This is the final post in my five-part series about aqua yoga.
Before you read this post, take a deep breath.
If you’re one of those people who is interested in yoga but feel intimidated by all of the buff and bendy folks you see on the slick yoga magazines and the internet, I have a fabulous secret for you.
Yoga, at it’s heart, is about breathing.
It doesn’t matter how long your legs are or what the scale says or even if you can touch your toes; if you can breathe, you can do yoga.
(And since you’re reading this, I know you can breathe. So no excuses!)
The yogic breath practice is called pranyama. I must admit that I practiced yoga for years– mostly in fitness-oriented studios– and never encountered pranyama. It was only when I started studying to teach yoga that I learned about pranyama. And now it is one of the key parts of my practice.
But what does all of this have to do with aqua yoga?
I find pranyama practice in the pool especially effective at settling my mind and cooling my body. Because I teach aqua yoga outdoors during the summer in Austin, integrating the cooling practices of pranyama are a key part of my classes.
Here are two types of cooling pranyama I use regularly:
- Form a “taco tongue” and inhale through the mouth. (If you can’t make a taco, purse the lips for the inhale.)
- Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, close the lips, and exhale through the nose.
- Aim to make the exhale longer than the inhale.
- Repeat for 10-20 breaths.
I usually stand with my feet about 6 inches from the pool wall, back to the wall, and my fingertips lightly pressing in to the wall. This helps me keep my shoulders low and chest open.
- Stand with your feet grounded under your hips
- Use the right pinky to close off the right nostril.
- Inhale and exhale with the left nostril only.
- Repeat for 10-20 breaths.
The left side of the body is associated with the lunar tendencies. The left nostril is considered the subtle channel, responsible for cooling the body. I like this pranyama for the pool because water is also a lunar element.
You’re well aware of the importance of breathing while you’re in the water. Pranyama can help you become even more in tune with the inhale-hold-exhale-hold pattern we always have while breathing, but getting the timing right in the pool means breathing air rather than choking on water.
If you’ve ever tried lap swimming but struggled with regulating your breath, take a yogic approach. First, establish a breathing pattern that feels comfortable to you– that may mean breathing every other stroke (so you’re always breathing to the same side) or every third stroke (alternate-side breathing). Next, ensure that you’re exhaling into the water–aka blowing bubbles– when you’re swimming. Finally, add a “hum” to your exhale. Not only does this give you something to focus on to keep your rhythm steady, but it also creates a bodily vibration similar to chanting “om” in a yoga class. The vibration is steadying and centering.
I hope you’ll take some of these ideas and play around with them next time you’re in the pool. Breath work is one of the few silver bullets in the wellness world– breathe deeply and fully, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.