Images of babies as young as two weeks old being flung around a wacky Russian therapist’s head have shocked millions around the world.
The therapist Lena Fokina filmed spinning and somersaulting the babies by their wrists and ankles has confirmed she hopes to bring the craze to the UK.
Lena Fokina, 51, can be seen flipping a baby over her head in her bizarre “baby yoga” routine which has been banned from a number of websites for fear that it glorifies child abuse.
Many viewers believed the moves must have been performed on dolls but Lena Fokina says they are definitely real babies and she has been practicing the techniques for the past 30 years.
The Russian therapist was tracked down at a seminar called “Parenting the Deliberate Way” in Dahab, Egypt, where parents from across Europe were paying her to perform the same moves on their infants, some just months old.
And while most of the babies were left screaming in tears or vomited during or after their session of “baby dynamics”, Lena Fokina insists it is for their benefit.
She said: “It’s very good for babies and not dangerous at all. Some babies cry at first, but they begin to enjoy it.
“Most people think young babies can only lie on a bed, eat, and cry. But babies are born with natural reflexes, which we can use to help them develop physically and intellectually.
“I work with parents from across Europe. I hope soon I will be working with a family in England. I think there are a number of open-minded parents there whose babies could benefit from my work.”
According to Lena Fokina, baby yoga was first practiced by ancient African tribes – but the modern incarnation was developed by fellow Russian Dr. Igor Charkovsky, who was also present at the seminar.
Lena Fokina, a mother-of-five and grandmother, does sessions that can last up to five minutes, during which babies are spun, swung and flipped, often by a single limb.
The actions are performed on babies from a few weeks old up to around age two.
Lena Fokina added: “The method was originally developed to cure and correct the health of children having muscular or skeletal problems but it is also suitable for healthy children.
“The movements are designed to improve their muscular abilities and development.
“And the children often turn out to be early readers, singers, talkers, swimmers. It also makes their hands stronger. We are humanists and we don’t do anything wrong.”
At the camp, the parents, hailing mainly from Russia and the Ukraine, also seemed entirely satisfied as they stood by and watched Lena Fokina treat their babies, usually above a gravel floor.
Each day at 8:00 a.m., parents would bring their tots to the Mirage Village Hotel in Dahab. Around 20 parents had signed up for Lena Fokina’s latest 12-day seminar, which costs $400 per family.
Parents smiled and chatted as the infants were left dangling for long periods by their arms or legs. But in almost every case the babies began crying just seconds into the bizarre routine.
And another vomited mid-air after undergoing several minutes of swinging. Yet Lena Fokina refused to acknowledge any dangers.
The therapist said: “From the moment of its birth a child can grasp, step, support itself and swim.
“The Charkovsky method uses these natural reflexes for child training. The amount of time it takes to train an adult to do it on a child depends on the sensibility of the child’s parent. Sometimes it only takes one training session.”
For years, doctors around the world have warned that “dramatic and unnatural movements” inflicted on a young baby can lead to brain bleeding, retinal hemorrhaging and brain swelling – commonly known as Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).
And some researchers have suggested that SBS can occur at much lower levels of head movement than had been previously thought.
But Lena Fokina, who has been practicing baby yoga for more than 30 years, tells clients it is harmless even for newborn babies, as long as a child is eased into the movements gradually.
She is also not worried about any strain on the babies’ joints and limbs.
Lena Fokina said: “Even a tiny baby’s body can adapt to the process easily if you take it gradually.
“As long as the parent or instructor has practiced and studied the teachings of Dr. Charkovsky the child will be fine.
“People tend to get upset when they see it because they are not aware of children’s real abilities – but these abilities are much wider than it is traditionally thought.”
The Dahab seminar offered participants the opportunity to “learn the method of Igor Charkovsky and techniques for working with pregnant women, newborns and children”.
As well as morning seminars in “baby dynamics” parents were also instructed in “water rebirthing”, which involves repeatedly dunking children’s heads underwater.
The practice is designed to address “repressed trauma from birth”.
According to literature about the practice on Lena Fokina’s website, rebirthing “allows the mind and body to gently restructure itself so as to increase the feeling of happiness, efficiency, be healthy and to feel the inner harmony of the individual”.
However, there seemed to be little of this on display in the children being forced under the water by Dr. Igor Charkovsky, a Russian midwife whose research includes the effect dolphins can have on a mother’s calm during childbirth.
Again, many ended up in tears.
Also on offer at the seminar were more traditional pursuits such as baby massage, swimming lessons and gymnastics.
Lena Fokina has also conducted workshops in Thailand and India where she has worked on children from all over the world.
She said: “Baby dynamics is quite well known in Russia but up to now all the literature about it has only been in Russian.
“However, it is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world and we want to teach parents by bringing our methods to where they live.
“Although I don’t know anybody practicing in the UK yet I will be very proud when I see my methods applied there.”
Lena Fokina studied physical education at the University of Physical Culture in Moscow, achieving a Master’s degree.
She later went on to study under Dr. Igor Charkovsky.
Now, divorced Lena Fokina has five children, Alexandra, 30, Tatyana, 27, Timur, 23, Maria, 16 and 13-year-old Pavel.
Lena Fokina is also grandmother to Christian, 3, and Petrik, 4, and it was on her own children that she started refining the worrying methods.
The therapist said: “I first tried baby dynamics 30 years ago after my oldest daughter Alexandra was born. At first I was worried, but then I realized how my children enjoyed it and it inspired me.
“People criticize our methods out of ignorance – if only they tried to understand what we were doing, they would change their attitudes. If by doing it I give children an advantage, why wouldn’t I?
“I was aware of the practices but it was only later when I was introduced to Dr. Charkovsky that I became a teacher in it. It’s something I am very proud of and have believed in for a very long time.”
Lena Fokina lives in Russia but frequently visits Dahab where her two eldest daughters live. She works full-time giving seminars all over the world, but insists her work is not done for profit.
She said: “What I do is not a commercial project. I earn enough money just to live here and work with children. What I do is not part of my life, it is my life.”
Despite being relatively common in Russia, Lena Fokina says she prefers to hold her seminars in Egypt.
Lena Fokina said: “I love Egypt for many reasons. The climate is favorable with lots of sun and warm sea.
“There are also good conditions for free diving, yoga and sports and the people here have a good attitude to what I am doing.
“All my children have grown up according to the Charkovsky method and they have all gone on to achieve outstanding results in life – they are Russian champions in parachuting, free diving and horse riding.
“Now my children are practicing those same methods on their own children. It’s the best proof.”