I certainly enjoy staring at my son. Don’t get me wrong, I also really enjoy it when he naps… but sometimes even after pining for naptime to roll around so I can steal some quiet or gather a collection of task-oriented moments, I often find myself staring at pictures or videos of him. After much fixed gazing & watching him develop over the past 19 months, I’ve realized in hindsight how much of a movement educator he truly is!
Perhaps the first and most obvious thing my son has modeled is an effortlessness of breath. Our breath is an amazing and beautiful function of our bodies. It is autonomic. And yet, we do have a measure of control over it. It is something that many of us don’t likely think about often enough, perhaps until we take a deep sigh and realize that we’ve been holding our breath or taking very shallow, stress-induced breaths in the upper chest (driven by our secondary breathing muscles rather than discovering the freedom of movement for our lungs, ribs, diaphragm, and belly). I can often notice how my son participates in a full body breath. It’s not unnecessarily exaggerated or dramatic but is like a gentle wave that drifts very subtly over his frame. Truly, the breath is influential over the whole body
, making the reverse also true: where we experience tension in our bodies is likely to have an impact on our flow of breath. When I observe my son, I can begin to explore shedding inhibiting and unhelpful breathing patterns that I’ve fostered over the years, whether a result of internal stressors or external cultural expectations of flat bellies.
Watching little babies can also teach us a lot about developing strength. Moving in a prone position (lying belly down) is such an amazing way to strengthen the whole body, and especially to strengthen the back. The lift of the heavy head, whether lying in this way or positioned on all fours, is an incredible way to promote neck strength, and takes us out of our pervasive head and neck down approach to modern day life (thanks to computers and smartphones). From a strength building standpoint, there are enormous benefits to crawling
around on the ground that we can put to use even in (or perhaps especially) in our adult forms. It is also amazing to me to see his upper body strength now be to the degree in which he can pull himself up onto all our furniture. I sometimes wonder if we all could have maintained this proportion of upper body strength by simply buying progressively larger couches. Then again maybe we need lower couches instead so we can get our squat game on…
Speaking of crawling, it is a movement pattern that promotes neural connections to make the brain more efficient
through establishing more effective communication between the right and left hemispheres. This contralateral and cross patterning also enhances your reflexive stability and proprioceptive awareness. Crawling involves the collaboration of the shoulder girdle and pelvis. This movement helps to establish and clarify gait and coordination in general.
Back to squatting. Do babies know squat or what? When my son spots something on the ground he is eager to pick up, he so effortlessly squats and scopes it out. When he is ready to resume walking, he pops right back up and wanders over to something else. I’m pretty convinced that squatting is a lost art. Modern day furniture and jobs that tie us to our desks rob us of this very rich and ancestral way of being in our bodies that is just so good for the range of motion in our feet and ankles, the strength of our glutes, mobility of our hips, and ease for our spines. I’m currently making a concerted effort to know squat, in all its expressions, increasingly better.
One thing I love about getting to know other babies (and their parents of course) is my increasing ability to honor the process by and the rate at which we learn how to do stuff. Babies all develop at different rates for a variety of reasons. We could do well to consider that as we look to make gains in our own lives. Some things come quickly, and others s l o w. My son, for instance, was not an early walker. I am pretty sure it is due to his enormous head (seriously, he was off the charts at one point). Hauling that noggin around took a bit more stabilization work for… well, everything since the head is perched on top of the rest of the body in standing.
My son loves to spin and bounce. He extends internally rotated arms behind him as though gripping an imaginary cape. He’s ready to take off (of course with a big grin on his face). The discovery of new actions available to him continues to inspire joy. And they are free of expectation to take a specific form. As adults, we can take it upon ourselves to write our own internal permission slips. We should aim to discover the myriad of movements our bodies are capable of—all available explore! So what are you waiting for? Go test out new shapes and unfamiliar actions. See what is there and let yourself feel—even if it is all clumsy to start. Most importantly move with wonder, delight, and joy. Rest assured, no feet in mouth level of flexibility are required to have a good time.
STEFANIE ZITO: 500 Hour YogaWorks Certified Yoga Instructor
Join Stefanie this summer for a special Baby & Me Movement series at Carnegie Museum of Art! You can learn more and sign up here. For more blogs and information from Stefanie, check out her website here!