Soothing music, a serene atmosphere and, er, babies? Are you sure? One wouldn’t normally put them together, but this is no ordinary mothers’ group gathering. We’re at the home of Joanne Francis for a taste of her mum and baby yoga sessions, which kick off this month at Zen Yoga. Granted, there’s only one duo present, which puts a limit on the decibel level, but we’re curious to find out if relaxation and rug-rats really mix.
Joanne sits cross-legged on a yoga mat, clutching her life-size baby doll, and encourages our volunteers, mum Allyson Vaughan-Williams and her seven-month-old daughter Ella, to imitate her. Before things even get started, though, Joanne insists Allyson ask Ella’s permission before beginning the class. Only if the baby seems happy do we move forward. ‘Would you like to do yoga today?’ All eyes turn expectantly to Ella, as if she’s going to reply, ‘Not on your nelly’, and make a crawling bolt for the door. ‘I know it seems a bit strange,’ says Joanne, ‘but we’re just showing respect to the baby.’
We needn’t have worried. Ella gives us the thumbs up, so to speak, and we move to the first exercise for the legs, hips and tummy. As Allyson rotates Ella’s leg in a ‘stepping’ motion, Ella rewards us with a gummy grin. Next she mimics a little bird as mum gently stretches her hands to the side of her ears and wiggles them back and forth to the rhythm of ‘Row Your Boat’. Ella, flapping her arms excitedly, laps up the attention. So far so good. Our gorgeous guinea-pig has not cried, thrown a tantrum or demanded a change of nappy.
If you’re thinking that, at seven months, Ella is too young to practise yoga, think again. In Joanne’s opinion, babies as young as six weeks can take part, and the class is suitable right up until around eight months old or until placid bubs morph into fidgeting midgets incapable of sitting still for more than five seconds.
But babies are, by nature, unpredictable beings. What happens when they decide that they want to do something else, like sleep in the middle of class? Joanne smiles and tells us that it happens often but mothers mustn’t be embarrassed if their baby cries, falls asleep or is generally uncooperative. ‘Mums can still watch me while they snuggle or feed their baby while I will carry on with the class,’ she says. Even if the harried mum misses something, they needn’t fret. The class is, like yoga itself, relaxed and flexible, and Joanne dishes out picture illustrations of all the positions so mums can practise at home when it’s a good time for both them and their baby.
Meanwhile, Ella is thoroughly enjoying the leaping lion position. Cradled face down and swung in a rhythmic motion from side to side, it’s obvious she doesn’t want her mum to stop (provided Allyson’s biceps can hack it). Joanne explains that this exercise lets the baby see the world from a different perspective and improves coordination and balance. It also boosts the flow of oxygen and blood supply to the brain.
The benefits of mum and baby yoga are numerous. Each exercise works a different part of the body. ‘All the movements increase the flexibility of the baby, as we do lots of stretching of the joints and the limbs,’ says Joanne. ‘That increases the blood supply of the baby and helps improve the immune system. It’s also a detoxification process for the baby. It can give the baby more self-awareness and releases oxytocin – the happy hormone.’
Mothers also get a lot out of the course. Physically, their babies act as resistance for an abdominal workout or a pelvic tilt, for example, but there are emotional perks, too. ‘Mums have busy lives so spending time with their baby is special,’ says Joanne. ‘The benefits extend to emotional and psychological well-being. Plus it improves the bonding process between mum and baby.’
It’s also a great excuse for mothers to get out of the house and meet other mums, and talk is not all asanas and ‘ohms’. Joanne, who is also a midwife at Health Bay Polyclinic, is more than happy when the post-class chat turns to sleeping problems, breastfeeding and other new mum experiences. ‘I feel post-natal support is sorely lacking in Dubai,’ she says. ‘Classes like these help to create a much-needed support system.’ Who knows, you and your baby could make some flexible friends.
Classes last for one hour and start on October 6 for four weeks, costing Dhs600. Bookings to be made via Health Bay Polyclinic (04 348 7140) or email email@example.com for more information. Classes will be held at Zen Yoga, Dubai Media City.