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Yoga for Babies

While the benefits of Yoga and massages are well known to us stressed-out, on-the-go adults, Egypt's babies are quickly catching up, as Flow Wellness Centre offers classes especially for them. We talk to founder Jaime ElHelw to find out more...

Unbeknownst to us it seems that Cairo's babies are super stressed. All that talk of politics and revolutions has clearly taken its toll, and if us grown ups get to head over to the Four Seasons for a relaxing massage or to a quirky little Zamalek studio for some spirit-lifting yoga then why not the nation's little ones? One willowy blonde by the name of Jamie ElHelw has taken it upon herself to bring baby yoga and massage to Cairo. Her Flow Wellness Centre  - located in a quiet nook of Heliopolis - was "developed to provide a calm, intimate space that welcomes mothers and children aged four weeks to four years, to indulge in healthy, stimulating, and enjoyable activities." With countless mummies raving about the benefits to theirbabies, we tracked Jamie down to find out more about this embryonic (get it?) local practice... 

What gave you the idea to bring Baby Yoga to Egypt?

The idea was born from our need, as mothers, to find a place to enjoy stimulating activities with our babies. As mothers, we always felt there was little to do in Cairo with our babies. So, we thought to create a warm intimate space for mothers to indulge in enjoyable and relaxing classes and meet other mum-baby pairs in the process.

Up to what age can babies do yoga and massages at your classes?

We cater to children ages four weeks to four years old. We offer different classes to cater to the different developmental stages within that age group.

Our youngest babies enjoy the infant massage classes from as early as four weeks of age. By the time they are capable of rolling over, sometime between four and six months old, they are ready for more active yoga-based exercises. The baby yoga classes are split into two age groups: “Baby Yoga 1” starts at three months, when they can hold up their head on their own, up until they start to walk, usually around 12 months. “Baby Yoga 2” is for babies that can walk confidently, sometime between 12 months to 18 months. Our “Toddler Yoga” classes are for toddlers between 18 months to 4 years old.

Do you think doing yoga at such a young age will benefit babies when they grow up in the same vein yoga does as an adult?

Absolutely! Babies are natural Yogis; they are flexible, open, and prefer to breathe through their nose. They are naturally very sociable, love unconditionally, and practice non-violence. Babies are also only concerned with the present moment, a core principle in Yoga. Babies and older children that practice yoga with their parents tend to grow up with a greater sense of self-awareness, and are familiar with relaxation and self-calming techniques.

What are the benefits of baby yoga?

For babies, yoga can accelerate their emotional, intellectual and physical development. It also improves their overall strength, flexibility, balance and coordination. The class environment increases their sociability through parallel movements and interactive songs. For the mothers, yoga can improve breath and energy control; it also realigns the spine and corrects posture. Some of the exercises done in class can tone the muscles of the lower abdomen and pelvic floor.

Are there any dangers or cautions from baby yoga?

None. During the sessions, we show the mothers how to guide their children through the exercises. We remind our mothers of the gentle nature of the yoga techniques and that they must never force a child into a pose. We are highly trained and internationally certified instructors, and our center is safe and inviting.  Further, mothers are always the ones in control of the exercises being performed by their children.

Yoga and massages are usually linked to stress relief. What are babies stressed about?

Though their needs are relatively basic, babies can be susceptible to stress; regular Infant Massage and Baby Yoga sessions can help alleviate these feelings. Perhaps the primary contributor to a baby’s stress is her inability to easily or adequately communicate to mother and the outside world with her needs. Babies can experience stress due to physical needs such as hunger, fatigue, or require a sense of security.

What kind of parents usually bring their children to your classes?

We enjoy all kinds of mums in our classes. Some are working mothers, others are stay-at-home moms; we get some who regularly practice yoga, others who never have. The common factor between our parents is their desire to try something new with their babies. Ultimately, all of our mothers are really just looking to do something fun and special with their children.

What are the benefits of a baby massage?

For babies, receiving massage can stimulate mental and physical developments, relieve common physical symptoms (colic, constipation, and congestion), improve sleep patterns; and can strengthen the immune system. For mums, giving massage can enhance communication and understanding, accelerate the bonding process, counteract post-natal depression, close and tighten the body; and can boost self-esteem and confidence levels.

What kind of reactions do you usually get from the babies after a massage?

They are thirsty and wish to nurse or bottle-feed, and often quite shortly after the massage, the babies fall fast asleep. 

Do the parents usually get into yoga themselves after taking their babies?

Usually it’s the other way around, whereby the mothers have had a previous interest in, or are aware of the benefits of yoga, before they attend our baby yoga classes. Although, experience isn’t at all required or expected to sign-up!

It's said that the living soul actually enters a child 4 months after conception when the pineal gland is developed. Do you believe this to be true?

I don’t know. But what is fascinating is the science of this mysterious gland! The pineal gland is fully developed around 40 days after fertilisation. Its primary biological function is to produce melatonin and to regulate the hormone’s levels in the body. Children have larger and better functioning pineal glands than adults. This means that they are highly effective at converting serotonin (the hormone thought to be responsible for rational thought) into melatonin. Children play in a multidimensional world of imaginary friends and places which is largely inaccessible to their parents, partially due to decreased serotonin levels and increased functioning of the pineal gland prior to puberty. After the onset of puberty, the pituitary gland takes over for the pineal gland and, sadly, the child’s world changes from imaginary friends, and carefree playtimes, to one more hinged in the adult reality of work and responsibilities. What is interesting though, is that certain yoga breathing and meditation techniques and poses can reawaken the pineal gland later in life, leading us back to a place where happiness exists; where “work becomes play, and life a game.”

Have you ever met an extraordinary flexible baby?

Most babies would surprise you at the extreme hypermobility of their joints! Usually, they are quite happy with their “toes up to their noses” in an upright sitting position; impossible for most adults! Flexibility is common in babies, whose bones are still relatively soft and the space between them is filled with pliable cartilage.  

Are there any plans to expand into different baby exercises/therapies or anything for older children?

We hope to be able to offer pre-natal yoga sessions soon and have plans to expand our course offering to include music, art, and fitness for kids at our centre in Heliopolis. We will be selecting a few qualifying nurseries in which to offer our specialised “Preschool Yoga” program, which enhances the bond between child and caregiver.

FLOW studio in Heliopolis will be starting another round of massage and yoga courses FEBRUARY 3rd. They will also be offering courses in Zamalek, at Nun Center.  For more information, or to register your child, please contact FLOW at 01227719608, 01222102363, or by email: info@flow-egypt.com 

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