Foundations of Calm: relaxing with your baby / toddler

One of the most satisfying aspects of my teaching baby and toddler yoga is seeing parents let go and relax around their little ones. This is a thread that i try to have running through the whole class , not just the relaxation part at the end. For me, relaxation comes into play in many ways: having physical ease when handling your little one; having strength and poise in poses with the softening effect of the breath allowing you to be both strong and heart- centred; focusing on your own emotional state and seeing it as the basis for calming your child; and also being quiet and ‘drawing inwards’ while still being with your child.

I love to see Mums at the end of the class feeling able to close their eyes and relax even while their baby may still be awake and alert. Many babies do fall asleep at the end of the class, helped by the transition to relaxation, the music and the physically soothing activities like rhthymic walking around the room, (as well as the tiredness they feel after their yoga!). However, particularly as babies get a bit older and have longer gaps between naps, they often stay awake during relaxation. This is not a hindrance, i actually see it as integral to teaching relaxation to Mums that they can do so while their babies are still alert and awake. It can be extremely tiring and draining to be focused on a little person’s needs without a break.

My toddler yoga teacher Melanie talked about ‘realaxation’ rather than ‘relaxation’; a phrase i like to borrow ! The approach to relaxation needs to be realistic, and easily translate to everyday life, where there often isnt silence and calm around us to help us get into relaxation mode. Just as the muscles may need to be reeducated to relax and stretch into the easeful poses of yoga (after all, you only need to see the little ones’ flexibility and natural ability to do poses like downward dog, cat, bridge and childs’ pose to know that yoga is something we are born able to do!); the mind needs to practice relaxation. (Physical) Yoga is all about the inbreath and the outbreath; the contraction and extension of the muscles; and the focusing and the letting go of the mind. Dualities that work together in harmony if we allow them to. I say ‘allow’ as the main barrier to relaxing around a little person is not the little person; it’s your own mind not allowing you to let go! You have the ability to relax and draw inwards to a more peaceful place at any time! Even when surrounded by scattered toys, bits of half- eaten food, and the whinging noises of an overtired little person!!

Trust yourself to let go; you will still be aware of your little one’s safety; you will not emotionally scar them by withdrawing your active attention from them for a few precious moments; you are not being selfish. You must nurture and respect your own need for silence and calm in order to return to your little person refreshed (or perhaps you will return to find them having an overdue nap!)

I feel that it is vital for our little ones to see us relaxing; particularly as they get to toddlerhood. How will they learn to relax and ‘calm down’ without this being mirrored to them? Practicing some sort of yoga around them is a great way to do this, as they get to have fun climbing on you and copying you, and also learn to respect your quiet when you relax. I usually find my little one (now 20 months) comes and lies on my head or back while i’m relaxing in child’s pose, and it actually feels really nice! The other day i had a lovely relaxation leaning back on a beanbag in butterfly pose (soles of feet together, knees apart), and she came and sat in my lap and leaned back, and stayed there, awake but relaxed, for over 5 mins. It was really beautiful and thats what inspired me to write this post. Im not saying the first time you try it this will happen but the more your little one gets used to just ‘being’ when you relax, the more comfortable they will feel to come and join in. I know it is something that i could have done a lot more of as my daughter was changing from tiny baby to little explorer, and i could also, looking back, have treated breastfeeding times as an opportunity to relax and meditate, rather than to catch up on texting, emailing, facebook or watching tv! Im hoping to do this with my imminent baby and will need my ‘realaxation’ skills more than ever with the tot running round wanting my attention at the same time!!

It’s challenging, yes, but nothing worth achieving is achieved without patience, trust, practice and a lightness of mind that allows us to say ‘ok, that didnt go that well today but i i’ll try again’ as well as ‘that went well, i can do it.’

Happy relaxing!