In my first years of yoga, my practice was shaped by my ego. I pushed, I forced, I surely overstretched, I competed with myself and I compared myself to other yogis. My practice was ego-driven. And so, the simple poses were too easy. While child’s pose was always offered and even encouraged by my teachers as a respite from endless vinyasas and aggressive warriors, my ego couldn’t bear the idea of scaling back my practice. Back in those days, resting in child’s pose was akin to admitting defeat.
Balancing Body & Mind
Over the years, I’ve softened and become a wiser yogi. These days my asana practice is not so much more than child’s and corpse poses. I now know what I did not then: asanas are not about pushing, they’re about quieting. They’re designed for balanced physical health and streamlined thoughts.
Child’s pose is a great teacher of this lesson. Simple and symbolic of the passive growing that we do while in the womb, it asks us to grow through non-doing. It connects us to the earth. It nurtures the belly. In its lack of action, it does many things.
Freeing Our Senses (Pratyahara)
With the body folded into itself, as compact as one can be, child’s pose presents an opportunity to go inward. Its anatomy, by nature, disconnects us from sensory engagement. Open the eyes and all we see is our mat. It limits temptation to look around the room and engage in competition and comparison with others. Our sense of smell is limited to the floor beneath us, and our sense of taste can not venture beyond our own mouth.
This sensory withdrawal is an action step toward Patanjali’s fifth limb of Ashtanga yoga, pratyahara. Pratyahara is the control over one’s senses. Child’s pose prevents scattered sensory engagement. And by doing so, it tames the mind. Until we regain power over our senses to reign in our mind, we cannot go inward.
(Learn more about Pratyahara: The Fifth Limb of Yoga.)
Meditation perfectly exemplifies the practice of freeing ourselves from our senses. If we are able to sit quietly, disengage our senses from the outer world, and listen to our inner self, we experience truth; that which lies beyond the fives senses and the physical world. If instead we’re led and enslaved by our senses—indulging in sugar cravings, binge watching TV series—we miss sight of the inner world. Child’s pose subtly forces this disengagement upon us, in a far less challenging format than seated meditation.
Honoring Mother Nature
There’s something else quite unexpected that child’s pose teaches us. If we were to rank body parts from lowly to superior, the feet would certainly rank lowest on the totem pole. They are, quite simply, inherently dirty. In many Asian cultures, the feet are so inferior that it’s considered rude to point one’s feet toward another person. That being said, they’re our main communication with the earth beneath us. It is our feet which interact with the soil, the grass, the sand. Far less often do our hands engage with Mother Nature to such an extent, let alone our most superior body part: the head.
And so, folded over in child’s pose, we bow our highly head to Mother Nature. Alas, we get down on the ground and surrender to the Divine. We literally touch her with our forehead. To experience child’s pose with this attitude is humbling. It’s an act of surrender and respect for the nature beneath us, which we so easily forget. (For more insight on this practice, read on in The Practice of Surrender.)
Teacher of great wisdom, child’s pose is also a teacher of something a little more physical. It connects us to our belly. I love the feeling of folding in half and compressing my abdomen because I know that this action is stimulating digestion. Anything and everything we do for digestion is a win, as digestion is the cornerstone of health (a teaching from yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda). When we pay close attention, we can actually feel the mild pressure child’s pose applies to the digestive organs. Know that they are grateful for the squeeze.
Much Done in 'Non-Doing'
Like the fetal position from which it originates, child’s pose is a teacher of non-doing. By drawing the body in and touching forehead to the earth in stillness, we reign in our senses, bow down to the Divine and help our body to work the way it’s supposed to. It is in non-doing that real things happen.