Relax into balasana child’s pose

This is one of my favourite poses. It can be a very calming pose, and with the head resting on something, can help a busy head start to quieten down. For me the intention behind it is to rest, to turn inwards, to quieten the mind and body, and to gently lengthen the spine in a mild flexion (forward fold).

It can be adapted in different ways, with different options for the knees, upper body, arms, head and hips. You can stay in the pose from anything for a few breaths to 30 seconds or a few minutes. It can be used in between poses and sequences, or as a moment of rest during a busy day, or before bed.

If you find this pose comfy, and exhales become slightly longer, it can activate our ‘rest and digest’ relaxation response, and dial down an over-active nervous system. This helps deal with stress and anxiety, and to dial down the stress response.

Where do the arms go in balasana?

Let’s start with where the arms might go. They can be wrapped around the body with the hands near the feet. Or they can be reaching forwards in front of the head (which some yoga teachers call ancestral worship), or they can be folded under the head. The latter is my default position, although I like all three!

With the arms reaching forward there is more engagement in the shoulders. You can try palms up or palms down.

Alyson in child's pose with arms in front of head
Image: Head on floor, arms reach forward. Here my knees are fairly close together and I’m partially resting on my legs, so you can see the curve in the upper mid back.

Having the arms forward is also useful if the lumbar (lower) spine is tight and rounds more in the thoracic spine area e.g. below the shoulder blades/mid ribs area. Arms forward and knees wide as a combination is also beneficial if there’s a tendency for kyphosis (rounded upper mid back), as it allows the spine to lengthen more rather than round.

Where should I put my head in child’s pose?

Once we’ve sorted out the arms, where shall we put the head? If it doesn’t comfortably reach the floor in this position, placing it on a folded blanket, yoga block or similar will help. Physically resting the head can be very calming, and you may find if you suffer from headaches, this helps when you have one. I like to fold my arms and rest my head on my arms or backs of my hands.

Alyson in child's pose with arms folded under head
Image: Head resting on folded forearms

How to be comfy in the knees in balasana

The knee position which I favour is wide knees (with toes touching), like a V shape. This gives space for the upper body, chest and belly in particular, so the abdomen isn’t squashed, and the breathing can be full and relaxed. It’s also more comfy for many women.

The wide knees position also lets the spine lengthen a little more, which can be helpful if your spine naturally curves at the thoracic area (kyphosis). You can see the difference in the two photos below – in the left (first) image I have my knees together and the upper back is more rounded. With wide knees my spine lengthens more, including at the lumber (lower back) area and upper mid back. If we are looking to undo body patterns that might not be so helpful (e.g. overly-curved areas of spine), this might be the variation to do.

You can also use a blanket or a towel underneath the knees for padding and added support if the floor feels too hard on the knees.

If kneeling with this deep flexion in the knees is not comfy, placing a sock or similar in the crook of the knee can help reduce the intensity (see marked up photo further down).

If you have more restricted movement in the knees and cannot be into this position, I would sit up and fold forward to a support e.g. arms and head resting on a chair seat.

What about the ankles in balasana?

If the ankles are not happy in this deep flexion, you can try a rolled towel under the ankles to take the pressure off them. (See marked up photo below.)

What if my quadriceps are tight and don’t allow me to sit back?

The quadriceps need to lengthen to allow the hips to move down, so if you have tight quadriceps you can pop something under the bottom so that you don’t have to sit down so deeply. The cushion/support can be between the feet which are wider than hip width apart.

Alyson in child's pose with head supported on yoga blocks, and yoga blocks under bottom
Image: Modifications: bottom raised up on support, rolled towel under ankles, rolled towel behind knees, head rests on support

Fists variation

Another variation is to place your fists into the fold at the top of thighs. For some women this can provide relief from menstrual cramps, but for some women this can make them feel worse. Try it for yourself. Uma Dinsmore Tuli refers to this as hare pose in her book Yoni Shakti.

Alyson in child's pose with fists tucked between abdomen and top of thighs
Image: Balasana with fists tucked into top of thighs/into groin

Alternative to child’s pose if it’s just not comfy

If you can’t get comfy in child’s pose, particularly if the ankles and knees are not happy, there are alternatives. If we consider the intention to rest the head and lengthen the spine in a natural way, a seated position leaning onto the seat of a chair would be good, especially if sat on a block or two to help lift out of the hips and create freedom in the lower spine.

If you are pregnant, child’s pose may feel ok whilst the bump is still small, especially if you do the ‘knees wide’ variation, but a deep forward fold isn’t appropriate after 4-6 months (or earlier if it’s uncomfortable), so taking a seated version to a chair would be more helpful.

Supported version

The pose can also be practised over a raised bolster or stack of pillows, and you can stay for 5-10mins when you’re in a more restorative version.

Alyson in supported child's pose over stack of pillows
Image: Upper body supported over a stack of pillows, slightly raised up. If your face feels a bit squashed into the pillow or bolster you might want a larger folded blanket for the forehead.

What version do you like best?

2 thoughts on “Relax into balasana child’s pose

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