For several years now, I’ve been hearing of a popular yoga teaching technique. I’ve heard about it directly from friends and have read it online. It’s apparently de rigueur for teachers to recommend that students rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose) if the teacher presents something especially challenging. I’m all for keeping students safe in class. It’s arguably the most important responsibility of a yoga teacher. But I’m not so keen on simply recommending Child’s Pose every time a student feels over-challenged.
Why Not Recommend Child’s Pose?
It’s absolutely appropriate to recommend Child’s Pose as a respite in the midst of an active class. Anyone can benefit from taking time out to check in with their body. But when a teacher recommends practicing Child’s Pose when a student “can’t do” what the rest of the class is practicing, the pose can feel like punishment. In today’s competitive yoga environment, who wants to be the person resting in Child’s Pose when everybody else is participating fully? This could, potentially have the opposite effect that the teacher intends. Students might avoid practicing Balasana in order not to feel like the person who “can’t keep up.”
Another reason not to default to Child’s Pose is a matter of teaching skill. I offer alternatives in my classes all the time. But in 36 years of teaching, I’m pretty sure I’ve never offered Child’s Pose as an alternative to, say, Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose), Virasana (Hero’s Pose) or Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose), for example. That’s because no matter what pose you might be teaching, there’s always an alternative that confers similar benefits.
For example, an alternative to Urdhva Dhanurasana would be Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose). For a student whose knees don’t tolerate Virasana, I’d recommend sitting higher, on a yoga block or two. A person who’s having trouble balancing in Virabhadrasana III can place yoga blocks under their hands.
Child’s Pose Alternatives in Vinyasa Classes
If you’re familiar with which parts of the body are being stretched and/or strengthened in any pose, you can always come up with an alternative. Because I teach traditional Hatha-style classes, it’s easy for me to help students find alternative poses. We spend enough time in poses that they can easily set themselves up with extra props, or do a different pose entirely. In a fast-paced Vinyasa-style class, it’s more of a challenge, but you can still do it.
For example, some students may need a break from the intense hand and wrist weight bearing in most Vinyasa classes. Repeating the sequence of Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) to Chaturanga Dandasana to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) over and over in a Vinyasa class can take a toll on the delicate structures of the hands and wrists. (The hands and wrists are not really designed for excessive weight bearing; they’re more fit for fine movements.)
Instead of telling them to rest in Child’s Pose, here’s an idea. Have them practice the Downward Dog-Chaturanga-Upward Dog sequence on their forearms instead of their hands. They’ll still get the same core strengthening, hamstring stretching, backbending benefits as they would in the traditional sequence. But they won’t compromise their hands and wrists. You could also recommend that they skip Chaturanga sometimes or substitute Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) for Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. This way, your students can still participate in the flow of the class without sacrificing their hands and wrists.
Make a List of Child’s Pose Alternatives
It can be helpful to make a list of poses you teach regularly. In which poses do you sometimes recommend Child’s Pose? Underneath each pose, list what’s being stretched and/or strengthened. Then think about other poses that offer the same benefits. List those poses underneath. Making a list can help you integrate the information mentally. This will make it more accessible to you in the context of a class.
Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Child’s Pose. It’s a lovely way to pause and integrate in the midst of a class. But it’s not a catchall pose for everyone in every instance. Exploring ways to find appropriate alternatives will grow your teaching skills. And when you grow your teaching skills, your students benefit.