By Jane Katz, PhD|
Dr. Jane Katz, a member of the U.S. synchronized swimming performance team at the 1964 Olympics, is a pioneer in fitness and aquatics. She holds a doctorate in gerontology and was a consultant to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. She is an educator, author of several books and a lecturer, with special emphasis on fitness through aquatics for seniors. More information on the exercises mentioned in this article can be found in Dr. Katz’s book, “Your Water Workout,” which can be found at her web site, www.globalaquatics.com.
Water: A Magical Medium for Fitness
Water can be a magical resource for fitness. The beauty of water as an exercise medium lies in its properties, particularly the simultaneous buoyancy and resistance it provides. Water is a great equalizer—it works for everyone, every body and every ability level. Whether or not you are flexible, conditioned or unconditioned, in or out of shape, overweight or right on target, workouts adapted to water can accommodate your needs. Water exercise goes beyond swimming laps.
The best part about water, though, is that it offers a meditative quality in addition to aiding in stretching and strengthening. Water workouts can be a holistic program of mind, body and spirit. Focusing on relaxation as a component of physical fitness helps us deal with our frantic lifestyles.
Yoga, tai chi and Pilates, for example, can be applied to water as a great method of relaxation to help create your water workout.
By adapting traditional yoga poses in water, we can maximize the benefits of the pool environment and get the best workout possible. These poses—or asanas – are not for people who are in the Himalayas and fervently studying yoga, necessarily, but they are adaptations that are best for relaxation, sports or health concerns. For example, the Child’s Pose is a wonderful exercise for the lower back, and very well suited for the back when adapted because you hold onto the edge of the pool to complete the pose. The Mountain Pose offers a great stretch and facilitates relaxation through breathing. When you feel comfortable with the more basic poses, you may find the Sun Salutation more challenging. This sequence of adapted poses offers a variety of stretching and strengthening moves while still maintaining the focus on breathing.
No matter which poses you prefer, your yoga workout should abide by the same rules of thumb as would any exercise regimen. Check with your doctor before starting a routine. When you exercise, always start with a warm-up session and finish with a cool-down session, even if your workout is as short as 25 or 30 minutes. As you become more physically fit, you can increase your workout intensity with the FIT principle: Frequency, Intensity and Time.
Tai chi originated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in China to promote health and self-defense. Each household had its own unique form that was passed down from generation to generation. “Tai chi ch’uan” translates to “the supreme ultimate fist” or “the way of supreme harmony.”
The Chinese believe that the life force, or “chi,” flows through all of us. They say that we have seven chakras, or energy centers, in our bodies. Daily stressors unbalance chakras and block the flow of chi through our bodies. Tai chi allows the body to open up, the muscles to relax, the tissues to expand and the joints to open and connect, so that chakras are balanced and chi can flow more freely. As energy starts to move more freely, it accumulates in the dantian, an area of the body centered approximately two inches below the navel and a third of the way into the body. Water is an ideal medium for tai chi because it is inherently balancing for chakras.
Tai chi consists of slow, soft, relaxed movements, or “forms.” One form flows into the next without pauses. The attention stays focused on every movement. Movements of the head, body, arms, hands, legs, feet and eyes are coordinated, and all movement originates in the dantian.
Water tai chi consists of exercises that incorporate many movements and concepts from land tai chi. The most challenging aspect of water tai chi – as with land tai chi – is mental, not physical. Once the mental techniques are mastered, it will help in daily life, in such areas as concentration and stress management.
There are many types of tai chi exercises that can be performed in water, including the tai chi forward ands backward walks (stretches and strengthens ankles; strengthens legs); tai chi opening (strengthens and stretches the entire body); circle water spray right (strengthens entire body and stretches sides of torso, ankles, buttocks ad hips); roll the ball (strengthens arms, wrists and shoulders); hands like clouds (also strengthens arms, wrists and shoulders); yin yang (strengthens shoulders, forearms and wrists); full moon (stretches and strengthens shoulders and arms) and tai chi closing (stretches and strengthens entire body).
All Pilates exercises have fundamental principles in common. The breaths are full, producing muscle control without tension. There are no jerky, isolated movements, and every movement requires strength and concentration, with continued lengthening of the muscle. Pilates focuses on the torso, since all movements start here and flow to the extremities. Strengthening and balancing the torso prepares the body for the rigors of daily life.
Water Pilates is designed specifically for an aquatic environment to combine the benefits of land pilates and exercising in water. It includes some synchronized swimming figures and unique exercises.
Water Pilates always begins with The Hundred breathing exercises to warm up the muscles and increase blood flow. Water pilates always ends with Rolling Down the Wall, which is used to cool down the muscles and cement positive postural and alignment changes that are made during practice. Pilates exercises include leg circles, ballet legs, tub turn, scissors, corkscrew, spinal twist, leg crossover, clam, mermaid/merman, leg kicks, single leg stretch and rolling down the wall.
No matter what form of exercise you choose, water can truly be a magical medium to help you become or remain fit at any age.
Created: 11/25/2008  - Jane Katz, PhD