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Under-dosing Seniors in Yoga

Decades ago when my body was able to zip through yoga poses effortlessly and more enthusiastically, there was little thought about how I could effectively continue my personal practice at the same or similar level and observe Ahimsa (no harm) realistically as my body slowed down with age. Yoga, swimming and walking have been my chosen form of exercise mostly during my adult life and so I have loved developing Aqua yoga.

I have been teaching land and aqua yoga for a long time and over the past few years am enjoying how the water can allow me to increase the intensity of my practice so that I am not continually 'under-dosing,' by using the resistance and drag of the water as well as speed. Just take a look at what local health clubs offer older adults in the water, and notice the clients form and fuction. How could you offer them more aerobic yoga work on land safely? Not quite so accessible for many and the simple truth is, many people love being in the water as it is a much safer medium for their body and it can be immense fun! Aging can bring about regret, sadness and loneliness and the more social aspect of group exercise in the water is one of the reasons students flock to the water as many days in the week as they can.

"Don’t prescribe under-dosed strength training programs for older adults. Instead, match the frequency, intensity and duration of exercise to the individual’s abilities and goals." - American Physical Therapy Association

I was at the International Evidence Based Conference for Aquatic Therapy earlier last year (ICEBAT Conference Las Vegas 2018) where Clinical Researcher Paula Richley with her specialty field being cardiovascular metabolic change, placed great importance on proper aquatic exercise dosage for seniors. In other words it is important to know what exercises to do, but equally important to know how long to do it for.

Apparently past aquatic studies have examined duration or water depth but not frequency or intensity. What was discovered was that cadence was hardly ever reported, but speed or cadence is important. (In aquatic vinyasa yoga, some well chosen yoga music can be useful here to keep the students working at a specific pace which increases muscular-skeletal loading) One of my favorites is "Yogi Tunes-Jala Yoga Flow Mix."

The mode of exercises can be closed or open chain and if we are working with a client one on one, this should be recorded as should rest periods. Mode will affect the muscular contractions. For example are they concentric, eccentric, or isometric?

* eccentric contraction is more intense in the water than on land due to buoyancy.

With many of the populations we see in the water, there may be a high percentage of people that cannot get their heart rate up on land easily. In the water the lower joints in particular are not stressed so it may be a more likely that you can add some work that can help with this, such as walking and setting the cadence for them. Working in this area can help people walk better on land and also lose weight as we tend to burn double the calories in water.

In the aquatic therapy world there are has been some significant research on Ai Chi but as of yet nothing on Aqua Vinyasa Yoga.

* Ai Chi is a combination of deep breathing and slow broad movements standing in chest height water and uses principles of T'ai Chi, Shiatsu and Qigong.

In cooler pools (@84 degrees), likely the yoga class will have to be a mixture of vinyasa and static movements such as balance or the student will get cold. It is a wonderful place for older adults to increase their yoga workout safely.

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests at least 150 mins of moderate exercise per week.

* 30-60 mins of moderate exercise 5 x per week


* 20-60 mins of vigorous intensity 3 x per week.

Inactivity takes a toll on the body with connective tissue reduction of elasticity and strength, loss of ROM, causes osteoporosis, muscle atrophy (red aerobic to white anaerobic cells), a reduction in cardiopulmonary capacity and metabolism and arterial diameter.

Typical aquatic intervention would be a combination of periods of rigorous activity and also more passive type exercises that focus on lengthening and metabolic stimulation of connective tissue and specific loading. Skipping is a great plyometry exercise in the water that can stimulate tendons springy type recoil that helps to prevent the 'old person shuffle' on land.

When coming up with a program for small group exercise or individual clients you may want to consider appropriate dosing with emphasis on cadence, intensity, frequency, duration. modes and water temperature etc...

If we move to a shallow end of the pool the muscular load increases and this can be a part of the prescription for some students. Also equipment can be used such as a firm foam noodle or paddles to increase water drag.

Aqua Yoga is not a type of yoga but rather can be a place where we practice yoga to our advantage.

Camella offers several teacher training's in Aqua Kriya Yoga each year which are contact hours to be applied to aquatic organisations as well as Yoga Alliance and IAYT. Details at

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