Tag Archives: women’s fitness

Can I Speak With You?

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Every time I have a public speaking gig, I get that flutter of excitement, knowing that someone in the audience is feeling down about their physical health, the stress of life that prevents them from taking care of themselves, and the struggle of just how that’s going to change.

I’m excited because I know that the message I’ve crafted for their group is going to offer them not just hope but practical strategies for success.

As a public speaker, I love to take my stories of family, fitness, and wellness to groups who align with my message that everyday people do, in fact, have time for regular exercise.  My strategies for efficient, effective exercise resonate with people who feel stressed out by the realities of work and family pressures.  What I hope people learn is that an overall plan for wellness– meaningful exercise, plentiful sleep, and nourishing foods– is actually within their reach.

Who are these people?

  • Mom’s groups
  • Playgroups
  • Corporate wellness programs
  • Service & social organizations
  • Charity athletic teams
  • Goddess circles

Speaking to groups allows me to tap into the skills I used when I was teaching college and needed to engage a group of people with varying interest levels in what I was talking about.  By adapting my message to the specific group, my presentations offer real, practical advice to add value to the listeners’ lives.

Topics include:

  • Fitness & Family Time
  • Exercising with Baby on Board
  • Postnatal Fitness: Beyond the Mummy Tummy
  • Exercises for the Deskbound
  • Creating a Wellness Culture at Work
  • Training with a Team
  • Finding Power in Peri-Menopause
  • Yoga for the Unbendy

When I am engaged as a speaker, I also include plenty of time for questions and answers.  I love to facilitate group discussions about fitness and wellness, and I never pretend to have all the answers!  My extensive background of research in women’s wellness and practical understanding from my years as a personal trainer mean that I can connect the dots for people who find regular exercise challenging….and get them over the hump to see how taking care of their body really does make them feel better!

I look forward to hearing from you about how I can help the members of your organization craft a well-balanced life.  You can find me at karen@balancepft.com or leave a comment here so I can get back to you.

Good health and great happiness to you!

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Women’s Wellness Through the Decades

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For most of the past decade, I’ve worked as a personal trainer who specializes in women’s fitness.  I have a special affinity (and specialty certification) for working with prenatal and postnatal women, as I think that the perinatal period is one where women should spend extra time and focus taking care of themselves.  Whether a woman always been an avid exerciser and just needs a little extra expert direction about the dos and don’ts of working out while pregnant or she’s never had a consistent exercise habit, I can help keep both the mom-to-be and the baby healthy.   I love supporting new moms during “the fourth trimester,” especially working to ensure that the core muscles work efficiently and effectively again after pregnancy.

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That said, I’m getting older.

(Sigh.)

Now the far side of 40 and feeling the changes of my body aging, I decided to invest some time into educating myself about the body’s changes during menopause.  While it’s been societally  taboo to discuss “The Change,” I find mass ignorance unacceptable.  If I can learn more about supporting women through menopause– and approach my own transition more happily and healthfully– then I think that’s a worthy goal.

In late summer, I undertook a certification course offered by Burrell Education, a leading women’s wellness organization based in London.  Its founder, Jenny Burrell, is well-known and highly respected for her science-based, practical fitness and wellness education.  In the course focusing on “The Third Age Woman” in peri-menopause and beyond, Burrell partnered with Jessica Drummond of the Integrative Pelvic Health Institute and Irish physiotherapist Michelle Lyons.  The trio delivered a twelve-week course that covered everything from shifting hormones to optimal nutrition to ideal workouts and even the importance of rest for women who want to not just survive menopause but actually THRIVE during the “third age” period of life.

I am confident that I can help women learn real, practical, and do-able strategies for creating a well-balanced life.  By addressing nutrition, exercise, health screenings, and how daily habits affect physical health, I can support women through the small behavior changes that will result in improved health and greater ease of living.  My peri-menopause POWER program has me all fired up to help third-age women feel fierce!

So while I continue to work with perinatal clients– and am honored to be part of the excitement of motherhood– I am eager to share my new-found knowledge about surviving and thriving during menopause with clients.   Because this work is more holistic than my previous personal training, I am looking forward to working with women in Austin and well beyond.  There is much good work that can be achieved through phone coaching, virtual training, and other digital support.

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My work has always been focused on helping my clients find and maintain balance.  Never is it more important to feel balanced than when riding the hormonal rollercoaster of menopause.  For some women, this period can last a decade– that’s a really long time to feel “off” or “not myself.”  There are strategies that can be employed to regain a sense of balance that will let women live boldly with both mental and physical strength.

Please do let me know if I can support you.  Regardless of your life stage, feeling healthy and strong shouldn’t be a luxury.  You’re worth it.

Good health and great happiness to you.

