Tag Archives: aqua yoga

Aqua Yoga: Pranyama in the Pool

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:

Sitali breath

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  • 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.

Single-Nostril Breath

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  • 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.

Hey, Swimmers….

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.

Aqua Yoga: Finding the Goddess

This is the fourth post in a weekly series about Aqua Kriya Yoga.  You can read about aqua yoga and how it’s great for buoyancy and balance work.  When you change the planes of your yoga practice, good things happen.

 

Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor, has research that demonstrates a fascinating link between holding the body in a “power position” and building confidence.  Cuddy’s research is often cited as a way to pump yourself up before a big presentation or job interview, but the same ideas can be applied to running the gauntlet of everyday life.

 

 

 

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One of my favorite yoga asanas is Goddess Pose, as it requires concentration on many of the physical elements of my every day life: strong legs, a long, tall spine. and an open chest.  With a lifted heart and ready hands, I can get through even the toughest day, knowing that I have the strength within myself to do so.

The challenge of Goddess Pose is that it can be hard to sustain.  Even in the above photo, I could be lower into the squat to feel more of a release in the tailbone and lengthen the spine.  Let’s try again:

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Better here, especially with the consciously-raised chin, but I can see my legs are working so hard here that I’m collapsing the tiniest bit forward into my chest.

Yoga can be simple; yoga can also be hard.

There are a lot of moving parts–so to speak– even in these static poses.  Taking them into the pool can help get all the parts into the right place.  Remember how I talked about the great benefits of buoyancy and balance with regard to aqua yoga?  Goddess Pose is one of the asana that, when done in the pool, can be held for longer (thanks to the water bearing some of the bodyweight).  It can, therefore, give you time to better organize your body and appreciate the full expression of the posture.

Even more, the water can help you push the asana into deeper bodywork.  For example, because it’s easier on the big muscles in the low body to do the work of Goddess Pose in the pool, it can be held long enough to transition into a side body stretch.

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The knees are still bent, the glutes are still working hard, the feet are still bearing equal weight, the chest is still open and lifted– but now the side body receives a lengthening, too.  Breathing deeply in this posture, one can feel both strengthening (in the legs) and relaxation (in the chest and side body) at the same time.

I particularly like taking Goddess Pose into the pool because of the benefits women tell me they feel when working in water.  The freedom of movement we feel in the water allows one to feel confident in her body in a way that we usually do not on land.  This confidence creates a deeper breathing pattern, re-energizing the body on a cellular level.

Also, our bodies are primarily made of water.  By holding Goddess Pose in the water, we are connecting our outer and inner strength in a physical way.  For perimenopausal women, expressing the Goddess in the pool builds muscular strength and internal heat without the annoying side-effect of sweating.

What can be greater than feeling confident and strong?

I dare you to try Goddess Pose aqua yoga style and NOT feel like you can take on the world afterwards.  Check out the nationwide aqua kriya yoga class listings, or if you’re in Austin, leave a comment to join in my Wednesday evening class.

Note that the deep squat of Goddess Pose is contraindicated for women in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy unless the baby is known to be vertex.

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.

Aqua Yoga: Buoyancy and Balance

This is the first in a four-part series, posting weekly on Thursdays, to introduce concepts of Aqua Yoga.

I love the water– I love the feeling of floating and being free and light.  Being in the water allows me to both escape my body and come in very fine balance with it at the same time.  For that reason, aqua yoga provides me a way to play with buoyancy and balance in a way that a land-based mat yoga class does not.

Let’s dive right in and think about it.

When on land, balancing postures are some of the most physically challenging parts of yoga.  We must feel confident that we aren’t going to fall.

Scary!  I am so worried about falling that I can't keep my hips stacked or raise my leg to full extension.

Scary! I am so worried about falling that I can’t keep my hips stacked or raise my leg to full extension.

We must trust that we have the strength in our legs to hold our weight.  If we’re really good, we even try to concentrate of getting the alignment of the body correct so we can breathe deeply and experience the full expression of the asana.  But let’s be honest– most of us are working so hard just to hold the pose in whatever way we can that we are cutting short the experience we’re trying to achieve.

This Dancer looks pretty graceful, but I cannot hold this alignment for very long...and I'm certainly concentrating more on the physical work of the pose than the breath moving through me.

This Dancer looks pretty graceful, but I cannot hold this alignment for very long…and I’m certainly concentrating more on the physical work of the pose than the breath moving through me.

Enter buoyancy.

The water helps to alleviate much of the risk  of balancing postures.  First of all, who cares if you fall?  Rather than risking an injury, you just get wet.

