Lying on the tummy combines two of my favorite things:
1. The front of the body...soft, warm, and gurgling. When we are relaxed, the abdomen moves gently with our breath; tiny ripples of movement spread through our tummies as we breathe. Our own embodied sense of tenderness and connection is often felt in the front of our bodies, in our chests and hearts. The front of our bodies connects us to our intimacy. We kiss, hug, take in nourishment from food, and digest with the fronts of our bodies.
2. Compression of any part of the body can offer a deep sense of relaxation to young infants and adults alike. Can you imagine the comfort of a heavy blanket or the weight of a loved ones body resting on you? The growing fetus spends much of her time in the warm compressed environment of the womb. Compression can bring the body into a sense of stillness, steadiness, and connection.
Lying on the tummy offers compression to our softest parts. Body-Mind Centering© practitioners and students have found (through our own movement explorations and through the observations of infants) that laying on the tummy encourages the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system*. When specific aspects of the parasympathetic nervous system are activated, the body comes into deep states of rest. These states of rest encourage blood flow to the organs, healthy digestion, relaxed sensory processing, and bonding with other people. When lying on the tummy, compared to the back, the visual field is smaller. This can give infants a much-needed rest from attending to the visual environment. Additionally, many infants naturally bring their hands near the mouth while on the tummy. This can encourage them to suck on their own hands, which is a very important self-soothing process. Lying on the tummy encourages infants, and adults, to rest and feel the internal environment.
This is extremely important in a culture that pushes its members to focus on the external world constantly, often at the sacrifice of feeling one's internal world. It is our responsibility to help our children embrace their internal life and to learn to take a break from the sometimes overwhelming external environment. We must encourage our children, and ourselves, to bravely explore the feelings and sensations of our own bodies. Tummy time is one pivotal way to do this.
One lovely way to help very young infants enjoy the internal focus and rest of tummy time, is to have them rest on the chest of a loved one. The founder of Body-Mind Centering, Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen, demonstrates this beautifully with the infant below.
Tummy time info:
Conscious Baby Blog
Infant Development Movement Education
School for Body-Mind Centering©
Black and white: LaoWai Kevin on Flickr
Learning to yield: The Moving Child. An upcoming film on supporting children's movement development.
* These patterns of tummy time talked about here are patterns that have been observed and felt by many. They are not true for everyone all the, but they offer a map for exploration. It’s been my experience that using the “maps” offered by Body-Mind Centering© has helped me find my deepest states of rest, sensitivity, and clarity.