Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne Zeedyk, a developmental psychologist in Scotland who is kind of my counterpart in the UK. She is trying to address a large audience regarding the implications of the explosion of research and knowledge at the interface of neuroscience and developmental psychology. She's had quite a bit of success-of course its different because Scotland is a small place that has socialized medicine. The departments of education, health care and finance all seem to be listening to her. She has even gotten the cooperation of law enforcement in understanding the connection between violence prevention and supporting early-parent child relationships. In a piece from an early education blog : Early Years the Key to Reducing Violence, a detective talks about how the "Violence Reduction Unit" is supporting early years initiatives and work with parents.
So what does this have to do with yoga? Earlier this week Suzanne sent me a link to a post she had written about the importance of emotional regulation for stressed parents. She asks the question: "Is there a child protection agency out there that includes yoga as a mandatory element of their parenting programmes?" She describes the multiple demands on mothers whose children are in foster care, mothers who themselves often have a history of trauma, with nothing being offered to support their efforts at emotional regulation. But, she wisely points out, emotional regulation is perhaps the most important and most difficult task for a mother. It is through self-regulation that a parent teaches this essential skill to a child. She says:
In other words, children’s brains and bodies can only learn what self-comfort and containment feel like when they have first experienced comfort and containment in the arms of a trusted adult. If the brain does not have the opportunity to know this state, then it will not build the synaptic connections that are able to easily facilitate emotional regulation, later on in life. If a child does not have such neural pathways in place within the first few years of his/her life, then the battle to gain control of intense feelings may forever be a losing one.A child and mother in the child protective services system is an extreme example. But when a baby has colic, or a mother is depressed, or both, this task of emotional regulation, of staying calm in the face of your child's distress, is very challenging. Perhaps yoga should also be a routine intervention in this situation.
By coincidence, I had just come back from a yoga class when I read her post. My teacher, who is now pregnant herself with her second child, teaches a yoga class for pregnant moms (this is also a great idea, especially given what we are learning about the effects of stress during pregnancy on fetal development.) She then offers these moms the chance to come to her class after the baby is born. So while doing my down-dogs I listened to a cooing baby, who looked to be about 3 months old. He happily kicked his legs while he intently watched his mother. Interestingly, whenever her head was down ( they were right in front of me so I could easily observe, and as those who read my blog know, I am a professional baby observer!)) his cooing reached a crescendo. Then when she looked up and smiled at him he became quiet and gleefully smiled back- a great example of a young infant's terrific communication skills!!
Of course yoga is not for everyone, and yoga classes are extraordinarily variable. The point is that moms, particularly under the stress of colic and/or postpartum depression, need help with their own emotional regulation. Using the body to help the brain, through yoga, martial arts, swimming or even simply walking can be an important intervention that is good for the whole family!