Being one of the most relaxing and restorative poses in yoga, balasana (child’s pose) is a common beginner’s pose and often used as a resting position between more challenging asanas. Each time we hear “come to child’s pose” in a class, we heave a sigh of relief. If you haven’t done so…maybe you aren’t working hard enough and it’s time to try a tougher class! Jokes aside, let’s dive into the anatomy of this pose so we can get the most out of it.
First, let’s talk about the basic alignment. A quick search on Google will produce the image on the left – which is actually utthita balasana, extended child’s pose. Dig a little deeper and you will find balasana as seen on the right.
They are largely similar:
- minimal muscle engagement and our body is mostly in flexion
- knees hip-width apart, big toes touching
- shins, feet, forearms, hands and forehead resting on the mat
- abdomen compressed as we release our body weight and relax our muscles
- both stretch and elongate the splenius muscles (neck), erector spinae (spine), quadratus lumborum, gluteus maximus and feet dorsiflexors
The main difference lies in the shoulders and arms. Extending the arms makes the pose more active, lengthening and broadening the latissimus dorsi (“lats”). Folding the arms inwards alongside the thighs in balasana allows your shoulder and upper arm muscles to fully relax. You may also feel a gentle stretch of the posterior deltoids from the inward rotation of your arms.
Diving deeper, let’s look at the main group of muscles being stretched here. The erector spinae group of muscles include the iliocostalis, longissimus and spinalis. They maintain a natural curve in our spine and allow us to bend backwards and sideways. You will be able to feel the engagement of these muscles in most sitting and standing postures, backbends – try Virabhadrasana I, II, III (warrior), Trikonasana, Ustrasana (camel), and even Tadasana. Without regular stretching, all the accumulated tension may lead to chronic tightness of these spinal extensors, which can cause headaches and neck pain. This is why it is important to include poses like balasana and halasana (plough pose) in our practice to stretch them out.
Every body is different and the traditional balasana may not be comfortable for everyone. Here are some modifications to help you fully relax into this pose:
- tight ankles: place a rolled up blanket underneath
- hips cannot reach the heels: place a cushion or bolster on your heels for support
- knee issues: place a rolled up blanket behind your knee joint, in between your thighs and calves.
- back issues: spread your knees wider to keep the spine straight. You may also rest your forehead on a firm pillow or a stack of blankets if your lower back is tight.
- If you’re pregnant: spread your knees, allow your belly to rest comfortably between your thighs.
- Spreading the knees deepens the stretch in your hips, if you have tight hips you may keep your knees close together.
Use your breath to help you deepen the stretch. Breathe deeply, and which each inhalation magine your expanding and doming toward the ceiling, allowing the spine to lengthen and widen. As you exhale, release your torso deeper into the pose. Balasana is also great for beginners to get comfortable with thoracic breathing.
Balasana may seem like child’s play, but it has a wide range of benefits. Besides stretching our muscles, it also helps with dizziness and fatigue. The forward fold massages your internal organs and aids in digestion. Mentally, it can alleviate stress and anxiety, allowing us to calm our minds as we focus on our breath. In short, child’s pose is a great way to rest and rejuvenate physically, mentally and spiritually.