 

GUEST POST: My Great Cycle Challenge

Today OnBalance readers have a real treat: my friend and fellow women’s wellness advocate Darline Turner has written a guest blog post.  Just read the story, and you’ll know why I asked her to share.  She’s a real go(al)-getter!

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So what would cause me, a nearly 50 year old woman and mom of two busy kids, to cycle 1000 miles in four months?

I got divorced on December 21, 2012, “The end of the world” according to the Mayan calendar, and I have been trying to figure out what to do with myself ever since.

I have a Master’s Degree in physician assistant studies, but I really had no desire to return to the clinic after 12 years. So I decided to grow the small business I had started, Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond.

Growing a business is about as easy as getting divorced! My focus is community outreach in Maternal and Infant health and I have spent the better part of the last three years getting entrenched in the Austin medical and public health communities. In April of this year, after a particularly frustrating day, I uttered this off-hand prayer:

“God, I feel like such a failure! I need a win!”

I felt like I could do nothing right, and every door I knocked upon remained unopened, or was quickly slammed shut after opening.

A few days to weeks later, I saw an ad for “The Great Cycle Challenge”. Cyclists were preparing to ride and raise money for children with cancer. I had just asked family and friends for money for other campaigns, so I didn’t want to ask for more cash. But I decided to do the ride anyway.

I had been out of the exercise loop and this was just the inspiration and accountability that I needed to get going. The challenge was for the month of June, and I set a goal to ride 150 miles in 30 days.

June 1st rolled around and I set out. I rode 8 miles that first day. Those first 8 miles were tough as it had already begun getting hot in Austin. But I got through the ride and lo and behold, felt great the next day! So I kept riding, gradually increasing my mileage every few days. Midway through the month, I was riding 15-20 miles at a shot and realized I was very close to my 150 mile goal.

So I increased my goal to 200 miles; my total mileage for June was 207 miles.

Funny thing about exercise: it’s kind of addicting! My body literally began craving my rides! I noticed that my mood improved, I lost weight and I was happier than I had been in a long time. So I decided to continue. In another very off-handed comment I told my Facebook friends, “I think I’ll see if I can ride 1000 miles by October 1st.” I have never ridden that much in such a short amount of time, and coupling that with the hottest days of summer in Texas was really going to be a challenge!

Like all good challenges, this one had its ups and downs. I got a flat tire one day while riding at the Veloway and had to walk home about four miles. I got a nasty cold/allergy attack and rode the last 6-8 weeks often congested. But by then I was committed and nothing was going to stop me!

On September 27 I completed 1013.9 miles with a 25.08 mile ride. On September 30th I rode 15 miles and completed the challenge with 1029.15 total miles cycled
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I learned so much about myself during this challenge.

  • I can set a goal and achieve it.
  • It is never too late to start an exercise program.
  • Exercise really is medicine. My cycling boosted my spirits and lifted me out of my depressed state. The added benefits of weight loss, muscle tone, improved sleep and lots of support and encouragement from my Facebook family and friends were icing on the cake!
  • Sometimes, you have to create your own “win”.
  • No matter what, I now know that I am “good enough”.

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This challenge was so much more than a bicycle ride. It was a HUGE self esteem boost, a huge physical health boost and a huge connector to my friends and family! I had been moaning and lamenting the fact that I am so far from friends and family (I a from New England) and yet, each day, with each ride, family and friends were right there to cheer me on! In today’s cyber world, we can remain connected.

I invite any of you who are feeling down, shy, unsure or even really great to challenge yourself to do something different, something “abnormal”, something totally out of your comfort zone! You will learn amazing insights about yourself and experience a tremendous boost of confidence as you attack and achieve your goal.

Whatever it is, I wish you good luck.

Feel inspired by Darline’s awesome example?  Her next challenge is raising $2500 to start a chapter of The Birthing Project in Austin. The Birthing Project is a non-profit organization that supports Black women through pregnancy and childbirth to have term pregnancies and healthy babies. Black women in Austin have 2-3 times the risk of delivering a premature, low birth weight infant and those infants have twice the risk of dying before their first birthdays. Please consider a donation towards this challenge and thanks so much for your support.

 

 

Spa Girl Tri: Three Times the Fun

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The final event in my festival of summer racing was the Spa Girl Tri, held in Bastrop, TX (just outside of Austin) at the beautiful Hyatt Lost Pines resort.  Those of you who’ve been readers for a while know that I’m a runner.

I’m a runner, I’m a runner, I’m a runner.

But when you have a friend (and former Balance client) who asks you and some friends to do a triathlon, you say “Sure!”

That’s how I found myself in Bastrop last Friday night, where I met up with my friend J who moved to San Antonio.  She’s one of The Tri Amigas, our training and planning and cheerleading group.

