How Yoga can Benefit Aqua Pranayama
Guest Blogger: Natalie Rudman, 15x South African Free Diving Champion
The word Yoga comes from the Word ‘Yoke’ which means to Unite or to Connect.
Ultimately in Aqua Pranayama we are creating that connection. We are connecting to our bodies, mind and spirit. We connect to nature in the Ocean or in Lakes, Cenotes or Quarries.
In a way, we are creating a deeper connection than that found on a yoga mat in a sterilized ‘yoga space’.
So really in essence, Aqua Pranayama is Yoga.
When we come to practice the physical asana’s of yoga it’s important to keep the same presence of mind and awareness of the body that we have in Aqua Pranayama.
We can use the asana’s (postures) to better understand ourselves and where there may be deep rooted tensions and discomforts in the body. Even in a very physical practice in which movement is consistent and flowing (such as in Vinyasa Flow) we should try to keep the heart rate low.
So, I will breakdown two very different practices and some poses that can be used to benefit and to compliment Aqua Pranayama. The most important benefit of yoga to Aqua Pranayama is the flexibility of the lung cavity, of the intercostal muscles and diaphragm, so any poses that help this can be the main focus of a practice.
Yin (Passive, calming, Moon energy) is the counter practice to the most common Yang (Active, energetic, sun energy) practices of Hatha Yoga (traditional poses or asana’s) and Vinyasa Flow (Sequence of poses strung together by movement).
In Yin Yoga the poses are completely passive and there should be zero muscle engagement.
In Yin Yoga we access the deeper connective tissues and the Fascia that is the binding material of everything in the body. It’s best to use props, such as bolsters, pillows, and blocks in order to support the body in the practice and to make sure that no muscle is engaged in order to be “propped up”. In Yin Yoga we hold the poses for 5 minutes or longer, this is impossible to do with Muscle engagement and also not good for you, so remember to always try to remain as relaxed as possible and to not tense. Also when coming into the pose, start in a very mild and passive stretch and allow your body the time to release and open naturally.
Yin Yoga is good for teaching the mind presence and stillness. It may be the case in a few of the postures that over time the body wants to tense, and that is the time to cultivate deep relaxation and not allow the tension to travel to other parts of the body.
Some Great Yin Yoga Poses that may benefit you in Aqua Pranayama and why:
Anahatasana: This is my personal favorite pose. Anahata means Heart and it is a heart or Chest and shoulder opener. Often in Yoga when you open the ribcage and chest, it is referred to as a heart opener. This is because in Yoga, we believe that the physical body is connected to the energetic body and in the chest area is the energy of the heart or heart Chakra (wheel).
In Hatha Yoga Anahatasana is referred to as Puppy Pose.
Method: On the ground similar to child's pose, however keep the hips up and directly over the knees. Slide the arms forward and make sure the elbows rest on the ground. The chin or forehead can rest on the ground. However if you have pillows or a bolster its best to rest your upper body on that.
This pose can greatly benefit the streamline position of having your arms lifted above the head. Especially if this kind of flexibility does not come naturally. Overtime one can feel the tricep and shoulder connection release and learn to keep relaxation in the chest whilst having the arms extended.
Hold time: 5 minutes.
Standing forward fold:
This pose is good for the legs, for those tight in the hamstrings, I would say practice this daily.
Start standing with the legs around two fists or hip distance apart and passively fold forward over the legs. If you have very tight hamstrings, then keep the knees soft and bent, so that the chest falls closer to the thighs. By bending the knees more, you will access tension in the lower back that may be pulling on the legs and keeping them tight and stiff.
The name of this pose comes from the shape that the body gives. It is essentially a side stretch.
This pose is done lying down on the back with both of the butt cheeks on the ground, the legs and arms go to one side. This gives the entire side body a stretch, working into the IT band running along the side of the leg and into the side ribs and armpit and arms.
