Tag Archives: swimming

Underwater Awesome

A few weeks ago, I was in the pool playing around with my kids.  I’ve always loved being in the water with them, but this time I was relishing the freedom that comes with having each kid be a strong independent swimmer.  No longer was I needed to act as a tugboat or buoy in the pool; even my youngest can keep up with her brothers, swimming, splashing, and playing around for an hour or more.  Finally we have reached the age where we can all be outside, get some good exercise, and not wilt in the hot Austin summer.

I found myself doing what I often do when we’re in the pool together: grinning a goofy grin while watching my kids play.  They had devised some version of the throw-a-toy-to-the-bottom-while-no-one-is-looking-then-race-to-fetch-it game and were playing it happily over and over and over again.

I grabbed a pair of goggles and submerged myself so I could watch their play underwater.  They were all smiling, their strong bodies stretched out in the water, moving freely.  It was a scene that captured perfectly why I have so loved swimming with my kids; it is one of the great joys of mothering these three.

I knew, immediately, I had to have photos taken of my kids underwater.

This was just a week before school started, but I was struck so directly and powerfully that I knew it couldn’t wait.  My oldest is 12, and he’s on the verge of becoming a hairy man-child.  I wanted photos of my children– my babies– playing together.  I wanted something that would help me push the pause button on their childhoods, forever capturing what has been a huge part of our lives together.

After a few false starts with some pro photographers, it turns out that my super talented cousin has an underwater housing for her super fancy camera.  She came over and shot some images that were exactly what I was looking for.

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And, this, which is my most favoritest photo EVER of my waterbabies:


Go do something with your kids that makes you all smile.

Photo credits Elissa Shopoff.  If you live in Austin and are interested in underwater photography, drop a comment here. I’d be happy to put you in touch with Elissa.


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


  • 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


  • 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.

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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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!

Swim Workout: Keeping Cool, Getting Fit


Apologies for missing last Thursday’s water workout post.  I got caught up in the last week of school for my boys, fifth grade graduation for The Bear, and recovering from an awesome vacation you’ll get to hear all about next Monday….

But I’m back today, ready to continue the series of WATER WORKOUT posts.  Today I want to give you some examples of what to do in the pool for a swim workout.  This post is especially aimed at those of you who know how to swim but don’t do it for exercise often.  First, a word of warning: breathe.  Swimming for exercise is hard work.  But if you can find a rhythm for your breath, you’ll soon find yourself logging the laps in a zen state.

I like to do swimming workouts as interval workouts.  The reasoning for this is two-fold: 1) Swimming is hard (see above), and rest is essential, and 2) The thought of swimming for 30+ minutes is exhausting, but the thought of swimming for 1-2 minutes at a time and then taking a rest is much more mentally manageable.

Here are my favorite swim workouts, which all take about 30 minutes to complete:


20 x kick 1 length with a kickboard, rest 20-30 seconds (depending on your ability level)– major low body burner


5 x kick 2 lengths, rest 15 seconds, swim 1 length, rest 15 seconds, use pull buoy 1 length, rest 30 seconds– full-body workout

3 x 1 length fast, 1 length easy; 2 lengths fast, 2 lengths easy; 3 lengths fast, 3 lengths easy; 2 lengths fast, 2 lengths easy; 1 length fast, 1 length easy with 1 minute rest between sets– an endurance challenge


Kick  4 lengths, Swim 20 minutes (any stroke, just no rest!), Kick 4 lengths– for those days you just want to get in the water and swim

These workouts are based on those presented in Run Less, Run Faster, a distance-training book I’ll review in a few weeks as part of my marathon training overview.   I’ve found these workouts a fantastic compliment to my running.

Do you like to swim as a summer workout?  What’s your favorite swimming challenge?

This post is part of a series about Water Workouts: you can see what swim kit you need to make your workouts most effective, learn more about aqua yoga, get a water safety refresher, or find other summer workout options here at On Balance.



Swim Workout: Key Kit to Get Fit


When I’m working with a child who is learning to swim, I often remind her that swimming is hard work.  That’s why adults swim for exercise!  By using your upper body, lower body, right side, and left side– all while your face is in the water– your body gets a complete workout.  Even better, the connections between the body and the brain are strengthened as well.

Over the years I’ve come to learn that teaching swimming is a lot like building a sandcastle.  Each of the individual parts has to be really strong before the whole thing works together.  Often, I ask the kids to put the parts together, but then I see we need to take the whole thing apart and work on the individual parts again.  Once the components look strong, we go for the whole stroke again.

It’s really no different than how I swim myself.  Each workout I do consists of leg drills, arm drills, and full stroke practice.  Other than access to a pool, the only items you really need in your swimming kit bag are a good swimsuit (which is very different than a good bathing suit), goggles, a kick board, and a pull buoy.  Some people like to have hand paddles and flippers, too, but for my purposes of recreational swimming for fitness, I just don’t find I use them very much.

Let’s start with the legs: a kick board allows you to isolate the swim stroke to the legs only.   This helps you to concentrate on the flow and the rhythm of your kick.  You can get fancy and practice side kicking or one-legged kicking drills with your kick board, as each of those elements can help the efficiency of your stroke by making you a more streamlined breather or a stronger kicker, respectively.  I use my kick board as part of my warm up as well as an active-recovery tool in the middle of a workout.