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We picked up our packets, ate dinner in some rocking chairs on the back patio of the resort under a beautiful Texas late-summer sky, and then we went to the pre-race briefing meeting.  It was at this meeting that the race directors assured us that the swim would be not crowded (true), the bike would be not nearly as hilly as the road into the resort (big fat lie), and the run would be beautiful and shaded on the golf course (true).  I guess two out of three isn’t bad.

J and I went to our hotel room in Bastrop to get ourselves organized for the early morning call time at the race of 5.45am.  We affixed our race number tattoos to ourselves, put our number stickers on our bikes and helmets, and made sure we had everything we needed to take to the transition area in a bag.

Lights out at 10pm.

I slept well, which isn’t always the case before a race.  We left the hotel at 5.20 and got to the resort and transition area by 5.45.  We met up with the other Tri Amigas, racking our bikes in the same area and making sure everyone had everything set out in a logical and easy-to-access way.

We left transition by 6.15, eating our PB&J sandwiches along the way as we picked up our timing chips and headed to the gathering area.  It was there we separated into our swim start groups.  I started in the second swim group– one swimmer at a time every 5 seconds or so to give people space in the lazy river that was our swim course– but I know for future years to go ahead and enter in the fastest swim group.  Not only do you get to start much sooner, but I passed so many people on the bike and more than 100 people on the run.  Our friends who started in the last swim group waited more than an hour to start.  Not a big deal if you don’t really care about a finish time, but it’s a long time to stand around in your swim suit when the air is chilly.

My goal was  to finish the 300 meter swim in 8 minutes.  I was expecting it to be challenging to swim with so many other people, and the lazy river isn’t straight.  As it turns out, I touched absolutely zero other people during the swim.  I even passed two people.  I got out of the pool in exactly 5 minutes.

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The transition area was about 300m from the pool, and my bike was at the far end of transition.  It took me a while to dry off, get on my socks and shoes, eat a gu, and grab my bike.  I walked it to the mount line, and when I got on to start my 10-mile ride, my watch read 10:00 flat.

As I was leaving the resort parking lot, I could hear a fellow competitor’s bike clicking, clicking, clicking.  I shouted to her, “You’re not in gear!” and then thought smugly, “You should really know how to use your bike if you’re going to ride in a triathlon.”

Not two minutes later did I realize my own hubris– I’d never readjusted my seat after I removed the trail-a-bike I normally have attached.  My seat was in the lowest position, and that made it really uncomfortable and inefficient to ride.  I was already on a mountain bike rather than a road bike, so my lack of attention-to-detail wasn’t helping me out any.  But I rode on…

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The bike course was rolling hills along some pretty Texas ranch land.  We were out as the sun was rising, and it really was a beautiful scene.  It was inspiring to see so many women out on the course– some riding for fun, some riding for a fast time, but all of them out and moving their bodies and feeling strong.

The second half of the bike route was far hillier, even to the point where many women were walking their bikes up the hills.  I can imagine that if you don’t bike or spin very often and didn’t train on hills, it would have been really hard.  My glutes were burning for the last 20 minutes of my 45 minute ride.

As I was making my way back through the resort parking lot to transition, I spotted the husband and kids of my friend M, the one who got us all into this in the first place.  It’s always a boost to see people you know out on the race course.

After I dismounted my bike, it took a few minutes to get my legs back under me.  I had encouraged my Tri Amigas to practice the bike-to-run transition, as I knew from experience the legs can be a bit wobbly at first.  I racked my bike and headed out of transition rather smoothly to finish the race with a two-mile run.

As a runner, it’s fantastic to finish a triathlon strong.  Like I said, I passed at least 100 people on the run.  I was glad for the mostly flat and well-shaded course, even though I would have liked to have had a better idea of the route going in to the run.  I finished strong, though, with a run time of 15:33.  Only seven people in the whole triathlon had a faster run time than mine, and they were all younger than I.  That was my victory for the day.

My finish time was 1:13:05, not that it really matters.  But it was a good, hard effort that gave me some fun variety and challenge over just distance running.

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The real thrill of the race, though, was going back and cheering on my friends as they came in from the bike.

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And it was awesome to shout for them as they finished:

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What a fantastic role model M is for her little girl (one of The Stowaway’s pals) and a treat for them to cross the finish together:

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Our group had another mother-daughter duo (in the first finish photo, above, mom is beating daughter!), who prove that age is only a number:

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We may not all be hard-core athletes, but you can’t deny the pride and satisfaction in finishing an endurance event:

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In the end, I was treated to the thrill of seeing all of these women in a new light as they learned they can push themselves physically and complete a triathlon.

On to the next challenge!

PS- Free race pics from Spa Girl Tri— nice touch!

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.