To make the stretch a little deeper, you can bring the outside ankle over the inner ankle, but if it feels too much then release it and don’t go so deep into the stretch. The stimulation should always be mild in Yin.
Hold Time: 5 Minutes
Hatha Yoga or Vinyasa Flow
Too much of anything is not a good thing, so we need to balance the Yin with Yang and vice versa. If we were to practice too much Yin then the body would become passive and floppy, and if we were to practice too much of the Yang then the body and mind would become rigid and too stern.
Hatha Means Sun and Moon, it is probably a much more balanced practice than Vinyasa flow which is consistent movement that increases the heart rate and flow of energy.
Hatha is a dynamic practice but try to keep the heart rate low and hold the poses for longer.
A typical Hatha sequence would start with Sun Salutation to warm up the body, each movement stretches the body, the entire front body and back body is stretched and warmed up. Even in Aqua Pranayama we use the front and back body depending on the direction of our kicks or pulls.
The standing part or sequence of hatha yoga includes Warriors 1, 2, 3 side stretches and balance poses. Alignment of the joints is important and when we engage the muscles this creates strength in the muscle which will support the joints. Body awareness and learning how to engage and disengage the muscles comes over time by practicing Hatha Yoga.
After the standing sequence we move to the ground with forward folds, back bends, inversions and eventually Savasana.
The ground sequence greatly increases flexibility throughout the entire body. Particular focus can be made on the back bends to increase flexibility in the intercostal muscles, the ribs and chest.
Savasana means corps pose and its extremely important to add to the end of every yoga practice, it helps the body to memorize the practice, to physically and energetically store the information, just like when we sleep at night and the subconscious processes the day’s events.
Asana practice is extremely important to keep the body flexible and healthy. But the mind is the greatest tool we have in Aqua Pranayama. The ratio of mental vs. physical is often debated in Aqua Pranayama, but some say its 80% Mental and 20% Physical.
Meditation is therefore more important than any physical practice and I suggest to include at least a minimum of 10 minutes a day to any routine you may have for Aqua Pranayama or for life in general.
Meditation can be done sitting or lying down, but with lying down comes the risk of falling asleep. It’s best to have a straight spine for the breath to be deep and easy.
There are various forms of meditation. Some like to practice a method used in Vipassana retreats, which is observation of the body.
Observing the breath is a very good practice also. My favorite mediation however is a mantra Meditation, using the words SO HAM, said with the inhale and with the Exhale.
Because our mind observes our thoughts with words we can replace the words and thoughts with a Mantra and with repetition of the Mantra the thoughts become less important or dominant. We cannot stop our thoughts, but we can learn to observe them and to allow them to pass without being drawn into every thought that arises.
Being mindful, present and aware is perhaps the most important thing. But to have a regular stretching or yoga routine will help to keep the body flexible.
Try to the keep the routine consistent. By doing the practice in the same place and at the same time everyday the mind will become trained to know that it is Aqua Pranayama time and time to let the body naturally come to the diving reflex and to a calm state of mind that we know helps in Aqua Pranayama.
Most importantly enjoy your practice and if you can keep it fresh and interesting by joining classes, workshops and retreats, then this can become a lifetime practice that will never become boring.
Enjoy and have fun with it, in the end it’s just Yoga.
We are all on a journey, seeking something….
We lost the connection from the energetic field when we dropped into the physical…and while it may seem somewhat safe and grounded to be here….we are esoteric beings also, souls if you will.
The separation will be felt harder than others…this is because no matter how ‘safe’ it feels to be here, we know we are apart of something greater than ourselves, we are apart of the universe and all energetic beings….we will never feel fully whole until we return again….but to return is to give up everything we think is real in the here…. To return is to give up our physical realm and all that we believed it to be made up of….For those who felt it most safe to be here this will be hardest, but to those with a knowing and a yearning to return, it will flow more easily.
Because you know you are going home!
For more information on how you can get involved and learn more, check out our Aqua Pranayama page!