Did you know that the sensory-rich pool environment—soothing and simultaneously challenging—is an ideal setting for mindful movement and a welcome respite from digital stress? Fitness innovators have been creating mind-body pool fitness offerings in the water, with programs like paddleboard yoga, aquatic Pilates, Ai Chi and fusion classes—all options you might see offered or have an interest in seeking out.
Shirley Archer, JD, MA, an internationally acknowledged integrative health advocate and mindful living educator, 30-year fitness industry veteran, and best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books, describes a handful of the classes.
What Is Mind-Body Pool Fitness?
Use of the term “mind-body” here does not imply that other fitness forms are not mindful. Rather, mind-body indicates that the activity’s predominant objective is to intentionally coordinate breath with movement, to emphasize precise alignment, to challenge balance and centering, and to enhance kinesthetic and present-moment awareness, all for the purpose of creating a more mindful, meditative state, while at the same time conditioning the body.
See also: Water Workouts Make a Splash
Healing Benefits of Water
Bruce Becker, MD, MS, director of the National Aquatics and Sports Medicine Institute and adjunct professor at Washington State University in Spokane, Washington, and other investigators studied the healing benefits of immersion in different temperatures of water. They discovered that immersion in “cool” (87.9 degrees Fahrenheit, 31.1 degrees Celsius—i.e., lower than body temperature), “neutral” (93.2–96.8 F, 34–36 C) or “warm” (102 F, 39 C) water can benefit healthy individuals by
- lowering blood pressure and increasing cardiac output and stroke volume (all water temperatures);
- strengthening respiratory muscles and thereby improving breathing capacity (all water temperatures); and
- enhancing mood and relaxation (warm water).
While preliminary findings are positive, more research is needed. Study authors suggest that these benefits are amplified when water immersion is combined with exercise (Hildenbrand et al. 2010; Naumann et al. 2016).
Sample Programs for Pool Fitness
Here are some of the classes that creative instructors are leading to bring the benefits of mind-body exercise to the water:
Pool yoga can be a chance to explore the self-discovery that water offers if you have mobility limitations on land. “Most asanas can be adapted to water, but to me this is not the point of aqua yoga,” says water yoga pioneer Françoise B. Freedman, PhD, author of Aqua Yoga (Broadway Books 2000) and founder of the Birthlight Trust, an educational charity based in the United Kingdom that has been offering water yoga for over 30 years. “Through mindfulness, we gain awareness of our rhythms in relation to the water environment.”
Standup Paddleboard Yoga and Mat Pilates
These exercise forms are appealing if you are eager for a challenge but also want a more mindful experience. In 2012, Jessie Benson, in Baltimore, founded FloYo®, a paddleboard yoga program she describes as a workout that utilizes the core while connecting mind and body to create a strong physique and a clear mind. Similarly, standup Pilates classes feature mat Pilates exercises performed on a floating board.
Benson says, “More and more people are coming to the water for the meditative aspect. They want to be someplace where they can’t take their phones. [Not everyone can do] a regular sitting meditation practice, and water attracts a broader range of people who want the clarity [that meditation can offer].”
Tai Chi and Ai Chi
Water-based programs inspired by tai chi and qigong may appeal to you if you are seeking restoration and recovery. Ai Chi is a globally popular program created by Jun Konno, president of Aqua Dynamics Institute in Japan, in the mid-1980s. It includes visualizations and affirmations. The class is based on three principles:
- deep diaphragmatic breathing
- concentration on form and body awareness
- acceptance that “how it turns out is the way it’s meant to be”
See also: Mindful Exercise in the Pool
Hildenbrand, K., et al. 2010. Age-dependent autonomic changes following immersion in cool, neutral, and warm temperatures. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 4 (2), 127–46.
Naumann, J., et al. 2016. Outcomes from a three-arm randomized controlled trial of frequent immersion in thermoneutral water on cardiovascular risk factors. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16 (250).
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