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Concept Spotlight: Baby Feet

by Ellen on October 5th, 2017

If you’ve had a lesson with me, you’ve probably had a table turn, and if you’ve had a table turn, you may have experienced a particular leg-moving technique that my teachers called ‘baby feet.’ This technique involves rotating the knee outward and sliding the foot along the table to extend the leg, as opposed to the simpler version that extends the leg up in the air before lowering it to the table. But why is it called ‘baby feet’? Well, let’s let Baby Stafford show you:

Baby Feet from Ellen Deutsch on Vimeo.

Most babies do some version of this, hence the name. It’s another of the ways the Murrays have incorporated developmental movement ideas into their work with the Technique, and I’ve found it’s a great way to free up tight hips and release lower back muscles. But why do babies do this in the first place? They don’t have tight hips, do they?

Well no, they don’t, but it’s actually for a fascinating reason. Ever wondered why it seems like babies are made of rubber? It’s because a lot of things about them are not really fully formed until well after birth. Most people know about the plates in a baby’s skull that fuse much later in life – that’s why the ‘soft spot’ is so important to be careful around – but not many people know about the curious state of a newborn’s hips. Namely, a newborn doesn’t have them!

The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint; the head of the femur slots into a socket on the pelvis to allow for freedom of movement in all directions. However, the construction of the hip joints means that the pelvis is one of the widest parts of the body, and when it comes to being born, wider is definitely NOT better. Part of the reason for the separate plates in the skull is so that it can mold to squish its way out of the mother, and in general, it behooves a newborn to be able to become as narrow as possible to facilitate birth. To that end, a newborn baby’s pelvis doesn’t yet have sockets for the heads of her femurs to lock into; they’re simply flat planes with the heads of the femurs resting up against them. This way the legs can dangle lower down and narrow her frame for birth. (Incidentally, this is why carriers for newborns need to have support for their hips; if the crotch-piece isn’t wide enough the legs will dangle and cause problems in their development.)

While this is preferable for the actual birthing process, a lack of hip joints is a pretty big obstacle in the way of being able to put weight on her legs! So, a baby has to create her own hip joints before she can support herself with them. This ‘baby feet’ movement pattern is the baby’s way of literally grinding out their own hip joints! The baby explores all the different movement possibilities for their hip joints with these movements, and creates the shape of their sockets to match the balls on their femurs. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s possible for someone to have asymmetrical hip joints, this is why – they have to make them from scratch in infancy!

Forward and Up! is a Pittsburgh-based private practice offering quality instruction in the Alexander Technique in a positive and supportive environment.

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