Ever since I took my first Bikram class a few years ago, I’ve considered myself a yoga fanatic. So when I heard about the newest trend—practicing traditional postures in a pool—I was intrigued.
I'd read that aqua yoga is easier on your joints (thanks to the buoyancy effect) but more challenging when it comes to balance, due to the movement of the water. To feed my curiosity, I signed up for a class at Asphalt Green in New York City.
From the moment I got into the pool (which was the temperature of a nice, warm bath) I instantly felt calmer. The instructor, Blythe Knapp, began by leading us through breathing exercises and a variation of Sun Salutation in the shallow end. From there we moved into basic postures like Cat-Cow and the Warrior poses. Some were modified so that we didn't need to put our heads underwater, and sometimes Knapp had us use the pool's wall for support.
It wasn't much different from a regular yoga class—except I felt more flexible in the water. I noticed that I was able to sink deeper into Warrior II than ever before. Knapp pointed out that one of the benefits of aqua yoga is that your body is more relaxed in the pool, which means you may be able to get a better stretch in each pose.
When we moved into Tree pose, I realized that what I'd read was true: Balancing in water was definitely trickier than on dry land.
I was feeling frustrated by the time we got to Balancing Stick (in which you hinge at the waist and form a 'T' shape with your body, one leg extended behind and arms reaching in front of your head) and Dancer (where you lift one leg behind you, and hold your foot with the hand on the same side, your torso upright.)
I was just beginning to master these two poses in my hot yoga class. But doing them in the pool was a completely different story. The slight current (from the pool's pump) and gentle saves (from my classmates moving around) forced my muscles to work harder than usual to keep me from toppling over.
Next came the aqua yoga version of Savasana—and it was as relaxing as the rest of the class was challenging. Knapp encouraged us to float on pool noodles (I put one under my neck, one under my knees) and let our heads rest with our ears below the surface. All I could hear was muffled sounds of the water moving.
It has never been easy for me to slip into a meditative state. But floating and focusing on those natural sounds really helped. When Savasana was over, I felt more peaceful and refreshed than I had in a long time.
After class, I approached Knapp to ask her about the difficulty I'd had with Balancing Stick and Dancer. She assured me my experience was normal, and said many people practice aqua yoga for the sole purpose of improving their balance: “I believe aqua yoga is the most incredible balance training that exists right now,” she said. “In the water there is a constant yet changing motion against you that triggers the body’s reflexive reactions.”
Knapp also pointed out that aqua yoga is especially good for people with injuries, since it cuts down on the gravitational pull, and therefore stress, on your body. Plus, she pointed out, you won't fall over and hurt yourself in the pool, which makes it a great place to try tough poses, and develop your practice.
As for me, the next time I really need to relax, I plan on finding a warm pool where I can move through some poses—and then float around for a while on a couple of noodles.