Hey readers! I am glad you are here! Although child's pose (known as "balasana" in yoga) is one of my most favorite yoga poses, I have learned through my years of teaching and practicing that not everyone likes child's pose, at least in its "traditional" form. Because child's pose is often instructed throughout most yoga classes, it's good to know how to vary it up so you can make it feel the best for your body. So, in this month's blog post, I will offer some other options that you can do in addition to, or instead of, traditional child's pose.
What's the Purpose of Child's Pose - What can I get out of it?
Child's pose is often used as a mini-rest space in yoga. It's a place where you reconnect with your breath and inner light. A place where you can check back in with the sensations and emotions arising and swirling within you during your practice. It's also a place to regroup and prep for what is coming later in your practice.
From a muscular standpoint, balasana passively stretches the muscles of the back, which helps to open the back of the thorax and lungs. Balasana stretches the front of the ankles and thighs, and the back of the hips. Balasana helps to calm the brain and relieve stress, and through this pose, you can practice breathing into the backside of your torso.
I personally love child's pose because it feels super safe for my body since I am crunched up into a little ball, hiding from the outside world, and protecting my delicate organs on the front of my body. But, as I said, I have come to learn that child's pose, just like any other yoga pose, is not for every BODY. Some people quite honestly loathe child's pose because it can feel really uncomfortable in some bodies. If you are in the camp, that is totally fine because there are many other options you can try instead of doing traditional child's pose in your own practice or when a teacher cues it during class.
"Traditional" Child's Pose
In asana (i.e. pose) practice in yoga, each pose has a "traditional" look; however, that does not mean that a particular pose has to look a certain way. On the contrary, a yoga asana, or pose, should always be a unique reflection of you and your body in that moment. Just as there is no right or wrong way to embody warrior 2 or tree pose, there really is not a right or wrong way, per se, to embody child's pose. Sure, yoga poses have some basic biomechanical alignment principles that typically make the pose safer on the joints and soft tissues, but in general, the same yoga pose will very likely look different from one person to the next.
But, alas, I am very often asked by my students what various yoga poses are supposed to look like from a traditional perspective. So, I will give a basic description of what "traditional" balasana (child's pose) would look like, but please please please keep in mind that this traditional execution is not more advanced, correct, or somehow better than the other variations.
In traditional child's pose, you are sort of in a quadruped shape, like table top pose, but instead of being on your hands and knees as in table top, you are resting on your knees, shins, and arms, with your front torso resting on, or in between, your front thighs. Arms are traditionally reaching long out in front of you, with the elbows straight (i.e. extended).
Variations - Make it Yours
There are many different ways to express child's pose in your practice. The possible variations described below are simply taken from my own personal practice as well as observations from my years of teaching yoga. If you aren't sure which variation is best for your body, you can always try out the different choices and see what resonates best with you and your spirit. You are looking for that delicious, yet safe, sensation that comes when you execute the asana in the most authentic way. For me, I know I have hit that spot when the pose feels almost like eating a delicious piece of chocolate - pure bliss, like I could stay there forever.
Adjust Limb position (Arm and Legs). One way to modify child's pose is to change the shape and/or position of your legs and/or arms. Re: arms, you can bend the elbows and bring your bound palms behind your head (as shown in the picture at the top of this post). You could alternatively bring your arms behind you, possibly wrapping them together under your pelvis (as shown below) or lying them alongside you (not pictured). Re: legs, you can bring your thighs right up next to each other, leaving little space between them. Alternatively, you could open your knees wide apart, putting a good deal of space between them.
Use an Alternative Poses. If adjusting arm/leg position does not help make child's pose feel yummier to you, or if you just want to try something different, you could always substitute a different asana, or pose, for child's pose. Similar to child's pose is puppy pose, as well as modified puppy pose. Puppy pose, in its "traditional" form is like downward dog on your knees (as shown in figure 1 below). Modified puppy pose, which I find many students use, is like puppy pose in that you are on your knees, but instead of stretching your arms long, the arms are actually bent at the elbows and you are resting in your forearms (shown in figure 4 below). I find that this alternative is helpful for people who do not like the constricting nature of traditional child's pose. Another option is to simply sit back on your shins in hero's pose (as shown in figure 2 below). I've also noticed some students I teach prefer to stay in table top pose itself (as shown in figure 3 below). I've even noticed students heading to downward dog or even forward fold during a "child's pose" break in class. Thus, you really don't have to go into actual child's pose if you do not want to in a given moment. There are a lot of other poses you can easily shift in and out of.
Figure 1. Puppy pose
Figure 2. Hero's pose
Figure 3. Table top pose
Figure 4. Modified puppy pose
Add an Extra Movement. Another way to spice up or vary your child's pose is to add some additional movement, such as a rotation or a side-bend. If you add a rotation, you could keep the range of motion small and simply rotate your eye gaze under each armpit area. Or, you could deepen that rotation and go into thread the needle (as shown below). For the side-bend, you could walk both hands to either side of the long-edge of the mat. Personally, I find a side-bend in child's pose to be absolutely divine. It's one of my favorites, and I do it often in my practice. Another option is to gently rotate just your head and neck side to side, like you are using the mat to massage your forehead.
Use Props. Yoga props are always a wonderful way to add variety to your practice. You could use a large bolster, place it vertically and in between your inner thighs, and rest your entire front torso on it (shown in figure 1 below). I absolutely love this variation to child's. You essentially "hug" the bolster, which feels really nice and safe. You could also place a rolled up yoga blanket in between your pelvis and heels/ankles (shown in figure 2 below). This can also feel yummy if you have some space between your glutes and feet when doing child's pose. Not pictured, you could also rest your forehead on a block placed under your head. This can add a little space between your face and mat, providing a little more airflow for breathing. It also can be a nice way to massage your third eye, aka 6th chakra center - your so-called "intuition" center in yoga philosophy.
Figure 1. Child's with large bolster
Figure 2. Child's with blanket
Although child's pose is one of my most favorite yoga poses, not everyone feels that same way. I have learned through my years of teaching and practicing yoga that child's pose is quite literally torture for some bodies. Thus, it's good to know who to modify or vary this pose because it is often cued in many yoga classes. You can adjust your arm or leg position in child's pose or add an additional movement, such as a rotation or side-bend. Or, if child's pose in any variation is simply not for you at all, then use a different pose, such as hero's pose, table top, or even downward dog. You might even use props to change the experience for your body. Child's pose is supposed to be a place where you can reconnect with your breath, yourself, and your intention in your practice, so it should feel yummy and authentic. If traditional child's pose does not feel delicious to you, then try modifying it or changing to a different asana all together. Play around with each variation to figure out what feels best to your body. Maybe only one variation works for you, or maybe some, or all of them, do. Maybe one variation feels good one day, and a different variation feels better on another day. Just as with anything in yoga, listen to what feels most authentic to YOU and YOUR body. There is no right or wrong in yoga, as long as you are being genuine for yourself. Thanks for reading this! See you all next month!
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of human movement and yoga. If you have questions about child's pose specific for you, please follow up with your physician, physical therapist, personal trainer, or yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga and/or personal training sessions with me, Jackie, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my monthly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES, NASM-SFC