Playing with movement
image source: fitmommabear.wordpress.com
In every Move Baby Move class we always do a standing circle dance. This give the babies a chance to experience movement kinesthetically and visually via watching the others in the room. We play with all different speeds and qualities of movement in class and today we are going to talk about what we are doing and why it's important to babies and their development.
Movement qualities are not something we really think of, but are actually very aware of. Have you ever sat and watched people walk? You notice some people walk faster than others, some may have a bounce to their step while other seems to float across the floor. We really notice movement qualities when we see someone move in ways that are abnormal or funny. Rudolf von Laban is a German movement specialist who created a way of noting movement in the human body. This practice is called Labanotation and is still used today in Dance and Acting.
Laban was able to categorize human movement into four basic parts, with opposites in each category.
We can see some of these qualities in babies from the moment they are born. Newborns are heavy and floppy as they adjust to a world without fluid to support their bodies. They have quick (TIME) and jerky (SPACE-indirect) movements. Where we see direct movement (SPACE) is during feeding, gazing into the eyes of parents, and in the effort to lift (WEIGHT-strong) the head. In time their movement becomes more fluid, more direct, as they are able to strengthen their head, arms and core.
One of my favorite ways to practice the movement qualities is to, "She'll be coming 'round the Mountain." In this activity we start with the adults standing in a circle, holding their babies facing out. We start with a simple walk around in a circle. Right away we are playing with TIME (sustained), SPACE (direct) and FLOW (bound). After the first verse we move into running (TIME-quick, WEIGHT-light. FLOW-bound), stomping (WEIGHT-heavy), and then flying (WEIGHT-light, SPACE-indirect, FLOW-free). Many times you'll notice we are playing with more than one quality at once, so there is lot of over-lapping. Between each verse we always stop and take in a deep breath, letting the adults find their balance and center themselves. In this still moment, a long deep breath helps the babies nervous system regulate after the stimulation.
When we play with the different movement qualities we are giving the babies a chance to experience and practice the movement qualities which will eventually be reflected in their social behaviors and body language. They are learning movement by moving with you!
Tummy Time Hacks
Ah, the wonderful tummy time. It seems that everyone, babies included, have a love/hate relationship with tummy time. You know its important so you lay your baby down on their belly and they quickly start to fuss and wiggle. Soon it turns into a full on scream fest. Why would you want to do that 30-40 minutes a day? You're stressed, the baby is stressed so maybe you just avoid it, or you don't do it as much as you're supposed to.
Tummy time is the most important thing you can do for your baby when it comes to developing their spinal curves, building muscle strength, and helping them find vertical alignment. So how can we make tummy time enjoyable and beneficial? I think we just need to understand it a little more, so lets break it down and figure out the best way to do tummy time.
Tummy time does several things, the first is that it prevents the flattening of a babies head. This occurs when a baby spends too much time laying on their back. It's ok for a baby to be on their back, this is how they sleep and they can spend time during the day on their back, but adults need to be aware of how much time is actually being spent there. Luckily, we have seen more and more families turn to baby wearing, which is fantastic! This allows the baby to move around with Mom, feeling her movements and replicating the womb sensations. The baby is off their back and actually having an assisted tummy time. The other thing that tummy time does is it helps develop the spinal curves. When babies come into the physical world they have a "C" curve, tummy time builds the 3 curves needed in the spine (Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar). This builds the muscle strength needed to push onto all fours and begin balancing, which then leads to creeping, crawling, standing and walking.
