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Stretch Your Spine and Hips with Child’s Pose and Shell Stretch

child's pose_shell stretch

In this post: Child’s Pose and Shell Stretch are more than just resting poses in yoga and Pilates. They also stretch your hips and spine. Here’s how to practice them.

It’s no secret that Joseph Pilates borrowed some exercises from yoga. One of the poses he selected to borrow and modify was Balasana, commonly known as Child’s Pose. The Pilates adaptation of Child’s Pose is called Shell Stretch.

Frequently, these poses are used to rest or recover, but they really do so much more than give your body a break. Here’s more about why and how you should practice Child’s Pose and Shell stretch to get the most benefit for your body.

Why Should You Do Child’s Pose?

Child’s Pose is a great way to stretch the spine, relieve tightness in the low back, and open the hips. For this reason, Child’s Pose is a perfect go-to pose for anyone with hip or low back pain.

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How to do Child’s Pose

  1. Lower down on to your knees with your knees as wide as your mat.
  2. Gently, let your big toes touch each other.
  3. Angle your SITs bones (the bones that you feel when you sit on the floor) so they point to the wall behind you.
  4. Draw your belly button toward your spine, and lower your bottom toward your heels. Make sure you don’t tuck your SITs bones under you as you sit back.
  5. child's poseLet your upper body fold toward the floor.
  6. Reach your arms out straight and place your palms on the floor. With straight elbows, you are in an active Child’s Pose. If you bring your arms by your side, you are in a resting Child’s Pose.
  7. Remember to breathe. Take nice, gentle inhales and exhales through your nose.

Why Should You Do Shell Stretch?

Although Child’s Pose and Shell Stretch are quite similar, they don’t provide exactly the same benefit. Because your legs are parallel and close to each other in Shell Stretch, your spine stretch is more intense than the stretch for your hips. 

For some people with a tight spine (or a large belly), this stretch can be quite intense and even uncomfortable. If Shell Stretch is uncomfortable for you, it’s okay to use Child’s Pose instead. 

How to do Shell Stretch

  1. Lower down on to your knees with your legs parallel. Your legs should either be right beside each other or just a little wider.
  2. Draw your belly button to your spine, and sit your bottom back toward your heels. In Shell Stretch, it’s okay if your spine rounds and your SITs bones angle down toward the floor. In fact, that’s the whole point!
  3. shell stretch restingLet your upper body fold toward the floor.
  4. Reach your arms out straight and place your palms on the floor. With straight elbows, you are in an active Shell Stretch. If you bring your arms by your side, you are in a resting Shell Stretch.
  5. Remember to use Pilates breathing. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through pursed lips.

For Visual Learners…

Here is a video of how to practice Child’s Pose and Shell Stretch for all the visual learners out there.

Before You Practice Child’s Pose or Shell Stretch, Don’t Forget…

In Child’s Pose, you could be resting. However, don’t release your energy and melt on the Mat. Child’s Pose is a great opportunity to warm up your hips and work on angling your SITs bones to the wall behind you. You can create nice length in the spine and really find those core muscles as you lift your belly button to your spine. Plus, it’s a great, gentle way to stretch posterior muscles.

In Shell Stretch, with the knees closer together, the stretch ends up being about recovery or stretching the spinal muscles. The stretch is particularly focused in the low back. It looks very similar to Child’s Pose, but I would bet you that it feels different in your body.

If you have a tight low back, low back pain, hip pain, or have had lumbar disc issues; please do Child’s Pose instead of Shell Stretch.

By practicing Child’s Pose and Shell Stretch, you can do more than just rest and recover. You can stretch and tone muscles to keep your body balanced and pain-free.

If you are trying to get rid of hip pain, I can help. Sign up here to download my FREE digital guide to help you use yoga to get rid of hip pain permanently!

Try both exercises. Do they feel different to you? Please, please use the box below and comment! Let’s get some conversations going!

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi! I'm Sarah, and I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. When I'm not working with clients, I'm researching the best ways to get rid of pain. Do you want to learn how to practice yoga and Pilates safely in your own home? Or, do you want to know all my tips and tricks for pain relief? Join my mailing list and receive free goodies to help you.

2 Comments

  1. Sean on January 19, 2017 at 10:32 am

    This stretch works great for anyone that does weighted squats. It helps prevent the lower back from rounding at the bottom of the squat, which is one cause of lower back pain.



    • Sarah Stockett on January 19, 2017 at 10:03 pm

      Such a great point, Sean! Thank you so much for bringing this up. In yoga, we do squats (malasana), but sometimes I forget that squats are done in strength training as well.



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