Have you ever noticed a happy baby stretch with their legs up in the air, grabbing for their feet with a silly smile on their face? In yoga, this position is aptly named happy baby pose — and while it's natural to us when we're little, it benefits us as adults, too.
Happy baby (Ananda Balasana in Sanskrit) involves lying on your back and holding your feet like a bubbly babe, and is an important and common pose in yoga.
And while it feels as fun, silly and relaxing as child's play, it offers several benefits, like reducing hip tension, releasing tight pelvic floor muscles and relieving back pain. All you need is a floor or yoga mat, so you can do happy baby whenever or wherever the mood strikes.
In the morning, it can be a great grounding and energizing posture that helps to align your spine and loosen up your tight lower back. In the evening, it can soothe your nerves before you go to bed.
"In the morning, it will help to loosen you up and set your intention for the day, and in the evening, it will help you unwind and let go, especially when practiced with deep breathing," says Sarah Duvall, DPT, CPT, a certified personal trainer and founder of Core Exercise Solutions.
- What is happy baby pose? Happy baby pose is a deep hip opener that releases the muscles in your hips, the backs of your legs and your lower back. It's a commonly practiced restorative posture many instructors add to the end of a yoga sequence.
- What is happy baby pose good for? Happy baby pose is great for winding down and releasing tension in the body (especially the lower body). It can help extend and relax your lower back and is also known for helping with stress and anxiety.
- Who can do happy baby pose? Happy baby is a beginner level yoga posture, but you should still be sure to practice with proper form to avoid injury or muscle strain. Those with recent injuries or surgeries of the hips or knees should not practice happy baby pose. Pregnant people may want to avoid happy baby pose after the first trimester, as it requires lying on your back, which can reduce blood flow to the fetus.
- How long should you hold happy baby pose? Because happy baby pose is a restorative yoga posture, you can practice for anywhere between three breaths (about 30 seconds) to five full minutes. Never hold a yoga pose for longer than it feels comfortable (if you're struggling to breathe, that's usually an indicator that you should stop).
How to Do Happy Baby Pose With Proper Form
Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)
- Lie flat on your back.
- Bend your knees and bring them toward your belly.
- Grip the outsides of your feet and gently pull your knees down toward your armpits. If you can't reach your feet, try grabbing the outsides of your ankles, shins or backs of thighs.
- Try to keep your ankles directly above your knees, so your shins are perpendicular to the floor. You want to feel a mild, comfortable stretching sensation in your hips but not pain.
- If you’d like, you can gently rock from side to side.
- Hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
As long as it’s comfortable, you can hold happy baby pose for longer periods (up to 5 minutes). Extending the stretch really gives you the time to focus on relaxing and releasing tight muscles, Duvall says.
5 Benefits of Happy Baby Pose
Here are just a few reasons to make happy baby pose a part of your daily routine:
1. It Relieves Tight Hips and Hamstrings and Improves Flexibility
Sit at a desk all day? Chances are your hip muscles are terribly tense. Happy baby is like a tonic for tight hips.
That's because happy baby pose is a deep hip opener in yoga. It lengthens the glutes, hip adductors and hamstrings, alleviating stiffness in these muscles and improving their flexibility.
While happy baby is beneficial for easing hip tension, the pose can be challenging for people with especially tight hip muscles, Duvall says. Adjust the position to meet your flexibility and mobility levels.
For example, instead of grabbing your feet, try reaching for your ankles, shins or the backs of your thighs.
"Or, if you have a strap available, you can also loop that over each foot and hold the strap (instead of your feet) to make the pose more comfortable,” Duvall says.
2. It Releases Tension in Your Pelvic Floor
Just like any other skeletal muscle in your body, you can experience tension in your pelvic floor muscles. But stretching tight pelvic floor muscles isn't as intuitive as stretching your quads or calves.
Luckily, happy baby, which lengthens the pelvic floor muscles, can help with that. "When you hold this pose — and really sink in, breathe and relax — it can reduce tension and muscle tightness to help the muscles let go," Duvall says.
Having a healthy pelvic floor is fundamental because tight pelvic floor muscles can cause symptoms such as pain during penetration or intercourse, difficulty urinating (or, conversely, incontinence), constipation and lower back pain.
3. It Helps Reduce Lower Back Pain
As we know, happy baby can help reduce tension in the hips and pelvic floor muscles. And both areas play a pivotal role in tempering tightness in your lower back.
Drawing the knees in with your spine flat on the floor helps to lengthen the muscles in the lower back and create space between the lumbar vertebrae. In other words, you'll feel a nice lengthening in your lower back in happy baby.
And adding deep, diaphragmatic breaths can help you achieve an even deeper stretch and sense of calm, Duvall says.
4. It Stretches and Aligns Your Entire Spine
The lower back isn't the only part of your spine that receives the benefits of happy baby pose. In fact, your entire spine is supported and lengthened by the ground underneath you, which can help counteract a forward bending posture or misaligned pelvis.
5. It's Great for Stress and Anxiety
This pose is a great way to unwind if you're feeling particularly stressed or anxious.That's because in yoga, postures that require direct contact with the ground have a "grounding" effect on the mind — they're believed to help get you out of your head and back into your body.
Common Mistakes in Happy Baby
When you're practicing happy baby pose, be sure to focus on proper form to get the most benefit from the pose.
Avoid lifting your head and crunching your neck in order to grab hold of your feet. If your neck is coming up off the ground, reach for your ankles or grab the backs of your thighs and breathe deeply to encourage your hips and spine to open up.
Don't lift your shoulders either. If your shoulders are coming off the ground, reach for your ankles or backs of your thighs instead of the feet. The entire upper body should remain on the ground in happy baby.
Try to remember to press your tailbone down toward the ground (rather than letting it curl downward) in happy baby. This can help encourage your lower back to lengthen.
Adding Happy Baby to Your Yoga Practice
As mentioned, happy baby pose can be practiced on its own any time you need a stretch in your lower back or hips, say, in the morning to relieve stiffness or at the end of the day to ease tension before sleep.
If you're incorporating it into your yoga practice, it's a great way to release the hips and legs after strengthening postures like all of the warrior poses, low and high lunge, triangle pose and the like.
Many yoga teachers add happy baby to the end of a yoga sequence because it has a calming effect. That said, if you'd like to add some grounding to the beginning of your home sequence, there's no reason not to include it at the beginning.
Happy Baby Pose Variations and Modifications
Happy baby is a beginner yoga pose, but it can still be difficult if your hips are very tight.
If you find it difficult to keep your upper body grounded and/or grab your feet in happy baby, wrap a yoga strap or a long sock around the arches of your feet and pull on the strap to help draw your your feet in.
You can also grab hold of the outsides or your ankles, shins or the backs of your thighs in happy baby for an easier stretch.
Some people prefer to practice happy baby in stillness, but rocking side to side is another (rather fun) way of adding it to your practice.