What is Deep Water Yoga

Deep water yoga is just what the title implies. Yoga practices in the deep end of a swimming pool. You can combine all the elements of yoga – poses, breathwork, meditation, all 8 limbs – that you would in the shallow end of the pool, in the deep end.

What equipment do I need for Deep Water Yoga?

The main thing you need is a deep water flotation belt. A good deep water flotation belt will hold you neutrally buoyant in the water. That means your head will be above water without you having to scull or exert any effort to support yourself. With your head out of the water, make sure your legs extend straight down. Sometimes in the water, we keep our hips in flexion, meaning bent, and don’t take advantage of the opportunity for hip extension working in the water provides.

Your belt should ride just above your hips, below your natural waist. You want it tight. It will want to ride up as you work in the water. I find the styles that have segments, rather than one wide piece of foam, fit and stay in place better. This is the deep water belt I use.

In addition to a deep water belt, you might want pool noodles or a kickboard for some of the postures.

Deep Water Yoga for Pain Relief

If you live with chronic back pain, sometimes the best thing you can do is take the load off literally.  When you’re in the deep end of the pool with a belt on, you’re neutrally buoyant. Your legs are acting as weights, giving you spinal traction and length. 

I live with 5 herniated disks and have lost an inch and a half of height.  So, I have a lot of skin in the game to develop this concept of deep water yoga. I’m looking to combine the best of yoga with a no-impact environment for a pain-free experience.

As an aqua yoga teacher, I know the benefits of aqua yoga for back pain. Transitioning into teaching deep water aerobics has made me appreciate the commonalities and partnership opportunities between the disciplines of yoga and deep water aerobics. That synergy with my health history has inspired me to create a deep water yoga practice.

Deep Water Yoga vs Deep Water Aerobics

What’s the difference between deep water aerobics and aqua yoga?  As someone who teaches both, I have a clear perspective on the differences between the two disciplines.  From my perspective, deep water aerobics is an exercise program in the deep of the pool that gives you a cardio workout with zero impact.  Because I can’t help but be a yoga teacher, MY deep water aerobics classes give you that cardio and challenge your body awareness, torso control, and brain/body connection.  But my deep water aerobics classes are clearly not yoga.  We never chant, meditate, do breathwork, talk about philosophy, nor does the pace doesn’t encourage mindfulness.  There are very few yoga poses (I can’t help but throw a few in the cool down sometimes).  I can’t claim my deep water aerobics are a yoga class and no one who takes it calls it yoga, because it doesn’t have the other elements that make movement yoga – personalization, meditation, breathwork, or tradition.

If you’re an aquatics professional and looking for more information on how to add aqua yoga to deep water aerobics programming, read the article I wrote on Adding Yoga to Deep Water Aerobics.

Three photos of a woman doing deep water aqua yoga.  On the left a Tree pose.  In the middle a floating Mountain pose and on the right a leg lift suspended on the pool wall.

If you’re not touching the ground is it still yoga?

My definition of yoga is mindful movement in sync with your breath informed by yoga philosophy.  In the most inclusive spin on yoga, yoga can be done in a chair, in a bed, and in a pool yes.  If you’re getting wet for your practice anyway, why does any of this have to be in the shallow end?

Another yoga option for spinal traction in yoga is aerial yoga.  When you hang upside down, you lengthen and traction your spine.  It feels great however, it only lasts for a couple of minutes.  Aerial yoga also presents the barriers of needing a sling, somewhere to hang it, and the ability, health, and comfort level of going upside down. There is some controversy among some in the yoga world if aerial yoga is “true” yoga for the same reason. Like deep water yoga, if it works for you that’s the most important thing. Are you applying the tools of yoga in a way that forwards your practice?

Dynamic stretching vs. static stretching

One element of deep water yoga to consider is the idea of dynamic stretching vs. static stretching. Traditional land yoga uses a lot of static stretching. You’re in one posture, you take the posture to your personal edge of comfort for that stretch, and hold it there for a specified period of time. Sun Salutations are an example of more dynamic stretching within the traditional body of yoga. You stretch to your personal length, holding it only briefly, and then repeat the action multiple times.

Doing yoga in the water at any depth encourages you to make your stretches dynamic. You don’t want to get cold so adding in additional movements helps keep you warm. The properties of water, such as resistance, are most effective with dynamic stretching, so you are making the best use of your tools with that technique. You are likely to experience that place of your edge shifting as you repeat a stretch. So dynamic stretching fits well with the philosophical aspects of yoga, which encourages you to work with discipline within your physical limits.

Creativity in your practice

Another benefit of yoga in the deep end is the benefits of a novel activity. If you only do the same mat practice over and over, you’re going to overdevelop certain sets of muscles and wear out certain connective tissues. Taking your practice into a totally new environment helps you mix it up physically. So you’re doing yoga cross-training.

We get into the same ruts in our emotional and energetic aspects of our practice. Yoga calls these ruts samskaras. Applying the Yamas and Niyamas to our practice, we’re practicing with self-knowledge, kindness and discipline. Those principles help us know when we need to mix things up and in what way.

Practice resources so you can do deep water yoga

Deep Water Yoga Sun Salutations

Here’s an example of doing sun salutations in the deep end of the pool with two pool noodles. You can see the shape of the postures (Mountain, Plank, Warrior II & Warrior III) is very similar to on land. The differences come from what muscles you use to achieve these shapes, and how it feels in your body to do this in a different environment.

​If you like this Deep Water Aqua Yoga video, check out the Water Yoga Pose Tutorials

woman in the pool doing water yoga. She's doing Warrior II pose to show one of the poses in the water pose tutorial database.

Purpose of the Pose

I’m a big advocate of practicing yoga with intention. When you do a yoga pose what’s the point for you? If you’re doing a physical practice with the intention of certain physical actions happening – moving your practice to the deep end just means you need to make sure those same physical actions happen.

If you’re looking for a meditative or spiritual component to your practice the same thing applies. What is your goal in your practice? If you move your practice to the deep end, how can you best meet your goal?

Deep water yoga is that simple. Set an intention for yourself to try it!

woman in the pool doing side plank pose because she's showing the best resource for water yoga

If you want more information about all aspects of water yoga, read my article The Best Water Yoga Resource.

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Items purchased through these links cost you the same amount.  I will get a tiny commission that I use to support my yoga habit.  Thanks for your consideration.


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