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Baby Yoga Moves can Strengthen your Baby’s Vestibular System

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by | 2 views
by Heather Hernandez-Reja

Balance is the core of functioning. It is the first system to be fully developed, becoming operational at 16 weeks in the utero and is myelinated (an electrical insulator that increases the speed and efficiency of the neural connections which slowly overrides the primitive reflexes) at birth, providing the fetus with a sense of direction and orientation inside the womb. It is in place to help cope with the problem of gravity, which the child will encounter its full force for the first time when she is born.

Every living creature shares one relationship: a relationship with gravity. It is gravity that provides us with our center, whether it be in space, in time, motion, depth or sense of self, acting as the nucleus from which all operations become possible. Problems in the balance system will have repercussions for all other areas functioning. Such problems affect the sensory systems because all sensation passes through the vestibular mechanism at brainstem level before being transmitted elsewhere for analysis.

The vestibular system operates closely with the reflexes to facilitate balance. It is located in the inner ear and its job is to monitor and make adjustments to any movement of the head or the environment. The vestibular is possibly the oldest and the most primitive of the sensory systems. It is believed that the human ear is an outgrowth of development of one of the earliest vertebrate complex sensory end-organs.

The ear is divided into two structures: 1. The vestibular apparatus or balance mechanism 2. The cochlea or auditory apparatus. In baby yoga, we concentrate on developing the vestibular apparatus.

The vestibular and reflex systems are inter-dependent in the control of posture and movement. Vestibular dysfunction can alter the level of reflex response, and reflex abnormalities can impede the functioning of the vestibular system. The vestibular system has connection to:

  • The autonomic nervous system – digestion etc.
  • The visual system – 90% of cells in the visual system respond to vestibular stimulation
  • The sleep and waking cycles
  • REM dream sleep
  • The perception of weight

“Vestibular input is necessary for static and dynamic balance development, eye-tracking ability and motor planning. Children who are slow to develop good vestibular functioning are delayed in all gross motor patterns which require coordination of both sides of the body. They may have difficulty in maintaining posture, with eye-hand coordination, and with fine motor control.” (Pyfer 1981)

Signs suggestive of vestibular dysfunction:

  • Poor Balance
  • Delay in postural and motor milestones such as head control, sitting, crawling, and walking
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Motion sickness beyond the age of puberty
  • Dislike of heights, swings, carousels, escalators and lifts, or conversely, no fear of heights
  • Easily disoriented, poor sense of direction
  • Clumsy
  • Difficult in remaining still; may actively seek vestibular stimulation through activities such as excessive rocking or spinning
  • Difficulties in space perception
  • Poor organizational skills, “dizzy” or scatterbrained behavior
  • Cannot work out “how” to do certain activities e.g. push/pull
  • Fatigue/lethargy
  • Inability to mentally rotate or reverse objects in space or procedures; can affect such things as the ability to read and analog clock which is a spatial ability, or to understand that multiplication and division are the same processes in reverse.

Balance is not something that happens to us. It is something that we do. It is an adaptive complex behavior that results from a series of abilities against imbalance. Functional balance makes it possible to perform useful actions while maintaining a certain position. The foundation for praxis; the brain’s ability to select responses, arrange them in an appropriate order and orient them for proper execution. In this way, exercises that improve balance through stimulation of the vestibular system can improve praxis, orientation and behavior (Schrager 2001).

Baby yoga is a great way to assure development of vestibular system which will follow with your babythroughout life into adulthood. The regular practice of baby yoga will assist in:

  • Response the position of the head in relation to gravity
  • Relate to movement and balance
  • Activate the protective reflexes (I will go more in depth with this in my next Yoga post)
  • Voluntary control of the head
  • The strength and balance to sit and enjoyment of rough movement (around 6-8 months)
  • Developing a sense of direction, depth, and space
  • The preparation for upright positions

We accomplish this by performing these simple movements with our baby which you can do either at home or in a Certified Baby Yoga Class:

Lifts and Dips – from 1 week old

As you are sitting, with your strongest hand under your baby’s buttocks and your banister arm supporting across her chest and holding under her arm pit, lift her up in the air and then away from you and then down. Repeat two or three times if your baby enjoys it.

With your hands in the same position as above but you are standing, let her drop gently towards the ground as you are still holding her. Bring her up and then do it again. Repeat two or three times if your baby enjoys it.

If your baby is 1 week to 3 months, they may be as comfortable with this movement due to their Moro reflex is still prevalent. He will get use to it in time which will positively assist in the inhibition of the Moro reflex.

Relaxed Holds and Walking –from 8 weeks old

Release tension from your whole body, ideally before picking up your baby, by wobbling’, shaking yourself loose all over. Hold your baby under one arm with a banister hold supporting under the arm pit and across the chest. Put your support hand between your babies’s legs resting on your baby’s stomach. Have the head tucked into your body for additional support if your baby is still very young. Relax your neck and shoulders. Set your intent on a rhythmical movement, an unfolding of your action in space and time, which is the essence of each yoga sequence. Take a step and start walking one foot in front of each other. As you are walking and working on gaining your balance, do a few small lunges – first the right leg and then the left leg. Walk around the room at least three to four times.

Rollercoaster – from 4 months old

Put your baby faced down across your lap. Support your babies back with one or two hands; take your legs a short distance apart to stretch your baby’s back. Then bend one of your knees, raising your baby up and stretching your baby’s upper body. Then bend the other knee to lower the upper body and lift his buttocks and legs with a stretch. Alternate legs back and forth making a rhythmical movement like a see-saw.

With your knees slightly bent at the same height and your baby lying on his stomach starting at your waist, roll him down your legs to your toes and then back up again to your waist. Repeat this several times. You can even give him a little kiss each time he comes back up to your waist.

Butterfly Swings – from 4 months old

Start your baby in a seated position with you kneeling behind your baby. Reach both arms under your baby’s armpits and through to hold lower legs (not joints) and draw soles of the feet together in a butterfly pose. Get up on your knees or, if you feel confident, to a standing position with your feet wide apart raising your baby with you to a seated position. Swing her back and forth between your legs gently at first. When this is well received, swing her from side to side or in a circle in both directions, in front of your legs. With practice you can raise and lower your baby as he swings.

As parents, it is very important that we listen to our inner guidance or intuition about what is right for us and our children. I encourage you to take a baby yoga class offered near you to get a feel of how it can not only benefit your baby’s progression into throughout childhood but it can help you through your postnatal journey. If you have any question about the vestibular system and the effects it has on your baby, check with your healthcare provider before proceeding.

Information in this article was provided by: Reflexes, Learning, and Behavior written by Sally Goddard. Baby Yoga written by Francoise Barbira Freedman. Birthlight training course by Francoise Barbira Freedman

Heather is the Founder and Instructor of Zen Baby Yoga; contact her at 760-683-4918 or simply book online at

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