Tummy time is any opportunity when your baby is on their stomach. There are many ways to do tummy time, and they all count towards your 30-40 minutes a day, although I can almost guarantee you are doing more than that without even realizing it. Some surprise tummy time opportunities are burping, holding them upright with their head by your shoulder and doing the "football hold", when their stomach is on your forearms and their head is able to move and look around. The hardest, most advanced version of tummy time is when we place a baby on their stomach, directly on the floor. This proves to be so much work and if the baby isn't strong enough yet, this leads to an almost instant meltdown. My favorite way to do floor tummy time is with an assist. Instead of placing your baby directly on the floor you take a rolled up blanket, boppy pillow or even your leg and place your babies chest across the item you choose. Their two arms will be over the item as well. Here is a visual to get the idea. A few things are happening in this position. 1) In this small lift, the pressure is taken off the entire spine and the baby is able to focus on just the cervical (neck) portion of the spine. This is the first curve to develop after birth, so we are building strength in the natural sequence and not letting your baby become overwhelmed. 2) This puts their feet directly onto the floor. This is important because as your baby gets bigger and stronger you'll notice that their feet start to float, either when they are on their back or on their stomach. This is natural and totally fine, but as I mentioned in a previous post, babies learn mobility by pushing. When the feet are directly on the floor they are able to push against it. The ankle gets stronger and each individual toe gets to push against the floor. You may even see your baby push so hard they go up into plank pose. This is why you always want to keep one hand on your baby because sometimes they push hard enough they end up pushing themselves over the object and onto their head! This is how we practice tummy time in a Move Baby Move class and adults are always surprised at how strong their baby is and the fact that they are actually in tummy time for longer than 10 seconds.
Parents often tell me their baby doesn't like tummy time. It is true that its a lot of work and effort for the baby. Struggling and fussing sometimes go hand in hand when hard work is introduced but, its not a reason to stop doing it. Whatever you do, don't make up your babies mind for them. You baby is smart and picks up everything you say. Babies change and grow constantly, so give your baby a chance to keep trying. Obviously you don't want to push them into a frenzy, but see what their edge is and then stop. Connect in how your baby experiences life, rest on your own tummy opposite from your baby. Model relaxation, full breathing and playfulness, Let your mind calm and tune into the senses that motivate your babies curiosity: sight, smell, touch and sound. Give yourself a chance to renew and restore your hard working "thinking' mind and bond with your baby.
We are the only mammals on the planet to have an earth and sky alignment. Our feet are firmly planted on the ground and our spines are long, tall, reaching towards the sky. This upright alignment is how we interact in our world and is one of the reasons parents feel overjoyed when their little one sits up right. They are finally becoming more "human". In a seated position your baby can take in their world and interact with more objects. There is great confidence about an independent sitter. Their eyes are open, clear and alert. Their spine is strong, reaching upwards and their sit bones are grounded. They are not tottering side to side and they're not slumped over or slouched in any way. That strong, independent sitting position is a lot of work for babies. Their curves had to develop through all the preceding patterns to find this position. When we try to place a baby (unsupported) in a seated position it starts to develop the spinal curves out of sequence. It forces the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) curves to become dominant, not the thoracic (middle back).
If we think of the developmental patterns that occur in a babies life, we can view them as puzzle pieces; sitting is a piece of that puzzle. Every baby is unique and therefore has their own puzzle they have to figure out. When we come along and place a baby in a seated position we just completed a big chunk of their puzzle for them. This "arrival" is not something they accomplished on their own, it's actually something they have been denied. Just like working with a real puzzle it takes time, it takes piece by piece to see the whole picture start to come together. It takes lots of patience and perseverance.
So, what can you do to help your baby? Tummy time! Encouraging more time on their tummy is extremely important as it takes lots of practice. Get down on the floor either on your tummy or back and play! Encourage your baby with cheers, touch and have fun. The recommendation is 30-40 minutes a day of tummy time play. This doesn't happen all at once, that would be way too much work! Acknowledge all the hard work your baby is doing and be sure to praise and give them rest when needed. In my classes we always go right into some heart to heart time after tummy time work.
Be sure to support and appreciate your babies own creative way to solve their bodies puzzle. Letting them put together their own puzzle develops balance, sequencing skills, coordination, spatial awareness, and a great sense of self-accomplishment. When those things are achieved we see children that have a positive body image, self-image and self-esteem.
