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Challenging 5 of Yoga’s ‘dry’ Narratives for Aging Populations

Protecting and caring for our senior populations has been at the forefront of healthcare systems across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senior populations (those over 65) are expected to be the fastest growing demographic and reach 10% by 2050. With many people perhaps becoming more aware of the importance of exercise across all generations, it may be an idea to think ‘outside the box’ on how the yoga world has conventionally taught hatha yoga in order to expand the accessible component of the practice.

Slip into water and experience this for yourself if you are lucky enough to have pool access at this time. In order to do this and assuming that you may have a yoga practice on land but have not experienced it in the water, you do need to grasp that the benefits of the poses are not necessarily the same on land as in the water.

Very often, the benefits in water do in fact exceed that of practicing on land and this is due to the water’s buoyancy and resistance. Due to the turbulence in water while exercising, muscles are continually being activated in order to remain stable. Submerged in water, the aging body can exercise safely and reduce the risk of falls so that yoga therapy covering 5 important aspects to physical exercise can be prescribed in specific areas of the body with the correct dosage.

Challenging the ‘dry’ narrative and making yoga more accessible in the water has been a passion of mine for decades as I have seen many seniors both improve their physical and mental wellbeing with yoga in the water, especially in 5 key areas of exercise thought to reduce the risk of falling in seniors. According to ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), It takes about 12 weeks of moderate to high intensity workouts 2-3 times a week to make significant improvements. That is a big ‘ask’ for many seniors on land as they may well have pain and extreme lack of range of motion on land, both of which have additional improvement benefits in the water. Lack of exercise compliance can mean that January resolutions rapidly fail as showing up on the mat or chair sometimes loses its original appeal. Working in the water in a small group setting can have an added bonus of creating a diverse sangha or group that resonates with each other, in spite of the fact that they may all be at varying stages of fitness, mobility and pain.

1. Improved respiration

Hydrostatic pressure can help improve muscles of respiration, including the major diaphragm, lungs, and heart. Exhale is assisted due to the increase in pressure and blood pumps its way around the body with vascular improvements. People that suffer with diabetes and lower limb swelling may get instant relief the moment they step into the water. In the gravitational field, energy known as Prana can be tricky to be drawn in and up in a balanced way, yet in the water its very nature lends itself to this cosmological concept effortlessly. It can mean that a student progresses much faster in the broader disciplines of yoga that leads to contentment and subsequently enlightenment, such as sense withdrawal and concentration that are vital for meditation. Finding a root system with feet plugged to the floor can challenge the most ardent yoga student in the water and deeper breathing is essential to make that connection in the water.

2. Balance

In order to improve balance, we have to practice it and we need stability here to successfully stand up on two feet, not only balancing on one such as tree pose. In the water people who are fearful of falling on land may be open to exercises that they would perhaps not try on land. This may also allow for more progressions such as Bird of Paradise from Tree Pose. Any turbulence created by other students or the yoga therapist agitating water around the lower extremities can also help to increase muscular activity in order to stay upright. Some deep-water exercises in the water with a buoyancy belt on can create new neurological pathways as the student tries to balance the center of gravity with the center of buoyancy. (this can vary with body constitution)

3. Strength

Training of large muscle groups in the upper and lower limbs in an aquatic environment can actually improve muscle hypertrophy. (muscle definition) It does not require lifting weights and risking injury on land but can utilize buoyant and resistant equipment to improve the outcome with less risk of injury. I have quite a few students over the years that have injured themselves with an aggressive exercise regimen (including yoga)

4. Agility

Walking through the water in varying patterning’s can be greatly beneficial, as can vinyasa yoga incorporating chair pose, warrior 1’s and warrior 3 and a reverse warrior with arms dragging through the water. With just the breath to inspire the movement or gentle music can prove very meditative and that is a great bonus for cognitive function. It can also inform the balance and strengthening components of a practice. The benefits of what students learn in the pool transfers very well to functioning better on land, especially self-confidence and posture.

5. Flexibility

I cannot count the number of people who told me they are not flexible enough to practice yoga. What is the yoga community and media projecting to the masses about who is able to practice yoga? Comfort and stability are traditionally the only pre-requisite of a yoga practice and so what we often see in magazines and social media is very detrimental to promoting yoga as a therapy to the very people who may benefit from it. Stiffness and reduced range of motion may modulate decades of ‘advanced yoga poses, even for those of us that have been practicing for many years. Again, the ACSM or the American College of Sports Medicine highlights the importance of flexibility during fitness training, yet often is neglected. In the water students can expect to see an increase of ROM of about 30%. This literally turns the clock back on years of sedentary lifestyle or fear of exercising after experiencing pain from accident or surgery.

To learn more about Aqua Yoga, check out online Training events for 2021 at levels 1 and 2 with credits you can apply to your YA or IAYT profile.

Camella is an ordained Swami in the Kriya Lineage, IAYT-C, C-ATRI, Ayurvedic Health Educator and Home Funeral guide


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