Yoga for Babies and Moms

On a Wednesday morning at Seaboard Fitness in Raleigh, a group of moms roll out yoga mats in preparation for class. But unlike other yoga classes, this one includes baby blankets, diaper cloths and curious, cooing babies.

Yoga classes that incorporate the littlest, like the one taught by instructor Melissa Drenzek, have grown in popularity as prenatal yoga practitioners seek to extend their exercise routine after baby is born. Attending yoga with baby in tow allows moms to exercise and spend time interacting, not only with their own infants, but also with other moms. Some dads also enjoy this time spent exercising and bonding with their babies. As for the babies, they seem to view this as just another opportunity to play.

Drenzek’s class includes lots of opportunities for parents to complete yoga poses while holding baby, exercising face-to-face with baby or giving baby a relaxing massage.

“It’s not your typical yoga class,” says Drenzek, who notes that babies “have carte blanche in this class to do what they need to do.” If a baby is fussy, a parent may have to step out of sequence for a while before rejoining the class. Meditation time is limited, since babies don’t always have quiet time in unison.

Lisa Woodard, who participated in a prenatal class, enjoys the Mommy and Me yoga at Seaboard, which is offered through HealthyMoms of Wake County, an organization dedicated to perinatal fitness. Woodard says it’s a good way for her to continue an exercise she enjoys. Her 3-month-old son, Wyatt, spent much of the class time with his attention on mom and the babies on each side of him.

“If he gets fussy, I just do the loop-around-and-kiss move. He likes that one,” Woodard says

Babies enjoy time with parents and movement

So what does an infant get out of these yoga classes aside from time with a parent?

“In so much as it benefits the parents, it benefits the babies,” says Brian Carey, founder of Patanjali’s Place, a Community Yoga Space in Durham that offers classes for infants and children of all ages. It also helps babies experience and see movements in action, he says.

Instructor Janice Geller, who teaches the Baby and Me yoga class at Patanjali’s Place, is a psychotherapist, dance movement therapist, infant developmental movement educator and licensed massage therapist. She says yoga can free up energies in the body.

“Adults, and even infants, can feel limited in their movement vocabulary, and yoga can help the baby go through these patterns that help integrate their digestive, skeletal, endocrine and other body systems,” Geller says.

Some yoga movements are very similar to early developmental stages of infants, she says. The cobra pose, for instance, where practitioners lay on their stomachs and push the upper body off the floor with their arms, is similar to a baby pushing up to form the strength to crawl. Geller sometimes works on these developmental milestones, such as rolling over, with infants. She says babies can experience these patterns of movement through their parents’ hands first, and she can, in turn, teach parents about infant stages and movements.

Parents connect with others and reduce stress

More than anything, a baby yoga class is fun. But it also offers parents social connections and gives them a chance to reduce stress, Geller says. Parents learn about developmental stages their baby is experiencing, get some exercise and have a few moments to relax.

“Parents can come and learn the techniques of meditation and breathing, and doing the postures enables them to calm their nervous system, which provides the child with a calm parent,” Geller says. “As the stresses of life continue, it’s a real incredible practice to be able to calm the body and mind.”

A parent’s stress is further reduced simply because these types of yoga classes are baby-friendly. Since the mothers bring baby along, they don’t have to worry about finding child care while they exercise or wonder how their infant is adjusting to care provided at a facility.

“If you have an hour, you might as well get your exercise without worrying about what to do about your baby,” says Marybeth Winstead, owner of HealthyMoms of Wake County.

Life changes related to having a child can make it even more important to manage stress and strengthen social connections, both of which occur in the baby and me yoga classes. At Itsy Bitsy Baby Spa in Cary, the Mommy and Baby Yoga class has been the most popular class according to owner Keren Benmoshe.

“It’s very relaxing. The mothers get a lot out of it, and so do the babies,” she says. “The mothers use the baby as a weight during the movements, they come out of a workout feeling good, and they know they have spent time entertaining their baby as well,” she adds.

Many yoga practitioners espouse the benefits of the mind-body connection, which creates self-awareness and an attitude of overall wellness. A study published in the May 2005 issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly supports this idea. Three samples of women who either performed yoga, exercised or did neither completed questionnaires. Yoga practitioners answered more favorably on measures such as body awareness and body satisfaction. They also showed less-disordered eating attitudes.

The popularity of these yoga classes speaks for itself.

“We had to keep providing more openings because there was so much demand for it,” Benmoshe says.

Young yoginis gain self-esteem, fitness and inner strength

Many area fitness centers and yoga spas offer classes for children as well as for parents with infants. Exercise is a healthy outlet that helps children reduce stress, get fit and spend time with other children.

The Yogini Kids class for ages 3 to 6 at Itsy Bitsy Baby Spa is designed to be fun and use yoga poses to teach coordination, flexibility, strength and body awareness, according to the company. The program is described as providing a non-competitive atmosphere that promotes inner strength, confidence and self-esteem.

Jennifer Bluestone, who has taught yoga to elementary students at the Raleigh School, says yoga is a “great way for children to learn to focus and learn how to think of their bodies in a positive way.” Yoga also builds self-esteem because children at all fitness levels can participate. “When they finally get a pose, they are bursting with confidence,” Bluestone says.

Bluestone teaches breathing exercises that allow children to practice being focused and quiet, and suggests children carry these techniques into their everyday lives. She also incorporates educational material and games into her yoga classes. Sometimes she throws a bunch of pom-poms into the middle of a room and has the children pick them up with their toes. “They are so quiet and focused while they do this,” she notes.

She also includes academics, like math, language and even reading. If the class is practicing an animal yoga pose, they can look up the animal in a book and read about it while doing the pose, she says. Bluestone says it’s easy to get kids hooked on yoga because it’s fun. “And once you tell them that the Pittsburgh Steelers football team does yoga, they are hooked,” she adds.

In the spring of 2007, several Steelers team members began participating in yoga classes offered by a former NFL player and his wife at Amazing Yoga in Pennsylvania. It’s doubtful that the players are regretting the decision to incorporate yoga in their training since the team won the 2009 Super Bowl.

From the tiniest practitioners to bulked-up linebackers, yoga is a popular way for people of all ages and stages of life to exercise and focus on the mind-body connection. For moms, it provides a way to connect with their little one while staying in shape postpartum and reducing stress. And as their babies grow, they are “naturals” at yoga poses.

Carol McGarrahan is a Triangle-area mother and health and science writer who wishes she had known about “Mom and Baby” yoga about a decade ago.

Sampling of Classes for Little Yoginis

The following places in the Triangle offer yoga classes for moms with babies:

Patanjali’s Place: A Community Yoga Space
700 Foster St., Durham
Baby and Me Yoga plus classes for elementary school students and teens.

HealthyMoms of Wake County
Offers a variety of yoga classes for mothers and babies at different locations. Check the Web site or call for class times and locations

Itsy Bitsy Baby Spa
1055 Darrington Dr., Cary
Preston Walk Shopping Center
Mommy and Baby Yoga class for mothers and babies ages 6 weeks to 18 months, Baby Yoga classes for ages 6 weeks to 18 months and 18 months to 3 years, and Yogini Kids for ages 3 to 6.

Triangle Yoga
930 Martin Luther Jr. King Blvd., Chapel Hill
Offers postnatal yoga for mom and baby as well as prenatal yoga and yoga for kids and adults of all ages.

Additional links to some area yoga programs for children and/or parents and children:

Evolve Movement in Raleigh,
Pediatric Therapy Associates & Sports Medicine
Triangle Pilates and Cary Yoga Center
YMCA of the Triangle

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