With a little support from a noodle, I can feel confident in this more complete expression of Half Moon.

With a little support from a noodle, I can feel confident in this more complete expression of Half Moon.

Next, the water carries about 75% of your bodyweight when you are standing in chest-deep water.  That means less weight on your joints, and that can help you focus on the correct alignment of each body part.  It also translates into the ability to hold postures for much longer than on land.

All of this together means that you can hold a well-aligned pose long enough that you can breathe deeply and enjoy the full expression of the posture.  Without all of the gripping in the muscles due to lack of confidence and/or physical stamina, the ease of breath while in water flows freely.

Experimenting with balancing postures in the water is available to a wide population, especially to those people who lack confidence to try them on land. Whether you are obese or pregnant, practicing aqua yoga balancing postures is fantastic for their strength-building potential.

An aqua yogi at eIght-months pregnant, able to find Full Moon with the support of the water.

An aqua yogi at eIght-months pregnant, able to find Full Moon with the support of the water.

Now, don’t go thinking this means that balancing postures in the pool easy.  Because you are buoyant and gravity isn’t doing it’s thing to keep you on the floor of the pool, you are forced to concentrate on the rooting down in the base leg of the posture.  By bringing your focus to your foot, you can begin to think of how the posture is stabilized, then trace the alignment of the body up from that base.  Again, because you are not working so hard just. to.get.in.the.pose. you can turn your attention to alignment and breath.  This deeper level of inner focus that can be achieved in the pool will translate to a mat practice, too.

Three first-time aqua yogis playing with buoyancy and balance in Graceful Dancer.

Three first-time aqua yogis playing with breath, buoyancy and balance in Graceful Dancer.

Grab some noodles and get in to the pool.  Aqua Yoga can help you find your balance, both mentally and physically.

Good health and great happiness to you!

I teach Aqua Kriya Yoga classes and host private events in Austin.  Here’s a complete list of certified Aqua Kriya Yoga teachers.

Aqua Yoga: Summertime Stress Relief

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This is the first in a five-part series about aqua yoga.  

The dog days of summer are upon us.  Even though this has been a tolerably hot summer in Austin (read: not 100 degrees every single day), I find myself drawn to the water.  Even when it’s too hot for many people to want to be outside– much less exercise outside– aqua yoga offers an opportunity to move your body, still your mind, and relieve stress.

Ask anyone who has a regular yoga practice, and they’ll likely tell you that yoga helps them feel balanced.  Because yoga emphasizes the link between breath and body, most people find that they are more calm and focused with a regular practice.  The science behind the yoga and stress relief connection is starting to be documented, too.  It turns out all of your friends who claim yoga makes them feel “centered” aren’t just making it up!

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For many people, though, a standard mat practice can be challenging or intimidating.  Aqua Kriya Yoga, however, offers a practice that allows people to feel buoyant, enjoy the hydrostatic pressure against the body, take pressure off of joints, and experiment with balance through familiar and slightly-modified asana.   Individuals who often feel otherwise marginalized by traditional yoga or fitness classes can be confident that aqua yoga is an inclusive, supportive way for them to establish and cultivate their mind-body connection.  What is possible in the water is incredibly encouraging.

Over the next four Thursdays, I’ll be exploring some of the highlights of aqua yoga.  I’ve been teaching classes for more than two years now, and what I’m going to share with you are the nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned from both my personal aqua yoga practice and feedback from students.  Make sure you’re subscribed to OnBalance so you can try this introduction aqua yoga for yourself.

While an aqua yoga practice is refreshing in hot summers, it shouldn’t be limited to just one season.  It’s a fantastic year-round compliment to any busy lifestyle with wellness at the center.  I’m hoping to add an indoor location to my outdoor, summer aqua yoga offerings starting in September– stay tuned!

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Check out the other posts in this series about Aqua Yoga:

Buoyancy and Balance

Changing the Planes

Finding the Goddess

Pranyama in the Pool

Not in Austin?  To find an aqua yoga class near you, check out Aqua Kriya Yoga’s class listings nationwide.  There are now classes in many states, and it’s going international!  Come see why so many people find their mind-body bliss with the combination of water and yoga.

It’s May again already?

Last Fall, I made the conscious decision to stop posting here at onbalance, in an effort to free up some time for my family and my personal fitness training.  The irony is that I was doing a lot of long distance running, and it is on these runs that I get my best ideas for blog posts and other fitness tidbits to share.  I’ve been keeping a list of these ideas, have repopulated by blog posting calendar, and am going to be here every Monday and Thursday throughout the summer….just in time to keep you from flagging while the weather is hot and the kids are out of school.

