, stretch your hands a little farther forward and away from your body. Take note of the deep stretch and expansion in your spine; imagine that with each inhale you are breathing air into the space between your vertebrae, and with each exhale you are extending and opening that space. Your head and neck should remain in a straight line with your spine, whether or not your head touches the floor.
After several breaths, when you feel ready, inhale deeply and lift your hips to return to table pose. Repeat as many times as you like. If you want to deepen the pose, try widening your knees to slightly greater than hip-width apart (about the width of your yoga mat) before bringing your gluteal muscles back to your heels; feel the intensified opening of the hips in this adaptation.
Adopting child’s pose opens our hip flexors, deeply stretches the spine and upper arms, and changes breathing patterns to allow more oxygen to flow through our bodies. Child’s pose is an excellent stretch on its own, and can play a role in warming up or cooling down the body in yoga practice.
This position also reminds us to be both humble and playful, to be mindful of our bodies and to be open to the joy around us. As you discover the physical sensations of the pose, bring your awareness to your history with your body, your growth from childhood. Allow your mind to remember youthfulness, and delight in the amazing capacities of the body: taking your first steps, giving your first embraces, climbing your first tree. Allow yourself to embody the freedom and openness of childhood, which lives on in us always, and carry it with you in your adult life.
Jennifer McLennan is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor who has practiced in India, Canada and Costa Rica. She is currently a private yoga teacher in the beach community of Santa Teresa, on the southern Nicoya Peninsula.