Cynthia Bialek has worked for years translating yoga into an aquatic environment. The resulting technique, known as Yoga Afloat, evolved out of her personal desire to continue the practice of yoga in a place that was comfortable and conducive for someone with acute fibromyalgia. Bialek understood that it would not be possible to just transpose moves into the water without understanding the unique properties and principles of the water.
Water temperatures necessary for Yoga Afloat vary. Beginners, who need to move more slowly and deliberately to understand and perform the movements correctly, should have water that’s 86 to 88 degrees. For those who can move a bit quicker, and for the Yoga Afloat Power Moves Vinyasa, water can be as cold as 81 to 85 degrees.
For the suspended and floating poses, it’s best to have at least an 8-foot-deep pool, though it is possible to work in depths as shallow as 6 feet just by adjusting the moves a bit. Ideally, a participant should have a 6-foot working area in which to fully extend the body when floating. It’s more relaxing to have no loud noises around the pool during a Yoga Afloat class, but instructors understand that sometimes it is not possible.
People performing yoga movements in the water make use of noodles, hand buoys, therapy bars, rings, aqua belts and headrests or collars.
So how well does yoga actually translate into the pool? Bialek believes the core element of balance translates beautifully in the water because it is balance in slow motion. For those worried about falling out of a pose, the water eliminates that concern because it supports all balance poses.
Balance poses can be held longer, so participants can achieve increased core strength and stability. However, back extensions do not translate the same in the water, and students have to be careful when floating prone with flotation equipment.
The safest way to address the lack of control when attempting a back extension from a floating position is to keep the balls of the feet anchored to the pool bottom. Forward flexion can be achieved in the floating position by folding the body into a pike position, reaching for the toes with handheld buoys.
The best students for Yoga Afloat are those already familiar with water exercise and yoga. Bialek has educated a few people who were only familiar with traditional yoga, and they had the challenge of adapting to the new environment. She’s also trained many water instructors who wanted to teach yoga in the pool. These instructors actually adapt better at first. Their minds are open to yoga because they haven’t had much, if any, yoga training.
The Yoga Afloat moves then become their first introduction to yoga — and the love affair with yoga begins.