Use classic children's songs to share yoga with your infant, toddler, or preschooler...and get your asana on as well!
As a Postpartum Mommy/Baby and Family Yoga teacher, I have the privilege of witnessing parents restore their energy and calm their nervous system while interacting with their children through yoga. I also witness children's instinctual yogini self as they progress through cobra, cat/cow, and down dog pose naturally while learning to walk. By the time they are two, they are watching and imitating poses that their parents do, all with the help with songs and games initiated in the class.
One of my favorite ways of introducing yoga poses for children and parents is through song. Many of these songs you might already know from your childhood. Here are five songs that we use in our parent/child yoga classes that are favorites by all. You can click on the song to go to a YouTube video that has the words and tune if you aren't familiar with it. You can also click on the yoga pose to go to a photo/description of the traditional pose that is being used.
Row Row Row Your Boat with Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend
Sit up tall with your legs in a V, feet flexed. Lift your chest and tuck your tummy in. Child (if able to sit on their own) sits in between your legs, facing you. For older toddlers and preschoolers, child's legs are straight and together if they are able to do so naturally and maintain balance. Hold your child's hands with arms outstretched and gently rock back and forth while 'rowing your boat' together.
Variations: If baby is too little to sit on her own, she can be held and you can rock back and forth while singing and holding her, receiving the same physical benefits for your core muscles. If your child is older, you can both sit in a V facing each other with feet touching. Then you can join hands and rock gently, noticing the give and take while keeping in mind not to overstretch the lower back. This can also be done with two adults and the child can sit in the middle of the 'boat'.
London Bridge is Falling Down with Bridge Pose
Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet firmly planted on the floor as close to your buttocks as possible. Place baby/child to sit on your stomach with his back resting on your thighs. Raise your pelvis up and down, in and out of a modified bridge pose, while singing the first verse of "London Bridge is Falling Down".
Variation: We like to add another verse for the adults to go up into bridge pose and hold. Instead of singing "London Bridge is falling down," we sing "London Bridge is going up." When coming down from the held pose, make sure to roll down one vertebrae at a time to protect your lower back.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with Star Pose
This pose is done in many variations, depending on the physical development of the child.
Non-Mobile Infants: Stand with your feet wide apart, holding baby close to your chest. Move your weight back and forth between each foot, rocking side-to-side while singing 'Twinkle Twinkle'.
Mobile Infants/Toddlers: Sit down on the floor, while holding your child under her armpits so that her feet are supporting her on the floor in a standing position. Encourage your child to put their arms up like a star and help her rock back and forth from one foot to the next. (Great for developing balance!) If she isn't into it, then you can demonstrate Star Pose while singing 'Twinkle Twinkle'. She might want to join in next time...
Older Toddlers/Preschoolers: If your child is interested, they can do their own version of Star Pose alongside you while both singing the song. I've seen this happen often as children approach the two-year-old mark and have attended a couple classes watching their parent do the pose/song.
Monkey in the Tree with Tree Pose
For this partner pose, hold your child on the left hip or in the center with both hands supporting if an infant that is too young for a hip carry. Then, ground your left foot and lift your right foot, placing it on the inside of your left ankle, knee, or inside the groin, depending on where you feel the most stable. Lift your chest and tuck your tailbone in. Find a focal point in front of you if needed. Hold Tree Pose while holding your "monkey" for one round of the song/rhyme. Then switch to the right side for the hip carry and grounded foot to complete the song on the other side. It's okay if your tree sways or falls down...just have fun with your little monkey!
Old MacDonald Had a Farm (or Zoo...) with Various Yoga Poses
We use this song often in our toddler classes, but can be adapted for any age of young children. For infants, they can lay on a blanket at the front of the mat as you do the poses and make animal noises for their delight. For mobile infants and toddlers, they can crawl through your legs or be scooped up and join in, depending on the pose. For older toddlers and preschoolers, they can do their own interpretation of the pose alongside you or join in for a partner variation. The more animated the animal sounds, the better! And if your child asks for an animal you don't know a pose for, just improvise!
Possible animal poses:
Cow (Cat and cow are often best friends and go together.)
Cobra (Give a hiss!)
Dog (Bark three times...)
Wolf (A loud howl at the moon!)
Lizard (Stick out your lizard tongue!)
Bear (Shh...the bear is sleeping!)
Lion (Give a big roar!)
Use your personal discretion when attempting these or any other yoga poses with your child. If needed, check with your doctor first before starting a physical yoga practice.
These poses can be adapted as your baby develops from being held through them all into doing them on their own next to you as an older toddler or preschooler. Keep in mind that their representation of the pose will not be like yours...their body awareness is not as developed to your level. That is okay. Let them do their own version of it if they want to without correcting their form or alignment. If they want to just watch you the first few times, that is okay, too. The most important thing is that you are modeling movement, breathing, and interacting with your child in a positive way. The rest will come instinctively for them when they are ready and interested.
With sharing yoga and song with your infant, toddler, or young child, you are not only playing, introducing them to yoga, and teaching them new songs, you are also interacting with them in ways that allow them to move their body, use their imagination, and connect with you. That on top of yoga, breath, and lighthearted fun for you makes it a wonderful practice!
About Amber Sparks
Amber Sparks is a yoga teacher for postnatal mamas and babies, toddlers and their parents, and family yoga for all ages at Yoga to Grow. She is a mother of two yoginis, ages four and six. Amber has been practicing yoga for 16 years and finds her yoga practice helps her in all aspects of mothering and in life. She writes about her experiences at Heart Wanderings.