About a dozen members of a warm water yoga workshop stand upright in a therapy pool and perform water yoga poses as they follow directions from Gay Tyra, a certified yoga instructor and also aquatic group fitness instructor for East Texas Medical Center’s Olympic Center.
“We are the only facility in Tyler that I’m aware of that offers a water yoga class,” Tyra said. The water is very warm, about 92 degrees.
The Olympic Center began periodically offering water yoga workshops two years ago. Each session lasts four weeks and consists of a 50-minute class twice a week.
“One reason we decided to do water yoga is there are a lot of people who cannot do land-based exercises because of arthritis and different disabilities,” Tyra said.
However, she quickly added that everyone could participate in water yoga, even nonswimmers. “It is for all populations, whether you are healthy, pregnant, have joint problems or back problems,” Tyra said. “This class is for the person who has never taken yoga or for a person who has been taking yoga. When people try it for the first time, people love it.”
Because of the buoyancy and other properties of the water, people have more flexibility and more range of motion in the water, engage their core and use their muscles for good stability, finding that water yoga exercises are easier on their joints in the water, Tyra said.
“You take the yoga poses from land and you do them in the water with different variations. The poses are very challenging,” Tyra said. The different movements are very slow, held from 30 to 60 seconds each while concentrating on breathing, she added.
It is very important for participants to concentrate correctly on deep breathing through the nose, filling their belly with air and exhaling slowly while performing yoga postures, Tyra said.
The instructor said, “My water yoga class is combined with a little bit of water fitness. We do some traditional water warmups.”
She continued, “It’s taking yoga poses, putting them in the water, and mixing them with some slower water fitness movements. Water yoga is combining traditional yoga movements and poses with the medium of water to get the maximum health benefits.”
Peter Kohler, of Arp, and his wife Susan have come to the water yoga classes since the Olympic Center started them.
“Water yoga helps with your flexibility and your balance. It’s a lot easier in the pool because you have the water to hold you up,” Susan Kohler said. “I enjoy the relaxation. You are moving slow. It’s a comforting feeling in the warm water. Most of the poses are basic poses. I learned in land yoga. You adapt it to the pool.”
Peter Kohler does not go in for land yoga. However, he has found that water yoga helps with stretching, focus and balance, that it is low impact on the joints and also helps with arthritis and loosening up the joints.
“I feel I’m in better shape than a lot of people in their 30s and 40s,” Kohler, 66, said.
Marty Vess, of Quitman, who is taking the water yoga workshop for the second time, said, “I have better range of motion in the water, so I feel like I’m putting my muscles through more stretching in the water. Because your body weight is lighter (in the water) you do more stretching.”
She added, “It’s a good activity for the end of the day because you can let all your cares float away, so I’m in a much better mood when I get home. When we have gone through all of the poses, we can relax with our eyes closed and float for five minutes. That is the best therapy for me. I sleep very well at night.”
There are multitudes of benefits of water yoga, according to the instructor.
“It’s good for your cardiovascular system,” Tyra said. “It’s good for muscular endurance. It’s good for osteoporosis and arthritis.
“It’s good to relieve stress and depression. It’s good for weight loss. It’s good for toning. It’s great for people fighting diabetes and fibromyalgia. Another thing it helps with is our balance. It helps your whole well-being.”
She often comes across people who do not want to be in a bathing suit, but she suggests they put on shorts and a T-shirt and try it.
“If you’ve never tried it,” Tyra said. “I highly recommend it.”