Many people have not yet experienced the profound sense of serenity that can be revealed through the practice of yoga. It is more than a mere series of exercises for the physical body. Rather, it is a series of techniques that explore the physical body and that which is beyond (both internal and external) and brings that into balance. This cultivates a change in attitude. The results often being, the softening of the rough edges of our personality.
Many people in the West think they have to be fit and flexible before they begin a yoga practice. This is simply not true. There are quite a few teachers out there now adapting yoga postures for students with bias in the body who prefer to sit in a chair for example.. This of course still validates the physical aspect of the discipline as the main energy centers of the subtle body are located along the spinal column. If you love being in the water, especially in the summer time, then combining yoga with the nurturing and supportive element found in water may be for you. If you are part of a special population that requires caution whilst exercising, then this type of regime may become a valuable part of physical and mental health. Yoga in the water is recognized in the field of therapeutic yogis as a way to help people work in the direction of what the more agile body can do on land.
Some specific groups who have found benefits in practicing yoga in the water;
. people with osteoporosis
. people with arthritis or swollen joints
. post stroke
. MS sufferers
. pre-natal students
. post injury, surgery
. people who just love being in the water
. heavy set people
. competitive swimmers
. people looking for creative ways to have fun and improve their health on holiday
. stressed out executives
. people with asthma, breathing disorders, sleep disorders
. yoga students looking for ways to improve current practice as well as explore some
more difficult postures.
When I moved to California, nearly twenty five years ago now, I was determined to have a house with a pool. The property prices were so high that we bought a “fixer upper” and installed a pool instead. This in high insight was a much better idea, as I could have my desired lap pool and spa. It is here that I began translating my land yoga practice into the water using the pool wall for resistance. I have been teaching classes regularly at a local YMCA where people have found enormous benefits in the practice. People who may never have tasted yoga before come. For whatever reason, the studio environment or practice on a mat has not appealed to them, or they have just been looking for something else.
“NOBODY, AS LONG AS HE MOVES ABOUT AMONG THE CHAOTIC CURRENTS OF LIFE, IS WITHOUT TROUBLE’. - Carl Jung
Our planet is made up of around 70% water, roughly the same as the human body. We are not separate from this medium. There is a story of a fish who asked its mother, “What is this thing called the ocean?” she replied, “Why, it’s the very thing you are swimming in. It is in you and all around you”. Yoga teaches us that we are not separate from Life but are a part of Life and therefore need to be responsible in bringing harmony to both our lives and the lives of those around us. Mystically there is only us and our perceived universe and the interaction between the two.
Postures and Breathing
The postures and breathing part of the yoga system that was codified around 200 B.C is known as Hatha Yoga. Even if people just practice that they can greatly improve their sense of well being. I had a student who took her breath work onto a park bench and was complimented on her posture by a stranger. She was so amazed. She is a larger lady and could not recall a time where someone had paid her a compliment on her physical body. Of course yoga does work at the deeper level and is often referred to as a psychology of the soul. Creating a body that is both comfortable and stable builds a bridge to be able to understanding the nature of the mind. It is terribly difficult to look beyond the physical body if it is racked with pain. Many of the postures that are practiced traditionally on land can be adapted to the pool, offering similar benefits.
A typical class would involve opening up the joints of the body. Extension and flexion of the spine. Side bends and twists as well as working on posture, gait, balance and breathing.
The mind and unwinding it
We allow our minds to become far too busy. In fact it is the nature of the mind to be busy but we are not the mind. We just tend to associate ourselves with it and the physical body. We allow negative thoughts like confusion and fear into the mind and tend to react to this angular energy which has an effect upon us and those around us. Coming back home into the nurturing element of water can have the effect of washing away this destructive energy almost as soon as we get into it. Floating is a wonderful way of relaxing and releasing the gripping from the body and the mind. I usually teach students to float with a noodle under the armpits and one under the knees for a sort of hammock pose but if that idea does not appeal or if you have the luxury of your own pool, a blow up airbed is a wonderful way to stretch out and relax. Dustin Hoffman you may remember in the movie “The Graduate”, was seen many times floating on his airbed.
Stressed out parents and kids looking for things to do
Yoga is about being able to quiet the mind essentially, and many people come to yoga because they suffer from stress and anxiety. The breathing techniques in yoga really help here. The busy executive or housewife can enjoy relaxing in a swimming pool or spa whilst the children busy themselves in something other than the Marco Polo” game.
Whilst swimming or practicing yoga, try slowing down the breath. Fully exhale and fully inhale and when you have had enough. Just let the breath breathe you. Simple, yet
This is my mother’s favorite place to do her yoga. The joints can be opened here nicely and you have the added benefit of a massage from the spa jets before or after your yoga practice. The steps can be useful in offering both resistance and support. I love meditating in the spa and looking at the full moon. In fact if you have a private area to bathe in, skinny dipping under the light of the moon is wonderfully invigorating. A magical time to commune with nature. My sister has created a woodland oasis in her backyard to help her relax after work and practice aqua yoga.
The symbolism of water and its nature to flow is a metaphor for how we need to adapt to the challenges of life. We can only change that which we are conscious of. The word “Kriya”, means conscious, volitional action and in Kriya yoga we are trying make that which is unconscious, conscious. It may be understanding what is happening in the back of the body that we may be unaware of in a posture or asana, but that is only one level of the practice. We also need to become conscious of what we are unconscious of in our minds. This is known as the effects of karma, or the law of causation.
To know a drop of water as Yogananda said, is to know the ocean, and getting into the water is a great way to reconnect with ourselves on a deep level and ask, “Now what can I do in this supportive realm to improve my universe on land? That becomes a kriya or conscious, volitional, engaged, spiritual action.
Relaxation and stability are great attributes to cultivate as we navigate life and our experiences. In the water we are more aware of our body, and so we can become more acquainted with what we need to do to become more comfortable in our mind and body.
Kriya yoga is for the householder because most of us have families, jobs and responsibilities in the world alongside our spiritual practice.
Why not explore how your practice can improve or how you can help to make yoga more accessible for diverse populations?
In the Kriya Dharma
Upcoming Aqua Yoga Training : VA/DC, San Jose, Minnesota, Phoenix. Details at www.aquakriyayoga.com
Camella (Swami Nibhrtananda) C-IAYT, ATRI-C, Ayurvedic Health Educator, teaches many styles of yoga in the Bay Area of California. She has written a book on “Aqua Kriya Yoga”, Prenatal Kriya Yoga, and Vinyasa Kriya Yoga.
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