Aqua Yoga: Changing the Planes

This is the second in a four-part series posting on Thursdays about Aqua Yoga.  

Last week’s Aqua Yoga post discussed the benefits and challenges of buoyancy and balancing postures.  This week, I want to show you how changing the planes in which your asana are practiced can bring greater awareness to alignment and muscular connectivity as well as deepen the breath.

Let’s look at two postures.

High Side Lunge

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In a land practice, this version of this posture, the feet are both turned out slightly with the weight shifted toward the side with the bent knee. The lower bent leg should track over the ankle, and the chest should remain lifted with shoulders away from the ears.  Holding this posture will strengthen the legs, stretch the inner thigh of the straight leg, and allow for deep breathing along the tall spine.

When the side lunge is taken into the pool, we utilize the side wall of the pool as our base.

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The feet remain in firm contact with the base, and the hands on the pool deck should be as relaxed as possible.  The spine is still tall, the chin neutral, and the shoulders are low.

But here’s the amazing difference: when doing side lunge on land, the work is quite intense.  The quadriceps start to burn, and the body starts to warm.  With this work, breathing often becomes less deep.  When in the water, however, the legs are still active, but the tailbone hangs free allowing an incredible release along the entire length of the spine.  And because the legs aren’t working so hard to hold the weight of the body, breathing can remain deep and even.

To take this posture into rotation:

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On land, the rotation of the side angle deepens the stretch in the groin.  The twist should originate in the lower back, but that may not be achievable for many people. (Use of a block for the ground-side hand would help.)  Again, the legs are working hard here, so holding the twist may be limited to just a few breaths.

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In the water, the twist can happen freely thanks to the released tailbone.  By pushing the feet into the side wall, the torso lifts up and out of the pelvis as the arm and body twist toward the bent leg.  This rotation can be held for longer– giving the benefits of improved digestion, decrease in back pain, and stress relief–and allows for the full expression of the asana.

Eye of the Needle- Sucirandrasana

This pose for hip opening, low back stretching, and general gentle feel-goodness is a favorite of many yogis.

You’ve probably already figured out that we’re not going to do this one lying down on the bottom on the pool.  Rather, we’re going to modify it into a standing posture.

Performing eye-of-the-needle while standing is fantastic for pregnant women who cannot be in a supine position for extended lengths of time.  This is a population who needs the hip-opening benefits of the posture.  But it feels great for anyone who does a lot of sitting….which is pretty much everyone.

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Start in utkatasana  (chair pose) with the back against the pool wall.  Shift the bodyweight into one leg and cross the other leg over the base leg.  Hands come to the heart in prayer position.  Focus on sinking down into the pose, lowering the upper bent knee (right, as shown above) toward the pool floor as you keep the foot flexed.

One bonus of taking eye-of-the-needle into the water is that you can add an element of core work to it.

Drape your arms on the pool deck behind you to brace your body.  With your legs still crossed with heel pushing out and knee opening to the bottom of the pool, tilt the pelvis up toward the head so that the feet and legs float up.  You can either hold this position or do mini crunches in rhythm with your breath.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into how taking your yoga pratice into the pool and changing the planes the asana are expressed in can help you establish strong alignment and connect with your breath.

Next week we’ll explore Goddess Pose and discuss why finding your goddess in the pool is so blissful.

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