While she was supposedly cleaning up the toys in the playroom at my mother’s house, I caught my daughter in a classic w-sit. Since she’s not a habitual w-sitter and a discussion of the position sometimes comes up with parents or kids yoga teacher trainees, I pulled out my camera.
A w-sit is a children’s phenomenon. It’s a reference to the position of the legs when viewed from above.
Adults don’t do this because our knees and hips simply don’t flex like that anymore, but child development experts generally discourage the position in children too.
Persistent w-sitting can cause (1) problems with decreased stability in the trunk and hips, (2) orthopedic issues with the hips, knees and feet, (3) and/or tightness or contractures in the hamstrings, hip adductors, internal rotators, and heel cords. W-sitting can also decrease the amount of rotation of the trunk and crossing the midline of the body, which is essential to development of hand dominance and refinement of motor skills.
Another feature of the position is how it disengages core muscles and encourages poor alignment of the spine. In a w-sit, the child’s thighs roll inward and pelvis tips back to accommodate, pushing the spine into a c-curve rather than it’s natural s-shape.
Children who are most likely to w-sit are those with hypermobile joints and poor core strength, which unfortunately means they are not building strength while they play. That has ramifications for movement development and more. Core strength is essential for cross-the-midline movements such as crawling, well developed walking, running, and climbing which are so helpful in integrating left-right brain function essential for reading and school success.
So Should We Be Teaching Hero’s Pose in Kids Yoga?
There’s sometimes confusion between Hero’s Pose and the W-Sit, and therefore its appropriateness in yoga classes for children.
Contrast the W-Sit (above left) with Hero’s Pose (above right). In Hero, the child is still sitting between her feet, but her feet are pointed straight back, toes down, shins in close to her thighs, which no longer roll inward. This reduces the strain on her ankles, knees and hips allows her pelvis to come up into a neutral position.
Maya’s spine position is in the most pronounced c-curved in the first image. But you can see that after she sat in hero’s pose and I asked her to go back to a w-sit, the natural s-curve disappeared even though not as dramatically as before.
So, We’ve Identified a Less-than-Optimal Sitting Position, now what?
Some experts recommend that you correct your child’s posture and remind them anytime you find them in a w-sit. That certainly has the potential to send some pretty negative messages to a child who’s simply doing what comes naturally. In yoga class, we teach hero’s pose and a few alternatives and then we address core strength through movement and play. This therapist’s approach is similar and worth a read if your child tends toward this position.
My Turn Mom
Maya was a good sport about modeling the positions, so then we got a little silly:
Finally, she wanted to demonstrate her favorite pose (which is a transition, actually): mountain to volcano, complete with dramatic breaths and explosion.