How to Do Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana) in Yoga and Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Mother and Son in happy baby pose
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Also Known As: Dead Bug Pose

Targets: Hip opener, hamstrings, inner thighs, groin

Level: Beginner

Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana) is an easy exercise often done in Pilates and yoga classes. It is a gentle stretch for the hamstrings, inner thigh, and inner groin, a relaxation exercise for the back, and it also opens up the hips, shoulders, and chest. Happy Baby is a nice treat to give yourself any time. It feels especially relaxing after a workout.

Benefits

With this pose, you open the hips and give a stretch to your inner thighs, hamstrings at the back of the thighs, and groin. It releases the back and the sacrum. You may notice one hip is tighter than the other and then know which to target for better flexibility and mobility.

In yoga, this move is recommended for relief of stress and fatigue, to calm and center you. You have probably watched a baby grab its toes and play with them, perhaps envying that simple motion and sense of wonder. Grabbing your toes as a baby does brings you back to the flexible spine you had as a baby. The founder of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, was much inspired by the movement of babies. There is much to learn in this simple exercise.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will need an exercise mat or a firm, padded surface. You may want to support your neck with a small pad, pillow or folded blanket.

  1. Lie on your back and find a neutral spine position where the natural curves of your spine are present but not exaggerated.
  2. Bring your knees toward your chest. As you bring your knees up, keep your hip sockets soft so that your legs come up but your hips stay down. Keep your neutral spine with your tailbone on the mat.
  3. Flex your feet and show the soles of your feet to the ceiling.
  4. Wrap your first two fingers around your big toes and pull lightly down. Your feet stay flat to the ceiling but your hips release allowing your knees to come closer to your chest as you relax. You can also bring your hands up to the outside of the foot and grasp the foot around the arch.
  5. Take your time and breathe deeply. Enjoy the easy stretch in your hamstrings.
  6. Let your back relax into the floor—don't push it down, just allow it to release naturally. Be a happy baby.

Common Mistakes

To get the most out of this exercise, avoid these errors.

Shoulders Raised

Try to keep the pose contained so the legs stay fairly parallel and the shoulders stay settled on the floor. This can be difficult if you have very tight hips. If you find your shoulders must raise from the mat, modify where you place your hands (such as at the ankles or shins) so your chest remains open and your shoulders remain on the mat.

Chin Lifted

If your neck is not in contact with the mat, your chin will be raised, which places your neck at risk of strain. Often this is caused by lack of flexibility so you are straining to grab your feet with your hands. Instead, grasp your ankles or shins.

Modifications and Variations

You can do this pose in ways that make it more accessible for beginners or deepen it for those farther along in their practice.

Need a Modification?

If you are not able to hold your feet, you may use a strap or exercise band to hold the foot, looping it over the middle of the arch. You may need to practice releasing at the hip socket with Pilates knee folds.

Up for a Challenge?

If you have great hip flexibility, you can go deeper by pressing your tailbone into the mat.

Safety and Precautions

If you are pregnant or if you have a knee injury or neck injury, you may not wish to do the Happy Baby exercise. Ask your instructor for modifications or alternative exercises. If you feel pain at any time during this exercise, stop.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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