Here are some of the reasons why Happy Baby is good for you:
- Stretches the inner thighs and groin muscles.
- Stretches the lower back and hips, alleviating back pain and tension.
- Stretches the hamstrings.
- Creates a feeling of calm and relaxation.
- Relieves stress and fatigue.
- Releases the sacroiliac (SI) joint at the base of the spine.
In order to do Happy Baby correctly, here are the steps:
- Begin lying on your back.
- Hug your knees to your chest. Keeping your knees close to your chest, lift your heels toward the sky. Stack your feet directly over your knees, keeping your shins perpendicular to the ground. Grab the outer edges of your feet with your hands and spread your feet and knees toward the outer edges of your shoulders. Beginners can grab one foot at a time.
- Your elbows should come inside your knees.
- Relax your hips, letting the joints soften so they drop down toward the ground.
- Let your knees drop toward the ground outside your ribcage. Keep a 90-degree bend in your knees. The bottom of your feet should be facing the ceiling.
- Press your feet up into your hands while pressing your hands down against your feet to create a gentle resistance.
- Stretch your hips away from your shoulders.
- Pull your belly button toward your back to tighten your abs and engage your core.
- Lower your shoulder blades away from your ears, and drop the outer edges of your shoulders down toward the ground.
- If you need to keep your shoulders raised to flatten your back, you can do so; or use one of the modifications below.
- Stretch your ears away from your shoulders as you drop your chin slightly toward your throat to elongate the back of your neck.
- You should feel a release in your lower back. You might also feel some tightness in your groin and hips. If you do not feel the stretch, go deeper by pressing your knees out further while pulling your feet toward the ground. These opposing forces will allow you to go further.
- Gently rock from side to side.
Do This, Not That! Common mistakes beginners make:
- Raising the shoulders off the ground: Many beginners make the mistake of lifting the shoulders off the ground during Happy Baby. This closes the chest and overly stretches the muscles of the upper back. The proper form is to keep the outer edges of the shoulders pressing down toward the ground so that the entire upper back is flat and the chest is open.
- Tensing up the hips: Be sure to avoid tensing the hips during this pose. Happy Baby is a hip-opening stretch, not a strength-building pose for the hips. To get the flexibility you need in this pose, the hips must be soft and relaxed.
- Trying to force the stretch: It can be tempting to try to force the stretch in this pose, especially if you have limited flexibility. It is a mistake to do so. The magic of Happy Baby can only happen when the shoulders, spine and hips soften and surrender into the stretch. They cannot be forced.
- Tilting the chin up toward the sky: This is arguably the most common mistake beginners make when practicing Happy Baby. Lifting the chin up to the sky compresses the neck vertebrae, increasing the risk of injury. It is often a sign of limited flexibility throughout the hips to fully position the knees at or outside the chest. The correct form is to flatten the back of your neck, keeping the chin slightly tucked in toward your throat. If you cannot do this during Happy Baby, please see the section below for modification options.
Props and Modifications
You should consider a modification if you experience the following:
- Inability to keep both shoulders on the ground.
- Difficulty keeping neck and hips flat on the ground.
- Inability to reach knees to the chest and the ground
Inability to keep both shoulders on the ground:
- One easy modification to help you get your shoulders to the ground is to reposition your hands to hold the outside of your ankles or even the creases behind your knees instead of holding your feet.
- You can also use a strap wrapped across the middle arches of your feet to help bridge the gap between your feet and your hands, allowing your shoulders to drop down to the ground. Hold each end of the strap in your hands. Adjust the holding position to give you just enough length to drop your shoulders while still creating some gentle tension between your feet and the strap. You don’t need to exert too much strength on the strap. You just need enough grip to provide some support for the stretch.
Difficulty keeping neck and hips flat on the ground:
- As mentioned in the section above, difficulty keeping the neck and hips flat on the ground is often a sign that the hips, glutes and low back are lacking the flexibility needed for the full expression of this pose. The first and simplest modification is to take your hands down to your outer ankles or behind the creases of the knees so that you aren’t left lifting the chin to reach your feet.
- For this variation, you will employ a strap. Place the middle of the strap along the middle arches of your feet so that the ends of the strap are hanging down toward the ground. Grab each end of the strap with your hands so that your palms are facing each other. Adjust the position of your hands to suit your body’s needs. Having your hands on the strap instead of the outer edges of your feet will give you more space to allow your neck and shoulders to remain flat against the ground.
- Another option is to place a small rolled towel beneath the curve of your neck for additional support. Pressing the back of the neck against the raised towel can make it a little easier to engage the lengthening action for the part of the spine housed in the neck. You can also place a second rolled towel or blanket beneath your hips if needed.
- Alternatively, you can place a pillow or bolster beneath your head to facilitate a stretch in the back of the neck and counter the tendency to lift the chin and shorten the back of the neck. This should provide enough support to allow the hips to remain on the ground.
Inability to reach knees to the chest:
- If you cannot get your knees to your chest, you can try taking your knees wider and bringing your toes together. This externally rotates the hips, bypassing the stretch in the hip flexors, and to some degree, the hamstrings, but enhances the stretch in the glutes and hips. This can make it easier to take your hands around your knees and draw them closer to your chest.
- Try placing a strap around your feet or behind the creases of your knees. Grab the ends of the strap in your hands. Adjust your hand position to bridge the gap between your feet and your hands, meeting your legs where they are. This will allow you to consistently practice the pose, increasing your flexibility and range of motion until you can comfortably bring your knees to your chest.
- Alternatively, you can perform the above variation one side at a time. To do so, keep one leg in Happy Baby supported by the strap while the other leg remains extended straight on the ground. Be sure to keep the grounded leg centered with the toes and kneecap facing the sky and the shoulders evenly pressing against the ground.
- If you are exceptionally tight in your back, hips and glutes, you can modify this pose by resting your heels on the seat of a folding chair so that your knees are elevated, and your thighs are perpendicular to the ground. Over time you can inch the chair closer to your hips until you are flexible enough to graduate to a strap (see above).
Answers To Commonly Asked Questions:
- When is Happy Baby contraindicated?
- What if I can’t reach my feet with my hands in Happy Baby?
- What do I do if I can’t keep my shoulders on the ground?
- What if I can’t get my knees to the ground?
- What if I feel pinching in my neck?
When is Happy Baby contraindicated?
- Acute back, shoulder or neck injury.
- Acute glutes, hip or leg injury.
- Acute spinal injury or disease, including disc maladies.
- Pregnancy – consult your healthcare provider
What if I can’t reach my feet with my hands in Happy Baby?
- There are many ways to modify Happy Baby if you cannot reach your feet with your hands. Refer to the modifications section above to find an option that feels safe and comfortable for you.
What do I do if I can’t keep my shoulders on the ground?
- It’s okay to modify the pose if you cannot keep your shoulders on the ground. Check out the modifications section above to see which variation of Happy Baby feels best for supporting your shoulders during the pose.
What if I can’t get my knees toward my chest?
- There’s no need to be concerned if you can’t draw your knees close to your chest in Happy Baby. It can take a while to develop the flexibility and range of motion needed to do this. Take a look at the section above for ideas on how to modify the pose.
What if I feel pinching in my neck?
- If you feel pinching in your neck, you are likely lifting your chin, shortening and compressing the back of your neck. This is a common sign that your back, hips and glutes lack the flexibility needed to find the fullest expression of the pose. To protect your neck while you are building that flexibility, practice a modified version of the pose. See the modifications section above to find the modification that will best suit your body.