The first 3 months of our babies life is spent adjusting to their new physical world. Every single need was automatically met in the womb, and now here's this new world where they have to learn how to do everything from breathing, suckling, digesting, eliminating and so much more. As parents, or caregivers, we are also adjusting to this new life. We are figuring out how to help our little ones meet all these changes. We are learning about their bodies, needs, cries and finding out our rhythm of care and nurturing. These are some enormous changes happening in our families! Whether you practice Yoga everyday or you've never been to a class, we can find guidance through Yoga philosophies to help our little ones adjust to this big, wonderful world.
Pace - From birth, babies track our nervous system. When we are anxious, they feel it. When we are excited, they feel it. Amazing, isn't it? So, right away the first thing we can pay attention to is our pace...slow...down. Living in a city we often rush from place to place and many times we run late, especially when little bodies are thrown into the mix. Instead of rushing to the next place, stirring up all the stress and anxiety, can you take a moment and slow down? Watch the leaves fall, smell the flowers, watch the boats along the river. It's ok to be late, it's ok to slow down your pace.
Alignment/Center - When you notice that life is becoming chaotic and your inner alignment has lost it's balance, check in with your awareness, attention and intention to find your balance again. Feel your feet root into the ground, finding stability, and bring that rooted feeling up into your core, up your spin and out the top of your head (crown). Finding your center during stressful times and taking the time to remain grounded, even when a baby is distressed, means you are working from a calm and responsive place instead of a reactionary place.
Pranayama (Breath) - Babies watch our every move, constantly learning from us. This means they are even watching us breathe. Taking deep, full, belly breathes allows our babies to focus, settle and mirror our breathing. Naturally babies breathe from their bellies, remember that little newborn belly going up and down? It is only through time and the stress of life that we start to breath higher and higher. Sit with your baby in your lap, your belly pressed right up against their back and take 3 big inhales and exhales, sending breath right into their back.
Hum (low OM) - Babies love singing! Singing, or humming, is an act of love and babies feel it. Singing lights up all the areas of the brain and stimulates the senses. Place one hand on your heart and the other to theirs and give humming a try. Babies love the heart to heart connection and the sound helps them settle and soothe.
Exercise/Play (Leela) - The same way we exercise to move energy, our babies need to do the same thing. When babies exercise and play they move energy around and learn how to regulate their nervous system. This free play is essential to creativity and discovery and is a great reminder to our adult bodies, to have fun and explore the incredible things our bodies can do.
Reflect/Mirror - Yoga teaches us to check in with ourselves, reflect on the things we learn on the mat, the things we observe about ourselves. We can practice this with our babies too. We can watch, observe and reflect back to our babies. Observing and acknowledging their emotions is an authentic way to build trust and attachment.
Small Meditation - Believe it or not you can actually meditate while with your baby. I like to call them Wonder Moments. You know when you are watching them look at the Christmas tree lights for the first time? That's an instance where you can stop and be completely in the moment. They happen all the time; when you are taking in every inch of their face, watching them learn a new skill, watching the snow fall, finding a new scent. These are all times in your day where you can do a small meditation. When you find yourself in a Wonder Moment, take a deep breath, fill with joy and enjoy!
Caring for a baby is one of the biggest responsibilities there is, whether you are a parent yourself, or you care for a baby. It's important to take the time to be a family, to be with yourself, be with your spouse...nourish all the parts of you. You can't pour from an empty cup, so be sure to take the time to give yourself love and be open receive love from others. No body has this whole thing figured out, the best thing you can do is be present, open and willing to make mistakes.
Ansley has been teaching Infant Movement classes since 2013, after studying Developmental Movement with Ellynne Skove. Since completing her training Ansley has taught all over the New York, New Jersey, Boston and now Florida. Ansley is certified in Level 1 Reiki and has completed her 200hr YT. She is passionate about empowering, nurturing and providing care to all families as they encounter the demands and joys of parenthood. Through her work she is able to soulfully fulfil her greatest ambition; to care for others.