Pool Yoga 2.0: Is the World Ready for Pool Noodle Yoga?
It’s amazing what kind of yoga poses you can perform in a pool with the help of a “swim noodle.” The possibilities led Aaron Reed to create an entire, structured program around “pool noodle yoga,” which he believes will open the door to a whole new world of yoga enthusiasts. Check out pool yoga 2.0!
You may have heard of pool yoga, in which you perform yoga poses in a pool. For example, a post that appeared in Yoga Journal shows how Half Moon Pose becomes easier due to the water’s natural buoyancy.
The water not only allows you to partially defy gravity, it also reduces the compression on your spine. It’s what led Aaron Reed to begin experimenting with pool yoga.
“I got into it because I’d been dealing with lower back problems,” he said. What he discovered was a whole new underwater world of possibilities.
Regular Yoga is Not for Everybody
Let’s be honest: Yoga is not for everyone. That is, at least not in the conventional form taught by many yoga teachers. It can be prohibitive to people who are:
Injured (undergoing rehabilitation or with a broken bone)
Elderly (lack of core strength, poor balance)
Obese (excessive weight makes poses unattainable)
The big drawback for each population is gravity. It can be a literal drag. Yet it’s an obstacle that can be overcome when you use a simple, styrofoam bendable “pool noodle.”
“Other people are doing aqua yoga with regular poses, using the pool, stairs and ledges,” Aaron said. “But once I got ahold of the noodle, I realized it was a far superior prop.”
The Father of Pool Noodle Yoga?
Aaron’s eureka moment with pool noodle yoga began while skiing in Vail, Colorado. Besides yoga, he also swims laps as a way to stay in shape. During a workout, he grabbed a nearby pool noodle and began “messing” around.
He soon discovered that many conventional yoga poses were much easier to perform with the swim noodle. One thing led to another over the following months, and he developed a complete workout, vocabulary and training guide.
“I’ve been able to adapt most traditional yoga poses to a pool noodle version for a complete body stretch and strengthen–just way easier and more fun.”
Aaron’s first pool noodle yoga class to a group of surfers in Bali.
It’s the perfect activity to unwind after a hard surf or to stay in shape when the waves are flat.
While you can find examples of other aqua fitness instructors integrating swim noodles into water aerobics, Aaron hasn’t run across anyone who has developed a systematic yoga approach with the noodles. It’s particularly important for our shifting demographics.
“Baby boomer yogis are starting to age,” he said. “They physically won’t be able to do as much on land.” Especially those yoga enthusiasts who find themselves aging out of difficult power yoga classes.
More focus on specific areas for stretching and building strength
We’ve touched on how yoga instructors, and yoga practitioners, are experiencing yoga injuries by pushing the envelope too far. With pool noodle yoga, you combine the buoyancy of the water with the flotation of the noodle, and lessen the chance for injury.
It also allows you to really focus on specific areas for stretching and strengthening. Here are some examples:
Hamstring stretch: Put the noodle under your achilles tendon, and let your leg extend straight out. The noodle will rise, stretching your hamstring. Then move your leg straight out, off to the side, and across your body for a twist.
Hamstring stretch side
Hamstring stretch underwater
Quadricep stretch: Put the noodle around the front of the ankle, and bend your leg behind you. The noodle will pull the heel up toward your sitting bone, without requiring you to “wrap around” to grab your foot. The noodle will bend around your ankle and stay in place.
Quad stretch back view
Quad stretch underwater
Hip Flexor stretch/Quad strengthener: Put the noodle under the arch of the foot, and the knee will come up. Hold there for the hip stretch. Then push the noodle all the way down to the floor of the pool. As you let it go up, you’ll experience “reverse isometrics.” The stretch is at the top when you relax, then the quad strengthening as you push down.
Lunge stretch (hip flexor stretch)
Lunge stretch underwater
Lunge press underwater (strengthener)
Pranayama improves, too
The noodles’ effects are not limited to yoga poses. Aaron says they allow for improved pranayama (yogic breathing meditation) because, once again, you’re taking advantage of the water’s natural buoyancy. He shared with us one breathing exercise as an example:
Get into the pool, and float on your back with your legs out of the water on the pool deck, extend your arms over your head. As you breathe in, you’ll feel your whole chest float out of the water.
When you exhale, you will start to sink, just before the water would flow into your nose, inhale again and notice your whole torso elevate. It becomes a dramatic example of what happens all the time on dry land, but now you really feel the buoyant effect of having your lungs full of air.
You focus on continuing this breathing pattern, emphasizing holding your breath at the top of the inhale.
People who tend to get distracted while meditating will appreciate how effective this simple motion can bring your concentration to the present moment. The sound of the breath can be pretty trippy too, because the sound conductivity in the water is really strong.
“Not only can you feel your breath, but you can hear it amplified in the water as well,” reports Aaron.
From keeping your head dry to multiple exercises, flexibility is the key
Aaron notes he has two classifications for exercises: head wet and head dry. He finds many people would prefer not to get their hair wet or get water in their ears. As a result, he has comprehensive classes that can be performed without dipping your head underwater.
Abdominal boat pose
That type of flexibility opens the door to all types of possibilities; new ones that Aaron is discovering every day. He often gathers with friends and other yoga teachers to experiment with their respective noodles. He considers this an open source evolution and looks forward to crowd sourcing all sorts of innovations once it starts spreading around the world.
His favorite recent discovery is “pull-ups.” You’ll need a deep-end of the pool and be willing to get your head wet. First, push down on the noodle, allowing it to lift you up out of the water. Then exhale, and your legs and body will shoot down into the pool toward the bottom.
Still holding on to the noodle, pull yourself back up. “It’s probably 80 percent easier than a conventional pull-up on land, but much more fun, so I don’t mind doing lots of them,” Aaron said.
Where does pool noodle yoga go from here?
Aaron’s goal is to help spread this concept globally. The vocabulary has been expanding as he gets more of his fellow teachers to dabble in the technique, and contribute ideas.
Obviously, one restrictive element would be not having access to a pool, but Aaron points out that the pool noodle yoga workout could be performed in most pools, lakes, bays or in a calm part of the ocean. “In Hawaii, we were doing noodle yoga in the tidal pools,” he said.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Aaron’s own 80+ year-old mother does water aerobics daily, and many of her classmates use their walkers to get to the pool. Once they’re in the pool, they find the experience liberating.
Aaron believes it’s the direction we’re all headed. “I know for me, personally, I would prefer to do yoga in the water,” he said. “In an evolutionary way, we’re all going to age into it as a necessity someday–you might as well enjoy the journey and start now.”