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As usual, May means I’m  in the midst of my busy season teaching swim lessons.  I love working with children and teaching them water safety and the joy of being in the water.  Seeing the neuromuscular connections take place, the mechanics improve, and the body moving successfully across the water never fails to excite me.  And to see the kids’ confidence explode with this success is the cherry on top.

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In an unusual turn, we’re having a way wetter and colder than normal May here in Austin, so my Aqua Kriya Yoga classes are off to s slow start.  We’re meeting this year on WEDNESDAY evenings, 6.30-7.30, in Central Austin.  (NOTE:  This week only, class is on Thursday 5/21 instead.)  Leave me a comment or drop me an email at karen @ balancepft dot com if you’d like more information.  Not in Austin but curious about aqua yoga?  Check out some FAQs I’ve answered.

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Business-wise, I’m continuing to add new offerings to better support my clients on their fitness journey.  This year, I’m excited to be able to grow my Personal Training base.   I’m looking ahead to August, when all three of my kids are in school five-days-a-week; this means I’ll be able to see more clients even more regularly.  Walking with people as they develop new healthy behaviors is so rewarding.  Please do let me know if you’d like some support and direction for  your own wellness.  Not in Austin?  I can support you through virtual training, too!

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In April I finished my certification to become a Prenatal Kriya Yoga instructor.  I’m spending some time this summer thinking about the best way I can reach out to and serve pregnant women with this soul and body nourishing practice.  Stay tuned!

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My upcoming fitness goals are, once again, running focused.  In the short term, I’m looking forward to running Beach to Beacon in Maine this August.  Like two years ago when I ran Falmouth Road Race, toeing the line at B2B allows me to participate in one of the classic American summer road races.  It’s in the hometown of American distance running legend Joan Benoit Samuelson, who sparked my mind as a 10-year-old girl when she won the 1984 Olympic Marathon.  Longer term, my dad and I are cooking up a plan to go to South Africa next May to participate in Comrades Marathon, a 90K ultramarathon that is considered “The Ultimate Human Race.”  Again, stay tuned!  I’m going to need your support!

Good health and great happiness to you!

Aqua Yoga: FAQs Answered

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This post is the second in a weekly series regarding water and wellness.

It was nearly a year ago that I became certified to teach Aqua Kriya Yoga, and at that time I really didn’t have any idea what I was getting in to.  A year later, I’m pleased to say that I’ve gotten more out of aqua yoga– both personally and professionally– than any other aspect of my fitness business.  But there are a lot of questions folks ask about aqua yoga, so I thought I’d answer some of them here.

I had a knee replacement/vertigo/back surgery.  I can’t do yoga anymore.  Can I do Aqua Yoga?

Yes!  The water is the perfect environment for you to get reacquainted with your yoga practice.   Instructors are trained to modify postures for individual’s particular body needs.  The water allows you to attempt postures with confidence that you would not try on land.  The worst thing that happens is you get wet!

I’m a guy.  Will I be the only guy there?

Maybe.  But you won’t be the first guy to do Aqua Yoga.  You’ll just be smarter than the other guys who won’t try it.

Is this one of those classes that’s really only for old people and pregnant women?

No!  Aqua Yoga is a fantastic practice for anyone who is interested in improving their breath, their flexibility, and their focus.  Any person of any fitness level can improve her wellness through aqua yoga.

If it’s in the water, that must mean Aqua Yoga is really easy?

Ummm…not so much!  The challenges of the buoyancy of the water plus the instability created by the wind (if practicing outdoors) and other people practicing near you and moving the water adds elements to yoga postures that you don’t encounter in a mat class.

What’s the “Kriya” in Aqua Kriya Yoga all about?

Kriya is a volitional, intentional approach to yoga that is suited for anyone involved in everyday “real life.”  It is meant to encourage self-awareness within one’s current life, not in some ideal state separate from the responsibilities and relationships that make up life’s fabric.  In this way, I find the approach to yoga one well-suited for people who have no yoga background.

How do I become certified to teach Aqua Kriya Yoga?

Check out the Aqua Kriya Yoga website for all of their current offerings.  If there isn’t a training offered near you, email Nancy or Camella and let them know you’re interested.

 

Do you have another question I haven’t covered here?  Leave it in the comments, and I’ll answer right away!

See you off the mat and in the pool!

I offer Aqua Yoga classes in my Austin, TX backyard saltwater pool.  Classes are on Thursday evenings, 6.30-7.30pm through June, $10/class.  Email me at karen at balancepft.com if you have questions or would like a place in the pool!