Pool instead of mat: Yoga in the Water

While researching about water yoga, I came across Christa’s Instagram profile. She’s been teaching water yoga to both students and yoga instructors for quite a while now and even wrote a book about it.

I’m honored to have her on the blog today! In the interview, we talked about her journey into water yoga, how it’s different compared to yoga on land and what her teacher trainings looked like. Let’s dive in!

Dear Christa, yoga is very popular nowadays. Yoga in the water, however, is new for many. How did you get into that specific type of yoga?

I actually was introduced to it by another yoga teacher from Florida. She had a client with a pool who started inviting her over for Friday Ladies’ nights with wine and yoga in the pool. When she told me this, it blew my mind. I was like “oh you can do yoga in the pool? Why has no one ever told me this?”

I met her at a teacher training for yoga for arthritis. Immediately afterwards, I googled it and went to a training the next month, because it sounded like the best thing ever. The training was a good introduction and yoga in the pool quickly became my passion.

Before, I also taught chair yoga and yoga for kids. Super athletic flows were never my thing, so this new path fit quite well.

Were you able to take learnings from the yoga you’ve taught before into the aqua yoga teaching?

Good question! In kids’ and chair yoga, there’s a community aspect to it that also can be found in aqua yoga. A pool isn’t your typical quiet, zen-like yoga studio where everyone talks in low voices. Going to the pool is way more social and it’s a dynamic environment. While I also enjoy the inward-facing energy of a studio, the social aspect is kind of what I lean towards when teaching aqua yoga.

In what way does the practice feel different in the water compared to practicing on a mat?

The element of quiet is different. Some people find it harder to concentrate in an environment like the pool, where it’s busier than at a yoga studio. But at the same time – that’s life as it is. If you practice in a busy environment like this, you might find it easier to recenter when your everyday life gets hectic. That’s what yoga is about!

And there’s also the physical aspect. Water is denser than air, we can use it in different ways. For example, it makes more sense to move your hands through the water to work with the resistance, even if that’s not how you would usually approach a posture. Also, you need to stabilize more through your torso and your legs. So, it provides different movement planes, and significantly different muscular usage.

Safety is also a point: In studios, we don’t really have many seniors. In the water, they usually feel more comfortable. Here, they don’t really have the risk of falling and less risk of injury.

Speaking of seniors: Are there specific target groups that you would recommend aqua yoga to?

I choose to work with people with arthritis and joint conditions. But from a more athletic point of view, it’s still a super valid way to practice. There’s a lot more muscular effort because you have to break the surface tension of the water. Other sports are using the benefits of water already, so if you’re an athletic person looking for a new challenge, you’re still going to get a lot out of aqua yoga.

Yoga is very beneficial for our health. Does practicing in the water support or even enhance these benefits?

We do have research in yoga and in aquatics, but we have zero research in aqua yoga, unfortunately. So, we can only speak of potential benefits here – yoga tells us one thing, and aquatics tells us one thing, so, in combination, what does that mean for aqua yoga? Can we expect the combined benefits? We don’t know.

What could we expect? For example, everyone knows that yoga increases your flexibility. In the pool, you’re even more flexible, due to the buoyancy of the water. It gives us more joint space, not that it makes them larger, it just restores them to their maximum potential, because gravity crushes them down. So, you increase your range of motion and get more flexible.

Today, you’re not only a practitioner of water yoga. Tell us more about your journey from water yoga enthusiast to water yoga teacher.

I was a new teacher in general when I went to aqua yoga teacher training. I live in Florida, where almost everyone has a pool, so it seemed natural to me. I started at the local YMCA, which was a great place to start. You never know who’s going to join you for class, so you teach a lot of different people and you become a really good teacher really fast.

How did it come about that you started training other teachers?

People were literally asking me! They saw my pictures, heard me talk about it and came up to me to ask how they could work with me.

It took me some time to develop all the content. Before Covid, I developed a course and delivered it in person first, and then the next year I created the online component. Then Covid hit, and I already had that in place, so that was really good timing.

Living in Florida, you have the ocean right around the corner. Could you also practice there instead of in a pool?

As long as you can safely do it, yes. With little waves and gentle slopes, there’s no problem. I have trained teachers from Mauritius who don’t have pools available, so they teach in the ocean. They have great weather, barely any waves.

The same applies to lakes. The bottom is often an issue, because it might be muddy and not firm enough.

So, technically, any body of water would work.

You’ve also written a book about water yoga. What came first – the book or training other teachers?

The training. I was training people, I had a manual for that, and again, people approached me and said “Christa, you need to write a book!”. That was my Corona project. Since I’ve published the book, I’ve gone on and done a lot more writing, for example poetry. Before I started the training, I also self-published a book on yoga philosophy for the pool. That was kind of my first step and helped get me started.

So, I guess yoga philosophy is also a big part of your training?

It’s a sizeable chunk. In the certifications, we spend more time on the movement, however, I include all eight limbs of yoga. I try to make the philosophy part as accessible as possible, because many come just for the movement, and might think the philosophy part is a little “woo woo”. I try to meet people where they’re at.

What else is part of the training?

It’s a blended program because I don’t only train yoga teachers who want to move their teaching from mat to water. I also teach aquatics professionals who would like to get into yoga.

Water science is a given. We talk a lot about that. The aquatics professionals might already know a lot about that, but the yoga teachers don’t. And the aquatics professionals know less about the yogic aspects.

As a yoga teacher, you might think “I’ve done yoga for years, I got this”, but then you get into the pool, and plank pose is just a disaster (laughs).

Also, we cover the topic of props. We have kickboards, and pool noodles, and aquatic dumbbells. So, implementing them into yoga sessions is an important part of the training.  

You can probably guess the next question: How do I actually do plank pose in a pool?

Obviously, you can’t just bend down and use the bottom of the pool. So, we need some sort of support.

Option one is the pool wall, which is very stable. It’s similar to using a wall or a chair in a yoga studio.

More challenging is when we do a plank in the center of the pool. At that point, we would need a pool noodle or two to support you. The principles are the same: your arms are straight; your body is in an approximately 45-degree angle with your toes attached to the pool floor. The challenge: the support is not attached to anything and your body tends to roll in the water. To hold that pose, it’s important to not bend the elbows, keep the arms straight, and engage the glutes.

What would you recommend to someone who’s a total beginner and wants to get into water yoga?

If you’re a total beginner, you’re probably more comfortable with trying a class. If there is no water yoga class, try one in the studio. Try your best to remember like 3 moves and then try them in the pool for yourself.

Relax about the thoughts like “am I doing it wrong”. If your chair pose in the pool doesn’t look like the one on land, that’s fine! Work with your breath and your mindfulness while you’re practicing.

You don’t even need to know how to swim! Just make sure you stay close to the pool wall and that your pool has a lifeguard on duty. If the water is up to mid-chest height, that’s ideal. Belly button level is also fine – less buoyancy offload but still less gravity than on land.

What’s next for you? Any plans for 2024?

I always have things in the works. I’m releasing a new book, that will hopefully be published in April. I’m also putting together 2 courses for people who already teach aqua yoga, as further education for this field is very rare.

Is that also what the book is about?

No, the new book is more about yoga philosophy: the Yamas and Niyamas, the Sutras… it’s aimed at beginners. It’s distilling it down to the most important aspects, so that you can easily integrate them in everyday life.

Sounds very exciting. Thank you for the interview and the pictures and good luck with all your projects!

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