Water yoga, or aqua yoga, is a thermal, aquatic activity, which utilizes modified movements and principles of yoga to accommodate people of all fitness levels. This practice typically takes place in a pool, wherein the pressure and buoyancy of water provide practitioners with support, simplifying yoga postures for physically-challenged individuals.
Water yoga classes should be between 30 – 45 minutes long, and the temperature of the water should be between 86 – 90. Many of the traditional asana are adjusted so that the pool wall emulates the floor, but some instructors also make use of floatation devices. Noodles and kick-boards are particularly useful for poses like savasana (the corpse pose), as practitioners must lie down on their backs.
Although the exact origins of water yoga are uncertain, it is clear that many yoga instructors have experimented with aquatic asana over the last few decades. Francoise Barbira Friedman, Ph.D., is a medical anthropologist, who began teaching aqua yoga classes at the University of Cambridge in 1986. Her book, Aqua Yoga for Pregnancy, was the first informational guide to aquatic poses and breathing exercises for expectant mothers.
Camella Nair, also called Swami Nibhrtananda, is another well-known instructor. After her ordination in the Kriya seminary, Nair began practicing and teaching aqua yoga, along with various other disciplines. She then published Aqua Kriya Yoga, a guide to the aquatic asanas and their possible health benefits, and launched an accredited water yoga training program.
Due to its low-impact nature, water yoga is particularly beneficial for people with physical impairments, such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS) and obesity. For these individuals, aquatic exercise typically results in increased strength, mobility, endurance and flexibility; and after training in the water, they are often able to extend their practice on land. It is also useful for expectant mothers preparing for water birth.
This discipline of yoga is not only beneficial for people with limited mobility, however, but for experienced yoga practitioners as well. Since the surrounding water serves as the primary form of support, individuals are able to focus on other important aspects of yoga, such as anatomical alignment.
The breathing techniques practiced in yoga are also particularly beneficial underwater, as the high pressure provides resistance to the abdomen, limiting diaphragmatic expansion. Practicing deep-breathing techniques underwater, thus, provides an intense diaphragm workout, increasing lung capacity and oxygen absorption.