Child’s pose is almost always referred to as a resting posture (hmmm, guilty), or found in the restorative section of your yoga book or dvd, but it’s also a whole lot more awesome than that and maybe we should give it a little more time and attention.
Child’s pose puts your spine into the Primary Curve, the same curve your spine has when in the womb. No wonder you feel so safe and comforted there! It lengthens the back of the body as you curl your torso over your legs, creating space between the dorsal (top) surfaces of the vertebra of the spine and allowing an increase in flow of prana (energy or vital force) and citta (information or consciousness), or if you’re more scientifically minded it encourages blood flow and transmission of nerve messages through the back of the body (Borg-Olivier and Machliss. 2005).
Of the nerves that branch from the spinal cord, we yogis are particularly interested in those that make up the Autonomic nervous system; you’ve probably heard your yoga teacher talking about the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight or flight’ mode) and the parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and relax’).
These nerves of the Sympathetic nervous system branch out from the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine – the middle and upper back, while those of the parasympathetic nervous system are in the top of the spine and sacral area – the neck and pelvis. In child’s pose all these nerves are gently lengthened, or ‘tensioned’ (one of the few times when that tension word isn’t a bad thing!), mobilising them and allowing them to function more effectively.
Child’s pose also has your forehead resting gently on the floor – or if you’re not so bendy; on your stacked fists or a block, or you might rest your entire body along the length of a pile of folded blankets or even a bolster. Either way, you are encouraged to rest your forehead on something, which gently stimulates one of the branches of the vagus nerve that runs through the forehead (Robin, 2002).
The vagus nerve is an important regulator of the parasympathetic nervous system, and so stimulation of this nerve slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, decreases tension and levels of cortisol.
Curling yourself into child’s pose draws your awareness inward, it encourages what is known in yoga as pratyahara, a withdrawal of the senses.
This might simply begin with you noticing how the back of the body gently moves with your breath, instead of the front as when you’re upright. It might be that you close your eyes when in child’s pose, removing that external stimulus to the brain so brainwaves can slow and you become more relaxed. It is the part where you become quiet and still. This is the part of child’s pose that can also be confronting, as it removes external distractions and can leave you to deal with any of your stuff that you’ve been ignoring. (Again, guilty. Tears are always better out than in!)
It’s about letting go of the external world, and connecting to your inner self so you can really get your yoga happening – that union between body, mind, spirit.
Suzy Taylor is both super smart science geek and, well, super smart yoga teacher. But you probably guessed that already. We also love her earthy humour and her cooking.