Feature Article - January 2007
Find a printable version here

Beyond the Lap Lane

Get more people in the pool with fresh aquatic programming for adults

By Stacy St. Clair


She decided she needed to offer this same exercise opportunity to others. In addition to helping sufferers of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, she knew the class would attract people who were overweight, arthritic or just too scared to try land yoga.

The water made it safer—and less painful—for hesitant patrons to try something new. Bialek knew the sense of peace the poses gave her, and she wanted to share it with others.

"It was enlightening to me," she said. "I knew this is what I was supposed to do with people."

Bialek has become so passionate about the benefits of aquatic exercise, she launched Yoga Afloat in 1993. The business, which offers seminars and videos, also certifies instructors across North America.

Bialek has certified more than 80 instructors in Canada and the United States. When she speaks with aquatic facilities looking to add water yoga, she tells them land yoga instructors aren't always the best people to handle the pool-based classes.

Aqua instructors face an entirely different set of obstacles and objectives. A water aerobics teacher often is more likely to understand the resistance created by water and how different patrons respond to it.

"Having previous yoga experience is great," Bialek said. "But if you're a yoga enthusiast or are a true yogi, you may not like it. There are a lot more challenges because you have that extra property of water movement."

Many movements easily translate to the water, especially the standing poses, or asanas, like the tree, dancer and eagle. Bialek adapted the traditional sun and moon salute, as well as modified some moves so they can be achieved by floating or using the pool wall.

Bialek ends classes with a savasana, a pose intended to ward off fatigue and bring mental repose. She has students lie on their backs with a noodle behind their necks and under their thighs. She encourages them to concentrate on their breathing and release any tension as they enjoy the final moments of class.

"It's very relaxing," she said. "It's a very peaceful way to end."

Bialek encourages facilities to hold these classes in heated pools in order to keep muscles warm and participants comfortable. She never lets the water temperature drop below 83 degrees.

She also likes to set a limit of 20 patrons per class. Any higher, she said, and it's difficult to provide personalized instruction. High participation also means there will be more water movement, making it harder for some to perform the moves.

"You want to make (your patrons) as comfortable as possible," Bialek said.

The classes primarily attract two groups: the arthritic and the overweight. The classes also lure die-hard yogis who are looking for a metaphysical experience.

"It attracts the yoga enthusiasts who are looking to enjoy the mind-body experience," she said. "The classes appeal to all types."

Bialek acknowledges that water yoga isn't the fitness industry's most strenuous workout. It doesn't burn fat or boost cardio levels like other aerobic programs do. Its success rests in its ability to get otherwise exercise-averse groups moving.

"A little exercise goes a long way for people who aren't getting any physical activity," she said. "They can feel their energy levels increase when they're in the water. That's an exhilarating feeling."