A baby's first year is jam packed with milestones and memories. However some infants for many reasons may experience sensory processing difficulties. This can impact upon their development in other areas such as physical, communication, cognition, social-emotional, and adaptive development.
Baby Yoga can have a positive impact upon infants that have difficulties processing sensory experiences and sensations felt within their body or encountered through the world around them. Such infants may be;
Prematur, especially prior to 32 weeks gestation
Neurological diagnoses including cerebral palsy or under-developed/missing areas of the brain
Developmental delays and disabilities including Down Syndrome, failure to thrive, and autism
Exposure to certain drugs in utero (legal or illegal)
Being diagnosed with a feeding disorder
Multiples- twins, triplets, or more
Genetic predisposition in which a sibling or parent had difficulties with sensory processing or learning disabilities
Environmental: babies in orphanages or in a situation that is not very stimulating to the baby's development, or one in which the baby does not bond or attach to a caregiver and/or severe neglect *2
A baby that is having problems with their sensory development may display this through one of the following characteristics;
Over-responsiveness- sensitive to or avoids a particular sensation (s)
Under-responsiveness- may not detect the sensation (s) unless it is intense, therefore appears to not register it; may be lethargic
Sensory-seeking- overly desires a particular sensation (s) *2
All babies regardless of their specific needs can benefit from their parents taking time to aid them in the development of their sensory systems. Baby yoga engages the vestibular, properceptive & somatosensory systems offering infants experiences that they would not necessarily seek out for themselves or experience.
The vestibular sense stimulated by movement. It is one of the first to develop in a growing fetus as it feels its mothers movements. By 5 months the Vestibular system is providing the fetus with a lot of sensory information and brain stimulation.
This system communicates to the brain as to where a person is in space with regards to;
The vestibular system gathers information from a set of fluid filled canals and a sac-like structure in the inner ear and is important because;
It coordinates eye and head movements which aid in the completion of everyday movements and activity’s.
It helps babies to become aware if an object is moving towards them or they are moving towards the object. Later in life this will aid them with tasks such as copying from a white board at school, catching a ball, reading from left to right on a page.
It affects balance and equilibrium. The body and brain communication to allow the body to move in appropriate ways according to;
This helps children to stay on their feet during play.
It helps to develop and maintain normal muscle tone. This allows the muscle to sustain a contraction and for a baby to be able to hold their body in one position (e.g sitting up for a period of time). Children with low muscle tone may prefer laying on the floor instead of sitting up during circle time or leaning on their elbow or hand while seated at their desk.
Dule coordination is part of our every day and is accredited to the Vestibular system. This is where both sides of the body communicate and move to aid in activities such as riding a bicycle, catching a ball, zipping a coat, or cutting with scissors.
Proprioception is the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body such as position, motion, and equilibrium. Therefore even if a person is blindfolded they will know through proprioception if their arm is above their head etc. Proprioception works by nerves in the body's joints (Proprioceptors) being stimulated and sending a message to the brain.
The brain is constantly sorting and organising different messages, deciding what is and is not important. The proprioceptors activate a filtering system in the brain making it easier to organise and sort thoughts as well as messages from the body. Physical activity can charge up the proprioceptors helping to organise the messages between body and brain. This is why people often feel they can think much more clearly after a run or intense physical activity.
This is really important for babies and children who are constantly taking in new information. Physical activity for babies & children enhances their ability to find focus and calmness which in tirn can aid with digestion, sleep, mood etc.
The somatosensory system is a complex system of nerve cells that react to stimuli to the;
Messages take a journey from the site of the stimuli to the spinal cord and then to the brain for further processing and organising. This system allows babies to build up an awareness and a map of their body by receiving messages from the body through/when;
contraction of muscles
changes in temperature
Baby Yoga is a wonderful tool in aiding the development of babies Vestibular, Properceptive and Somatosensory sensory systems. All 3 senses rely on the body to move in certain ways to stimulate them and Baby Yoga certainly does this through;
Movement in different directions, from different vantage points and in different positions.
Baby Yoga swings, dips, holds, walks, inversions and balances all encourage babies to explore and exercise the vestibular system.
Baby Yoga Bilateral co-ordination enhancing poses and stretches allow the left and right sides of the brain to communicate with each other.
The physical movement that babies encounter through Baby Yoga (leg & arm sequences) helps to charge up the proprioceptors allowing the organisation of messages between body and brain.
Exercising the proprioceptors encourages the feelings of calmness in the brain which can induce calmness and clarity of thought.
The gentle stretching and contraction of babies muscles (leg & arm sequences), the caring touch of a mothers hand on her baby, the movement of joints (shoulder, arm, leg sequences) all aid in the development of the Somatosensory system and babies awareness of their body and its different parts.
Baby Yoga is essential within the parenting tool kit and can provide training of the mind, body as well as enhancing emotional balance. Taking Baby yoga forward into childhood and carrying on the practice is important as studies have shown that it can 'assist development, increase well-being, reduce everyday stress, facilitate weight management, and mitigate emotional and behavioral problems, aside from being a supplement to improve focus and attention'*1.
By exercising the vestibular, properceptive & somatosensory systems a parent is helping their baby to tune into their body which inturn aids with all of the above processes and developments.
Information source & further reading