By Dr. Jane Katz
No matter your age, fitness level or athletic ability, water—the great equalizer—offers a fabulous exercise opportunity to help you get and/or stay healthy and fit. Not only that, but water also offers a meditative quality that makes it an ideal holistic program of mind, body and spirit. Yoga, tai chi and pilates can be done in water and are great methods to relax and stay physically fit. Just remember to check with your doctor before starting a workout routine. When you exercise, always start with a warm-up session and finish with a cool-down. As you become more physically fit, you can increase your workout intensity with the F.I.T. principle: Frequency, Intensity and Time. In this first part of our series, let’s talk about aqua yoga.
By adapting traditional yoga poses in water, we can maximize the benefits of the pool environment. For example, the Child’s Pose is a wonderful exercise for the lower back. The Mountain Pose offers a great stretch and facilitates relaxation. When you feel comfortable with the more basic poses, you may find the Sun Salutation more challenging. To start though, let’s loosen up with these four traditional poses, modified for wet practice.
You can stretch farther forward without the floor in front of you.
Stand with your feet about 2 feet from the pool wall and place your hands and forearms flat against it. Look up and sway your back, stretching your abs. Rise onto your toes andhold for a few breaths.
The water makes it easier to hold and balance, so you get a deeper stretch.
Stand and lift your right leg with your knee bent until your thigh is parallel to the pool bottom, keeping your toes pointed. Press your left heel into the floor. Grab your right big toe with your right hand, then straighten your right leg out in front of you. Push your foot against your fingers to deepen the stretch, holding for a few breaths. Switch legs and repeat.
Holding the pool wall lets you stretch without having to hold yourself up.
Stand arm’s length from the wall with your right arm straight and your right fingers touching the wall. Spread your legs 3 feet apart and bring your left arm up, bending to your right. Try to reach your left hand over to touch the wall and push your left foot down. Hold for three breaths, then repeat on the other side.
The buoyancy you have in the water makes getting into the backbend easier, so you can better stretch your abs and chest.
Stand with your back to the pool wall, about 2 or 3 feet away from it. Then, arching backward, look up and reach your hands behind your shoulders to grab the wall. Breathe, holding the stretch. Then move your feet back slightly and hold the position for a few breaths. Relax into the stretch.
No matter what form of exercise you choose, water can truly be a magical elixir to help you become or remain fit at any age. See you poolside!
Dr. Jane Katz is a pioneer in fitness and aquatics. She holds a doctorate in gerontology and was a consultant to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. She is an educator, author of several books and a professor of health and physical education at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. More information on the exercises mentioned in this article can be found in Dr. Katz’s books, “Your Water Workout” and “Swimming for Total Fitness,” from Random House/Broadway Books and available at bookstores, and on her DVDs, “The New W.E.T. Workout®” and “Swim Basics,” which can be purchased on Dr. Katz’s website, www.drjanekatz.com.