When I want to focus on my arms, I use a pull buoy between my thighs.  This keeps my legs afloat so I can maintain a long, horizontal swimming position without expending the effort of kicking.  I use the pull buoy to think about the extension and pulling of my arms through the water, trying to generate more power from my upper body.  The pull buoy also helps prevent shoulder injuries, because this focus on technique allows me to check-in and make sure I am moving my arms in an ergonomic, efficient manner.  I usually use the pull buoy at the end of a workout, when my legs are already toasted but I want to get in a few more laps  while my heart rate is still elevated.

By using the simple tools of a kick board and a pull buoy, I can isolate different aspects of my swimming stroke.  I can focus on moving through the water efficiently.  When I am ready to add the components together, I find I have a more powerful and intentional stroke.

Have you ever used equipment to help you improve your swim stroke?  Have any questions as to how these pieces can be used to work best for you?

Good health and great happiness to you!

This blog post is the third in a series regarding water and fitness.  Check out my thoughts regarding water safety and the FAQs of Aqua Yoga.  We’ll stay in the pool next Thursday as well, when I’ll give you some ideas for a swim workout.

Water Safety: Annual Refresher


 This is the first in a series of blog posts about ways to enjoy the water.  In the next few weeks, I’ll discuss aqua fitness, aqua yoga, water polo, aqua jogging, and other such ways my family and I keep cool and fit in the summer.

I’m already in the fourth week of teaching swimming lessons, but I know some of you are still thawing out from a late-season snowstorm.  I trust it will be warm everywhere soon (except for you folks in the southern hemisphere— waving to you!!), so let’s talk water safety for a minute.

While scenes of drowning or near-drowning on TV and in the movies are usually loud, splashy, and dramatic, actual drowning is not.  It is almost always silent.  It often happens when parents or caregivers are nearby.  It can even happen to children who have had swim lessons and know how to swim.  In fact, drowning is the Number One cause of death in children age 4 and under.

Sobering, isn’t it?

Before kids get invited to pool parties this summer, take the time to have a refresher about Pool (or Lake) Rules.  At a bare minimum, kids should be reminded:

  • Ask permission before getting in the water.  Even if an adult has already agreed to watch the kids, kids should be told to ask if the adult is ready before entering the water.
  • No swimming without an adult present and paying attention.
  • Swim only with a buddy….even with an adult present if the adult is not in the water.
  • If the child can’t jump into the water and swim to the side unassisted, s/he should have an adult water buddy.
  • Stay away from drains and pool equipment.
  • If you can’t see the appointed adult or lifeguard from where you are playing/swimming, they can’t see you.  Keep your eye on the adult!
  • Keep your bodies apart while in the water.  Good-natured horseplay can go dangerous in a moment.
  • Jump feet first into water rather than diving. (Unless an adult says it is safe to dive.)

Colin’s Hope is an Austin-based nonprofit that works to inform people about water safety in the hope that no child drowns.  Founded by parents who lost their four year old to drowning the very day after he “graduated” from swim lessons, Colin’s Hope has resources that can help you learn more about keeping kids safe around water– including washing machines and puddles and buckets.   Take the water safety quiz and see how well you do.

More detail about water safety can be found on the American Red Cross website, too.  If your family enjoys boating, skiing, or other types of water play, do make sure you review the safety guidelines for those activities.  Although they may seem obvious to you, the repetition of rules is imperative for children.

The water is wonderful.  Just enjoy it safely!


Swimming through Life


I don’t remember not knowing how to swim.  My mom taught swim lessons, and both my brother and I could swim when we were very young.  When I was pregnant with The Bear 11 years ago, the only two things I knew I wanted to do as a parent was breastfeed and swim with my baby (though not simultaneously). I’ve always loved the water, and I wanted my children to grow up with the same enjoyment of swimming as I did.

We have a pool in our backyard– something my Midwestern husband insisted on when we decided to move to Austin nearly 10 years ago– so our family swims almost daily in the summer.  While it may not be an intense exercise experience, our after-dinner swims give our hot summer evenings activity and family focus.  I know that my kids will grow up with swimming as one of the bits of their family communal memory.

When we were in London over Spring Break, we went out to Queen Elizabeth II Park to swim in the Olympic pool.  Within the sweeping concrete and glass building are two pools– the competition pool and the training pool– and we got to go for a dip.


Fittingly, we were joined by a friend of mine who has a daughter several months younger than The Bear, and it was with these two that we went swimming when The Bear was a baby.  How time flies!


The experience was fantastic, paddling around in the pool and thinking about the competition that took place there.  It was a thrill to swim in the light-filled pool.  The kids were also impressed by the technology of the complex, mesmerized as we watched the floor of the training pool lower from a kiddie wading pool to a deeper teaching pool.

Today, as I start teaching swim lessons for yet another summer, I am reminded of how much freedom being a swimmer has brought into my life.  Certainly I think all people should learn to swim (even adults!) for their safety, but I also think that swimming is a way for people of any age, any size, and any athletic ability to enjoy how their body moves.  It is this idea that drew me last summer to Aqua Yoga, a low-impact, breath-and-body experience that can benefit absolutely anyone.

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I’m drawn to the water and am grateful to share my enjoyment of aqua fitness with others.

Good health and great happiness to you.