Aquatic Yoga Therapy, Hydrostatic Pressure and Enlightenment
“If you want to demonstrate just how significant the pressure is a foot under water, try having the person don a facemask and breathe through a PVC tube from a foot under water. It feels like you have an elephant on your chest.” – Bruce Becker
The major force on land is ‘Sri’ Gravity. It is so intimately linked to karma, which simply means that for every action (kriya) there is a reaction. Yogis are just as self-interested as anyone else. The difference may be just that they desire (raga) to speed up their path to becoming enlightened.
My deepest inner question as an aquatic lover is “can practicing yoga in the water speed up this process?”
Graviity can be a really hard ‘task master’, Even without the ‘quest’ to become more enlightened, we have ‘earth shit’ to deal with such as relationships with a crazy spouse, ungrateful kids, disobedient pets and coworkers, poor health and oh so many people generally wanting to ‘take us down’ emotionally that we can become very *earth centric.
(*meaning we have forgotten our true nature – Sat Chit Ananda or Knowledge, Wisdom and Bliss)
Adding the water element into our daily lives is so amazingly therapeutic and alongside air is all we can ‘expect’ life to give us for free. (Don’t get me started on privatizing water)
Goswami Kriyananda said that softening the hardened hearts of mankind is the greatest miracle of all that we can witness in a human being.
Water ‘softens us’ and our fixed personalities rather like a clay sculpture is changeable until the fire element bakes and renders it unchangeable. That is until it is broken.
When the body is in pain, we can tend understandably to become very crabby and so removing pain in the physical body is a way to prepare us to remove the sufferings within our own mind and circumstances.
One of the blessings of taking yoga asana into a watery environment is the hydrostatic pressure that literally hugs every cell of what is the largest organ in the body – the skin.
Of course it goes much deeper than that. So much so that as we enter into the water, pain and edema reduce as circulation improves due to our increased respiration. Good news for anyone who has swelling from pregnancy to diabetes. (The water pressure makes us work harder on the inhale)
Moreover, because of the hydrostatic pressure when the body is immersed in water, the muscles of exhalation start to wake up and work, which is not the case on land as they can just hang out on the couch.
Change, and the potential for imbalance or dis-ease is a real Vata vitiation in Ayurveda. As we age we understand that we will have more air in our constitution. (as opposed to when we are babies and lots of earth and water) We are preparing to merge into the infinite which is more etheric than the gross. In the earth realm the physical body is known as the Annamaya kosha or food body and is gross or very tangible. It needs feeding and it needs to eliminate waste.
As a body begins to disengage from the earth realm one of the processes that can be seen is at first is a greed for water which in time subsides as the person becomes ok with the prospect of dying. We start to disengage from the gross realm and can do very little about it.
“I am stuck” seems to be a place where people don’t or won’t or can’t take control of their own lives and it can mean that there is little or no improvement spiritually and likely no self-advocacy for self-improvement through its colorful experiences.
One of the good things about being in the water is that even though we pretty much know on land we don’t have an effective oxygen exchange, (most people), in the water we stumble into more positive effects without doing a darn thing.
Yay hydrostatic pressure!
As we enter the pool our blood pressure tends to increase for a few minutes and then lowers. (the walk on tippy toes and shallow quick breath syndrome which just may explain somewhat why autistic children often speak their first words in water)
I love what aquatic therapy teacher Ruth Sova says about Hydrostatic pressure that it literally “Puts us back together.”
We are all scattered as we walk through life communicating efficiently with everything non-natural. It un-hinges us and causes sensory overload which we know in yoga is a problem as soon as the umbilical cord is cut.
“Turbulent by nature the senses are” – 2:60 The Bhagavad Gita (translated by Goswami Kriyananda)
“The uncontrolled mind cannot feel that the Spirit is real or at the wheel?” - 2:66
“How can such a soul meditate?”
The ‘hugging inward’ nature of water always reminds me of how as kids we used to squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle (which annoyed the heck out of my dad), but is surely a way to pull us out of overuse of the sense organs and into a state of reflection. This is powerful because in this temporary vritti nirodha (quietude) we can become hopeful of for all the possibilities that life has still yet to offer.
Buoyancy Considerations for Aqua Yoga
Buoyancy opposes gravity and so causes an upward thrust of energy (Udana) This is good on many levels but most certainly can be advantageous to people who are depressed.
. Increase in dopamine during immersion.
The reduction in gravity is felt as much less stress, or no stress on joints depending upon how much of the body is submerged
There is an increase in oxygen and therefore Prana coursing through the koshas. Moving through the water such as walking warrior type poses or simply walking increases O2 more as the drag of the water and movement generally demand us to breathe deeper. This strengthens the major diaphragm and intercostal muscles, heart and lungs.
Flexibility and range of motion tend to increase in the water
Fear of falling and balance issues diminish
Some effort in working against buoyancy strengthens muscles and bone.
Improved circulation of blood. This means that blood gets into the vital organs of the body upon immersion without any other yoga asana than Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Immersion is a natural diuretic.
Muscle is heavier than fat and so the body mass type of our clients and students may necessitate the use of weights or floats accordingly.
I think Its really about time we looked to the water element to deepen our understanding of life and our place on this planet that is mostly water and yet called Earth.
“Water continually into the sages mind does flow, yet the ocean remains in status quo. Desire into the sage’s mind does flow, yet he fixes on me and continues to grow” 2:70
Camella is a swami in the kriya yoga lineage, yoga therapist, author and ayurvdeic health educator. She has created an inclusion based yoga teacher training program called Aqua Kriya Yoga and is writing level 2 training for more specific aqua yoga therapy applications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions and inquiries about hosting aqua yoga teacher training events near you.