Yoga and Massage for Infants
Yoga and Massage are some of my favorite activities to share with my son. Even before he was born he was exposed to these modalities, and I have seen both have tremendous benefits for him. There are some amazing resources for parents wanting to share massage and yoga with their baby. I will share some of my favorites that I have found, as well as some general guidelines for a successful practice.
Infant Massage has been practiced by mothers and caregivers for centuries the world over. In many cultures, twice-daily massages for infants are a regular routine. Touch is one of the first forms of communication that parents have with their children. Babies thrive on regular contact with their parents, and plenty of loving touch. Regular massage is a great way to facilitate bonding between parents and children, and can even be a great way for older siblings to bond with their new baby brother or sister. Massage promotes relaxation, and reduces stress, contributing to deeper sleep. Adapting to the all the stimulus of our world, and learning to communicate, can be very stressful for babies, and gentle massage can help to release tension that can accumulate throughout the day. Massage provides sensory stimulation and facilitates body awareness. Studies show that it boosts the immune system, balances respiration, improves blood circulations, helps with digestion and waste elimination and can provide relief for teething pain. It is also relaxing for parents who can become overwhelmed by all the new responsibilities and challenges that a new baby can bring. It helps parents to better tune into their baby’s body and needs. Massage is also known to be beneficial in helping premature babies gain weight and thrive, as well as babies with special needs.
I have included regular massage in my son’s routine from the very beginning. We usually find the time after his bath to be ideal. Before I draw his bath, I get an area ready for his massage. I usually lay a thick blanket and a towel on top of our bed, and put on some restful music. I get the massage oil out; I like to use coconut oil, but olive and almond oils are also good choices. This way, everything is ready to go when we get out of the tub. I always ask Eligh if it’s OK if I give him a massage before I begin. Sometimes he is not into it, and that’s just fine. I never force a massage on him. Usually he smiles when he sees me rubbing oil on my hands. I use strokes that are gentle, but with firm pressure, as light strokes tend to tickle. He particularly enjoys having his back and legs rubbed. Massage time is also a great opportunity to sing songs, or talk to him about the names of his body parts. I found that taking time for a massage in the morning–before running errands or going out on some other high-stimulating activity–helps Eligh feel calmer throughout the day. I also find evening massages help settle him down for a more restful night’s sleep.
I practiced yoga throughout my whole pregnancy, and have been doing simple yoga inspired exercises with Eligh since he was few weeks old. Just as with massage, yoga has many of the same benefits for infants. Even simple movements in the arms and legs can stimulate the brain, promote body awareness, and improve digestion. As I have watched my son learn to crawl, and now stand, I have seen him naturally put himself in many yoga postures, such as locust and downward dog. It is interesting that these postures seem instinctual to him, and they are in fact strengthening his spine, helping him to transition to walking upright.
A book that I would enthusiastically recommend is “Itsy Bitsy Yogi,” by Helen Garbedian. She offers simple yoga-based games and exercises you can play with your baby, designed for each stage of development. She includes notes on specific benefits for each exercise, such as brain building, or help for digestive troubles. She also refers to some poses as “magic poses” because they are so effective for soothing a fussy babe. I found several of the poses and games she suggests to be both soothing and very enjoyable for my son. Some of our favorite games that we share come from this book, and require no toys, and can be practiced anywhere.
I have included some great references for parents who are more interested in this subject below. I hope that massage and yoga bring joy to your family as much as it has to ours!
- “Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents,” by Vimala Schneider McClure.
- Shiva Rea’s Post-natal Yoga DVD includes a bonus instructional session on infant massage that is excellent!
Yoga for Infants:
- “Itsy Bitsy Yoga: Poses to help your baby sleep longer, digest better, and grow stronger,” by Helen Garbedian.
- Mama and Baby Yoga by Shiva Rea (includes a practice for mamas too).
- The Nurturing Nest in Reno has many fitness classes, including yoga, designed for both mamas and babies. For more information visit: nurturingnestreno.com
1. McClure, Vimala Schneider. Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents. Bantham Books. New York, 1979.
2. Garabedian, Helen. Itsy Bitsy Yoga. Fireside. New York, 2004.