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Obesity and Aqua Yoga

No woman is likely to think she is ever 'thin enough,' and our glossy 'yoga magazine' and 'yoga festival world' has done little to extend an olive branch to populations beyond that image. When I ask larger people if they have ever considered yoga, the biggest response I get is "I am not young enough, thin enough or bendy enough," and they are serious. That saddens me as I started my yoga journey decades ago,before yoga mats, clothes and rock star teachers, and it was totally a practice for all.

I think that we are starting to see more empathy for this group within yoga communities (like Curvy Yoga), but it is a grass roots movement,driven by yoga teachers and students who want to become a part of the set of mindful practitioners rather than the media.

More than 36% of adults in the USA are considered obese, which is based on the bmi ratio of weight to height. So there are plenty of people who are eligible to try a mindful practice if they chose to. Not everyone is, but larger body does not mean that they are not spiritual!

We, as teachers need to create a platform that allows those who want to try yoga a safe and healthy platform to become happier and healthier from wherever they begin.

Before we can begin to really help people understand the discipline and self-study of yoga, we need to make available an environment that they can be safe and feel welcomed in. The water is such a place. The non-gravitational field helps to reduce impact on the lower extremities and so a feeling of lightness both physically and mentally is definitely accessible in the buoyant environment. When we feel non-threatened we feel safe and are open to possibilities.

A practice that can cultivate low intensity with long duration, can help to burn calories, and typically in the water, double the amount that are burned. Practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing should be cultivated in all classes and that helps people recognize if they become fatigued or over heated.

Pain and stiffness due to not enough movement, need not be an obstacle in the water as very often pain diminishes upon entry into the water. Best water temperatures for movement without overheating is between 84-88%.

Extending the arms overhead as ROM allows, helps to create a magical field of existence between 2 realms. (Adding some gravity which is usually more on land) and lots of buoyancy (which is not on land),can create a wonderful inner exchange of udana and apana vayu, and allow the student to finally find a place of Self-acceptance in the 'here and now.'

Gravity is gravity, and that coupled with an unstable pelvis will create a bias mostly towards flexion which perpetuates depression and mismanagement of the organs. Just the thought of getting up and down and practicing cobra (a back bend) may be limiting to many. Not so in the water. Standing back bends and prone is possible in the water, and hydro-static pressure and awareness helps to ensure that it is initiated from the mid-thoracic spine.

Cultivating inner body length is vital to enable the inner organs to function optimally, and poses such as water dog can help to actively lengthen the sides of the body and spine as well as get a little lift in the under carriage towards the spine. The buoyant property of the water helps students to really understand their body better, as water is in contact with the skin. This helps to minimize any back pain that may be a by-product of functioning in a larger body on land.

Diabetes is a major concern that may well accompany weight gain and November is Diabetes awareness month for the YMCA, that builds awareness and educates across many diverse populations.

What to practice:

Water walking to fitness level for 15-20 mins. Use drag equipment as needed. Intervals. Lower extremity circulation.

Sun salutations once poses broken down and understood.

Poses to build positive self-image. Accessibility of poses like half-moon/ardha-chandrasana

Poses to encourage digestion and elimination – twists, lower extremity compression

Strengthen around lower joints in powerful warrior type poses

Improve pelvic floor strength

Hip opening to relieve any lower back issues.

Cultivate Samana and Udana in poses. (inward to center and upward energy) navel to spine and inner body length.

Learn to love yourself and lighten up

Balance poses.

Ankle and feet mobility

Side body lengthening poses like water dog

Back bends because they are possible in the water and supportive due to buoyancy. Assist upward energy.

Relaxation and fluid movement to relieve stress and feel more graceful.

Cultivate a positive affirmation.

If you are already in the water I urge you to speak to exercise directors and ask for aqua yoga classes and if you are a yoga teacher, extend your reach if you are so inspired and make a big difference.

In the Kriya Dharma,

Camella Nair (Swami Nibhrtananda)

for questions contact

for training dates go to

facebook inspiration Aqua Kriya Yoga and Aqua Yoga Therapy

Aqua Yoga classes are at several YMCA Locations across the country.

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