There’s a nice little pool in my building, and I use it regularly for “yoga” rather than for swimming — a casual and unstructured yoga, but yoga nevertheless. Using the buoyancy of water to aid rehabilitation is a well-known and excellent idea. Less widely appreciated, I think, is the potential for your pool to be an excellent place to breathe, stretch and move.
These exercises are not going to work for everyone, especially if you don’t have access to a private or semi-private pool. But, for those who have the resource, they’re great to try.
Here are five examples of exercises that make good use of the water:
A couple other short points to close.
Yoga and stretching are not everything they are cracked up to be, and they probably fail to achieve much of what people are hoping for — such as preventing muscle soreness,4 or curing low back pain.5 However, I am not anti-stretching — not by a long shot. There’s no question that it feels good, and not only is that sufficient reason in itself, it also probably means it’s doing something valuable to the organism. For instance, a 2011 study showed that a program of static stretching alone — just pulling on muscles — had a nice clear benefit for heart rate regulation, a common way of measuring fitness.6 Bodies probably need constant sensory feedback for optimum function — use it or lose it — and this evidence is probably a nice demonstration of that principle.
The reputation and popularity of yoga and meditation is immense, almost oppressive, eclipsing other options. People feel that they “should” try them in order to reduce stress and contribute to a healing process, and often actually feel guilty for not trying them or for not liking them. I call this the “tyranny of yoga and meditation.”
For people on the fence, a little water yoga might be more fun and easier to mess around with.
I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and assistant editor of Science-Based Medicine. I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications, or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook and Google, but mostly Twitter.
This study of stretching found that
multiple-set flexibility training sessions enhanced the vagal modulation and sympathovagal balance [that’s good] in the acute postexercise recovery, at least in subjects with low flexibility levels. … stretching routines may contribute to a favorable autonomic activity change in untrained subjects.
This seems like a fairly straightforward bit of good-news science about stretching. It’s not a surprising idea that movement would have some systemic regulatory effects (motion is lotion, use it or lose it), but it’s nice to see some corroboration of that common sensical notion, and it’s also nice to know that perhaps just stretching did this (to the extent we can learn anything from a single study). If true, it makes for nice evidence to support a general stretching habit, yoga, mobilizations, really any kind of “massaging with movement,” and probably even massage itself.BACK TO TEXT