Mind-body exercise is one of the hottest growing fitness trends today. Participation is expected to increase due to consumer appeal and mounting medical evidence that types of mind-body exercise promote health. According to recent IDEA's Group Fitness Trendwatch results, yoga and Pilates are the two fastest growing activities in fitness facilities.In addition, the number of health club members age 55 and older continues to rise, especially when compared with memberships for people aged 18 to 34.
These trends reveal two strong themes. One, our club clientele is growing older. Two, this clientele enjoys mindful forms of activity. Yoga postures that are adapted to the pool capitalize on both trends and provide innovative, fun and challenging moves for your participants. These moves are not "true" yoga in the pure sense, but rather are yoga inspired and adapted to the aquatic environment.
Aquatic Yoga to Improve Body Awareness, Balance and Flexibility
I designed the following sequence for use in two aquatic workshops - Warrior Warmdowns™, which demonstrates how to use the aquatic environment for active recovery, proprioception and balance training for athletes of all levels using visualization and guided imagery; and Liquid Magic ™, which uses aquatic training for relaxation and restoration to improve circulation, dynamic flexibility, range of motion, body awareness and to experience water massage.
The moves in this sequence are all done from a standing position. Aquatic yoga, however, can also be performed as floating postures with woggles for great fun and additional challenge. Liquid Magic features floating yoga posture sequences. To learn more about yoga postures and various styles of yoga practice, I recommend that you take classes from the many talented and experienced instructors in your area. If you are not already a yoga or Pilates enthusiast, you may soon find yourself “hooked” as well.
For the following sequence, I have blended stretching exercises between yoga poses for thermal regulation and to enhance success with moves for participants who typically have tight lower body muscles and difficulty achieving certain body positions. Since the stretches are rhythmic, including them in the sequence provides a movement break to help participants stay warm. Encourage people to scoop their arms vigorously during these stretches. The scooping action also flows water currents against the body, increasing body awareness and adding a soothing element of water massage that feels great.
Breathing is an important aspect of yoga and other mind-body styles of exercise. Cue participants frequently to focus on their breath. Encourage diaphragmatic breathing in and out through the nose. The hydrostatic pressure of water surrounding a submerged chest will challenge and condition breathing muscles, resulting in improved ease of breathing on land. Hold each pose up to five breath cycles as skill and water temperature permit. If the water is cool, do not hold the poses, but rather proceed directly from one move into the next.
Sway Side to Side
To initiate this sequence, I find that participants flow more smoothly from one pose to the next if I begin with soothing, swaying motions. This swaying pattern is not highly choreographed. Cue participants to bend knees, submerge shoulders, sway from side to side and allow arms to flow naturally. It is difficult to perform incorrectly. And, it feels good. This way, people start out feeling successful and limber and have a positive attitude going into more difficult yoga inspired moves.
- Stand tall, face front with arms at sides, chest open, shoulders down and relaxed, chin level.
- Breathe deeply and fluidly.
Standing Tree Pose
- Stand tall, focus on a single point.
- Shift weight to one leg, stabilize pelvis by tightening abdominal muscles and buttocks.
- Raise other leg and place sole of foot against inner thigh of standing leg.
- If needed for balance, scull with arms out to sides or rest arms on water’s surface.
- If stable, clasp hands in prayer position in center of chest.
- For more challenge, extend arms overhead. Breathe deeply.
- Return to Mountain Pose.
Standing Calf Stretch
- Step back into a dynamic standing calf stretch with both feet pointing forward.
- With palms up, scoop water upward to create downward pressure to assist with the calf stretch as you rhythmically lift the back heel up and press down.
- Remember, move arms vigorously to warm the body and create soothing currents.
- Relax arms at sides.
Modified Warrior I
Traditional Warrior Pose I (on land)
- Angle back foot outward and align arch with heel of front foot, pelvis facing front.
- Open chest and back wide, relax shoulders down. Instead of raising arms overhead as in traditional Warrior I, stretch arms forward, palms together and rest arms on water’s surface.
- Keep abdominals tight and spine long. Feel strong and stable in the lunge position.
Modified Warrior III
- Bend forward at hip, maintaining length through spine. You will not be completely parallel to the ground, because if you do so, your face will be submerged. Keep a long forward angle, nearly parallel to ground.
- Open arms out wide resting on water as you maintain your forward lean.
- If needed to assist balance, scull with your hands.
- Use scooping motions as you lean back and place back foot on ground.
Modified Warrior II
Traditional Warrior Pose II (on land)
- Return to the strong, stable lunge position of Modified Warrior I as you reach one arm forward and other arm back.
- Circle back arm forward, up and around toward the back, as you lengthen the other arm forward to front.
- Follow back arm with your gaze to stretch neck. For thermal regulation and to develop dynamic flexibility, I add additional arm circles and hold on the fourth cycle.
- Return to face front.
- Pose is similar to Warrior I, except one arm reaches forward and other arm reaches back.
Traditional Triangle Pose (on land)
- From Modified Warrior II position, lengthen both legs and lift yourself tall.
- Place forward arm on top of thigh or shin depending on flexibility and water depth, as you extend your other arm upward.
- Look up at top thumb.
- Stand up and sit back into a dynamic hamstring stretch for the back leg.
- Inhale, float upward, exhale, sink back and scoop water vigorously with hands to assist stretch.
- Allow body to rise up and sit back to warm muscles and increase stretch.
Sway Side to Side
Return to a stand. Bend knees and submerge shoulders. Sway side to side to relax before you repeat sequence on the other side.
Throughout sequence, observe your participants’ comfort level and their flexibility to offer modifications, encouragement and positive feedback as appropriate.
Music for Mind-Body Aquatics
Music is important to your program to establish mood and atmosphere. Because of the cooling effect of water, unless you are in a ‘hot’ hydrotherapy pool, you need to keep moving to stay warm. Music, therefore, should not be too relaxing or too slow. Keep your ears open for tunes that do not have a specific beat, but have enough uplifting energy to inspire movement.