The 1950s had Esther Williams starring as a Million Dollar Mermaid. The 1990s had aqua aerobics classes on the Lido Deck. Today, the new sensation in the pool is aqua yoga, which plunges traditional asanas and breathing techniques into the nurturing environment of warm water. An open, loving mindset is encouraged, while flower-topped rubber bathing caps are strictly optional.
During a class, water yogis might float, hold onto the side of the pool, or stand on the pool floor up to their neck or shoulders while performing their sequence of movements. Props like “water noodles” can also be fun to play with while exploring the yoga postures and the body’s range of motion. The warm water (88 to 96 degrees or so, depending on the class) soothes aches and pains, while the support of the water allows practitioners to increase flexibility and strength, and eliminates the fear of falling. Aqua yoga can be truly therapeutic for people with arthritis, fibromyalgia and joint issues. The hydrostatic pressure (that’s the weight of the water against the submerged body) can decrease pain and swelling, and boost circulation.
Aqua yoga is refreshingly inclusive. People who may struggle to move on land—those who are elderly or heavily pregnant, for example—find it easier when up to 90 percent of their body weight is being supported by water. Posture and balance are improved through the slow, controlled movements. But just because it’s not strenuous, doesn’t mean it’s not a good workout. The water provides resistance to muscles, to tone them. According to research, yoga movements adapted for use in the water have shown to increase range of motion and provide cardiovascular benefits, without straining the body.
Water is very supportive not just of the physical body, but also buoys the spirit. As one of the essential elements, water is associated with life-giving properties such as renewal and knowledge. The mind and emotions can truly relax in the warm water, allowing stress to dissolve, and a deep sense of peace and interconnection to flow within.
Want to try aqua yoga?
Try a class:
H2Yoga, in Los Angeles, has classes for beginning, intermediate and advanced aqua yoga students. Try the intermediate level “Body Vision: Navigating with a Courageous Heart,” which increases your awareness of your body as it moves through the water.
The YMCA in New York offers Aqua Yoga Classes on its schedule, making the most of “the beneficial cycle between the mind, the body and the emotions.” [Note: these classes are no longer available as of November 2020]
Yoga on the Beach offers aqua yoga in Key West. Classes are held in the tranquility pool at the Southernmost Hotel and Marriott Beachside. The Sheraton Waikiki has instructor Massimo Galluzzo teaching Yogaquatics at the Grays Beach/Infinity Pool.
If you have a pool, a book like Wateryoga: Water Assisted Postures and Stretches for Flexibility and Wellbeing can help you translate your yoga practice into the liquid environment.
Aqua Kriya Yoga does Yoga Alliance certified, two-day training courses around the country. For a schedule, see http://www.aquakriyayoga.com/. White Crow Yoga offers distance classes in aqua yoga, as well as an all-day workshop at the AquaCon, a fitness convention focusing on water exercises. The class will be held Sept. 20th, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Phonenix, Ariz.