My practice (like my body!) changed tremendously during my recent pregnancy. By the third trimester, the yoga I was doing bore absolutely no resemblance to my usual vigorous vinyasa. At the time, I was looking forward to getting back to my usual flow once my baby came. I had visions of myself doing sun salutations while he slept quietly next to me. But as new parents quickly learn, our pre-baby visions are often very different from the reality once our babies are actually here!
When my doctor okayed me to begin light stretching post-pregnancy I felt a sense of dread. It would mean time away from my baby, and he wanted to be with me just as much as I wanted to be with him. Still, I needed to start moving my body, so I developed a plan.
Rather than pushing myself through a strong flow, I decided to wrap him in a sling and start with a very light walk. What began as a two-block stroll every other day slowly grew into a stronger daily walk, and I realized that this was the best of both worlds: Thanks to the carrier, I could move and be with my baby at the same time.
I wondered, Could I do asana like this?
As it turned out, not only could I do a full practice with my baby in a carrier, but some of my favorite times with him were during those practices. Doing yoga as a new parent definitely did not look like my original vision—it looked better.
Baby-wearing is when a baby is held against their parent’s body in either a wrap (usually swaddled in a long piece of fabric) or a carrier, which are more like backpacks worn in the front or back. This is sometimes called “kangaroo care,” and there are numerous evidence-based benefits to it.
For example, research shows that babies who are worn are measurably calmed by the combination of motion and touch. When we do yoga with our babes in carriers, they are being passively moved in many different directions. This is linked to healthy weight gain and even increased bone density. If our baby is faced inward, they are belly to belly with us, which helps to regulate their heart rate and breathing. On a psychological level, baby-wearing can lead to secure attachment to the parent.
Parents also benefit from baby closeness. Our nervous systems, like our baby’s, are regulated by touch. Studies have shown that parents who baby-wear are more present and responsive to their babies. There is also evidence that baby-wearing can reduce symptoms of postpartum depression and can lower stress levels.
Of course, baby-wearing also allows us to maintain our yoga practice without needing childcare, which is another huge benefit for new parents.
Overall, much as when we do yoga, baby-wearing helps us to be fully absorbed in the moment and thus also connect more deeply with our little ones.
Below is a nine-pose sequence you can do while wearing your baby.
A chair is integral to this sequence, so set one up at the top of your mat before you begin. Also have two blocks handy.
Also note that this practice is recommended for pre-crawling babies (0–6 months) in the face-in position. It is not impossible with older babies (I’m using my 7-month-old in the videos below), but be prepared for a lot of squirming! Please make sure your baby is secure (particularly their head and neck) before you do any kind of movement, especially the forward bends and inversions.
Sit on the chair with both feet on the floor, hip-width apart. It is rare that we have the time to pause, so take a few easy breaths to get grounded. Place your right ankle on your left thigh just above the knee. Make sure there is enough space for your baby’s bum (or the bottom of the newborn insert if you’re using a carrier) to fit between the gap of your thighs.
Hold your baby’s back with both hands. Inhale to lengthen your spine and as you exhale, begin to fold forward. Take 20 deep breaths, breathing in the smell of the top of their head. Come up to sitting slowly, bracing your baby with both hands, and switch legs.
Place your blocks in front of the chair before you begin. From your seated position on the chair, take your feet as wide as the mat and externally rotate your thighs, so your toes point out. Put at least one hand on your baby to brace them. Inhale to lift your chest and as you exhale, start to fold forward between your legs. If your baby feels secure, reach one arm out at a time as you fold, either placing the palms of your hands or your fingertips on the blocks. Otherwise, continue holding your baby with one hand, using the other on the block to support your body, and then switch hands halfway. Keep your drishti (gaze) slightly forward to encourage your spine to lengthen. Hold for 25 breaths. Then brace your baby as you slowly come back up to sit.
Now let’s come into down dog through a mini sun salutation. Stand facing the chair. Inhale to sweep your arms out and up, bending your elbows at shoulder height (you may find with certain carrying apparatuses that it is challenging to lift the arms all the way up) and touch your palms together overhead. As you exhale, put one hand on your baby to brace them, and fold forward and place one or both hands on the edges of the chair seat. Inhale to reach your chest forward and on an exhale, step one foot back at a time until your sit bones are above your heels, coming into downward facing dog with the chair.
Look toward the crown of your baby’s head to lengthen the back of your neck. Draw your baby in toward you by pulling your lower ribs in and reach your sit bones back to lengthen your spine. Take five breaths. If you kept one hand bracing your baby (as shown) repeat on the other side next time, placing your opposite hand on the chair.
