The Mythology Behind Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)

May 25, 2015    BY Zo Newell

Although it is not one of the traditional poses found in older hatha yoga texts, ananda balasana, or “happy baby,” is very popular in contemporary practice. Its benefits include stretching the outer hips, inner groins, chest, and shoulders, lengthening the spine, and releasing tension in the low back. It is a great preparation for many seated poses. This pose resembles a reclining squat, and it offers a great alternative for people who cannot squat while bearing weight through their knees.

Although it is not one of the traditional poses found in older hatha yoga texts, ananda balasana, or “happy baby,” is very popular in contemporary practice.

The Story

Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya, was a famous warrior (his name means “ten chariots”) and a protector of dharma (cosmic order). He had three brave, lovely wives, but no children, and this lack made everyone in the kingdom sad.  

As Dasaratha longed for an heir, Bhumi Devi (Mother Earth) was praying for a champion to relieve her suffering at the hands of demons and powerful, unscrupulous people who despoiled her body and robbed her resources for their own gain.  

The sacred texts tell us: When the wick of dharma burns low and evil threatens the world, Vishnu the preserver takes birth to set things right again—at least for awhile. When the divine is born on earth, we call that birth an avatar, which means “descent” or “incarnation.” The time had come for Vishnu to return. This time he came as Dasaratha's eldest son, Rama, with a destiny to Fheal and protect not just Ayodhya, but Mother Earth herself.

Rama's birth was unusual. On the advice of the court sage Vasistha, Dasaratha performed a special yagna (sacrifice) known as Ashwamedha. At its completion, a golden vessel filled with payasam (milk pudding) emerged from the sacred fire, and a voice said: “Take this home and share it with your wives.”

At first he split the pudding evenly between his chief wife, Kausalya, and his second wife, Kaikeyi. Generous Kausalya gave half of her share to the youngest queen, Sumitra; then Kaikeyi, too, gave half her share to Sumitra. Everyone became pregnant. All on one happy day, Kausalya gave birth to Rama, Kaiketi to Bharata, and Sumitra to the twins, Shatrugna and Lakshman. The kingdom rejoiced, and Bhumi Devi rejoiced that her champions had arrived to restore dharma and save the earth. Dasaratha and his wives loved their four children dearly. Each had his special gift and charm, but Rama was the heart's delight of all. Rama's adventures in the world are the subject of the epic poem the Ramayana, or “Rama's Journey," but we can also understand Rama's story as an allegory of our own lives and bodies.

My teacher used to say that the divine is ready to be born in us all the time. Psychologically, avatars and other deities represent potentials waiting to be realized. Mythological stories and the characters in them symbolize parts of ourselves.

My teacher used to say that the divine is ready to be born in us all the time.

Each of us is Dasaratha, the commander of ten chariots. The ten chariots are our five organs of sense and action, the elements that connect our intelligence with the physical world. The Katha Upanishad famously uses the image of the body as a chariot pulled by the horses of our senses along the paths of sense objects, with atman (soul) as the rider, buddhi (intelligence) as the driver, manas (mind) as the reins. (1.3.3-1.3.4) Dasaratha is one who controls the mind and senses—a yogi.

Kaushalya means skill; Dasaratha's first wife, or attribute, represents the skill to keep the mind steady on the Self and not let it be sidetracked by the senses. 

Ashwa means now, the present moment; medha means purification. Ashwamedha means purifying the mind of all distractions and being present in the “now." (“Ashwa” can also mean “horse"; one form of the “horse sacrifice” involved a king allowing his horse to roam freely until it stopped, at which point the king claimed sovereignty over the land his horse had covered—just as a meditator may free their mind to discover new territory which they then “own.") Rama means “one who gives happiness." (Some interpreters add that ra means radiance, light, and ma means “in me.”) When Dasaratha performs the ashwamedha sacrifice and shares the results with Kaushalya, the child Rama—inner radiance and joy—is conceived. When we control our minds and senses in meditation, focusing on internal reality and renouncing external claims, the divine potential within manifests: A happy baby is born. The Bhagavad Gita (2.50) says: Yoga karmasu kaushalam, “yoga is skill in action.” You could say that when our mind-body complex acts skillfully, we are in a state of yoga; we become en-light-ened. This is the inner meaning of Rama's birth.

Also remember that Rama is accompanied by three other qualities. Dasaratha's other sons are: Lakshman (“mindfulness, awareness”) and Shatrughna (“one who has no enemies”), the sons of Sumitra (“good friend”); and Bharata (“all talents”), the son of Kaikeyi (one who appears outwardly unpleasant but whose inner effect is deeply beneficial, like a bitter medicine).

The Pose

Lie comfortably on your back. Bend your knees. Place the soles of your feet on the floor.

Keeping your left foot on the floor, bring your right knee up toward your right armpit. Reach across your right shin with your right hand and grasp the outside edge of your right foot. Flex the foot. If you cannot reach the outside of your foot, loop a strap over the ball of the foot and hold that. Exhale. Relax your shoulders and face.

Rest your left hand on your left hip point. Keeping your left hip level, turn the sole of your right foot to face the ceiling, stacking your ankle over your knee. Go slowly; notice the sensations in your leg as you bring it to a right angle. Keep the foot flexed. Resist your foot up against your hand (or strap) as you pull the outer edge of your right foot down. Draw your leg toward your outer ribs, as if you could place your knee in your armpit. You can even place a block, folded blanket, or bolster close to your side. Add height until the knee can touch. Hips remain level, and shoulders, chest, and tongue relaxed. Breathe!

Notice your foot. Do your toes point out away from your body as your leg descends? That means you are externally rotating your thigh. Can you maintain more of an internal rotation so that the your toes point straight back? How does this change the sensation in your right thigh?

Find the “just-right” position and stay for a few breaths. Don't force it; be playful.

Bring your right foot to the floor and repeat on the left side. Notice the difference. Finally, grasp both feet and draw your legs down evenly, like a happy baby in her crib. As you draw your feet down, roll your tailbone and sit bones toward the floor too (but not so much that your low ribs jut forward and you create a big arch in your low back). Notice that if you curl the tailbone toward your face, you lose some of the stretch in your thighs; move it toward the floor, and you’ll feel a nice strong sensation that is balanced by the downward pull of your hands. Find the “just-right” position and stay for a few breaths. Don't force it; be playful.

Reflection

Babies love to play with their feet. In this pose, recapture the sheer joy and fascination of lying on your back and discovering your legs, toes, shoulders and back.  

Within each of us, no matter our age, there is a “divine child” ready to be born in the form of inspiration, creative energy, or a new, unconditioned experience of the world. For three days, make ananda balasana your first pose of the day. How does starting your day with a playful, open, innocent posture like this affect what comes afterward?

Consider the characters in this story as aspects of your own psyche. What is born of your skillful efforts to control your mind and senses? What about your own qualities of mindfulness, friendliness, and talent? Have they been fostered by practices or experiences that seemed bitter at first?

Zo Newell
Zo Newell, Ph.D., ERYT 500, was introduced to yoga as a child by Dr. Rammurti Mishra (Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati). She earned her Ph.D. in religious studies from Vanderbilt University in 2011, with a dissertation on goddess images as a unifying cultural symbol for India's emerging national identity. She is the author of the award-winning book Downward Dogs and Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis (Himalayan Insitute, 2007). A former hospital chaplain and trauma counselor, Zo was a regular... Read more>>

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