From downward facing dog holding the chair seat, step your right foot forward and bend your front knee, lowering your back knee to the floor. Bring both hands into prayer position where your and your baby’s heart meet. You can also keep your hands on the chair and just work your legs, or if you feel stable (this is why the chair is here), you can lift your prayer hands up to the sky on an inhale, keeping your elbows bent to about 90 degrees at forehead height and palms together. Look straight ahead or up toward your hands.
Take 10 breaths. Bring both hands back onto the chair seat first, then curl your back toes under and lift your back knee, stepping back into downward facing dog. Switch sides.
From downward facing dog holding the chair seat, inhale to shift your hips forward, arching your spine to come into upward facing dog with your toes tucked. Lift your chest forward and up to the ceiling while releasing your tailbone down toward the floor. Keep your gaze forward or look up to the sky. Your toes will stay tucked, giving you traction to reach back through your heels. Roll your inner thighs up to the sky.
Imagine pulling your baby in toward you, heart to heart, arching your upper back more and deepening the backbend. Then, on an exhale, pull your hips up and back toward downward dog. Explore going back and forth slowly between these two poses on the breath, inhaling to up dog and exhaling back to down dog, for a special “baby carrier vinyasa.”
Move the chair to the long side of the mat with the seat facing in. Turn to face the chair and step your feet three to four feet apart and bring your hands to your baby. Inhale to lift your chest and exhale to fold forward bracing your baby. Then place your elbows on the chair. Your baby will be on their back in the carrier as if it were a hammock. If this feels at all unstable, use one or both hands to hold your baby. You should be able to easily kiss your baby’s forehead.
For more shoulder opening, either slide the chair away from you, holding the outer edge of the seat with straight arms (as in downward facing dog), or walk your feet back a bit. Hold for 20 breaths if you'd like. To come out, brace your baby with one hand as you bring the other hand to your hip and inhale up to standing. Step your feet together. Place the chair at the front of the mat again.
Come to kneeling on the floor with your blocks close by. You can use the chair to help you and your baby get to the floor safely and slowly. Place a block on either side of your feet on the highest setting. Come up onto your shins, separating your feet and knees hip-distance apart.
Bring your hands to your hips and lift your chest on an inhale. As you exhale, place your hands on the blocks. Externally rotate your arms so that your thumbs point to the front of your mat. If the blocks feel too far away, keep your hands on your hips. Imagine pulling your baby closer to you as you lift both of your hearts to the ceiling, but keep your gaze down toward your baby to maintain length in your neck. Take three to five breaths here. Then, on an inhale, come up slowly. Sit back on your heels in a wide-kneed version of vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) and rest before repeating camel pose one more time.
Remain sitting on your heels in vajrasana. Place the left block directly in front of you. Place your left hand on it and your right hand on the other block. Adjust the block heights and positions as needed so that both arms are extended with a slight bend in the elbows. Inhale to lengthen your spine and as you exhale, twist to the right. You will not get a ton of rotation, but remember that even the gentlest movement (what is called passive movement) is beneficial for your babe. Use your breath to twist more deeply as you inhale to lengthen and exhale to twist. Do this for 10 breaths. Exhale to come back to center. Adjust your blocks to switch sides.
For the final pose, place your chair at the bottom of your mat so that you could fit your shins between the chair legs while lying down. Place one block on the highest setting and the other block on the medium setting somewhere between the middle and top of your mat—the top block will support your head, the other block your shoulder blades. Bend your knees, placing your feet on the floor, and ease your way back into a reclining position over the blocks, adjusting their position as necessary. Open your arms to the sides at shoulder height with a soft bend in the elbows to open your chest. Either straighten your legs from here and let the chair wedge the outer shins (this creates a cocooned feeling and stabilizes the sacroiliac joint) or keep your knees bent. Close your eyes or soften their gaze.
Your baby’s head will rest against your heart. Feel your breath and your baby’s breath merge as your bellies rise and fall together with each inhale and exhale. Stay five minutes or as long (or little) as your baby would like. When it is time to come out, bend your knees and roll to your right side, using your right elbow for support and come to any comfortable seat, or press directly up to seated through center as shown. Wrap your arms around your baby and bow your head. Say “Namaste” to your little one and see/hear how they respond, either with a sound or an expression on their face.
You and Your Baby Are One
As you conclude your practice, remember that the root of the word yoga is “yuj,” which means to join or yoke—yoga is a practice of unification, to become one with. Practicing with our little ones bound close to us is a way to yoke ourselves together, to unite as one. It is partner yoga at its best with the cutest partner ever!