A Master Class in Balance

Pool-based yoga boards

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Kathy Zuk (at front) and Natalie Stawsky demonstrate yoga poses at Rogue Aquatics in Central Point. All photography by Dustin Peters.

The benefits of practicing yoga are well documented: building strength, developing flexibility and improving one’s balance, both physically and mentally. In its many forms, yoga offers an effective training regimen when practiced by itself, or as a supplement to other physical pursuits.

Now, a new form of yoga is making a splash – literally – by having participants practice the ancient art on yoga boards. These platforms look and feel like wide standup paddle boards, and for good reason: they’re floating in a swimming pool. The effort and concentration required to avoid falling off a yoga board bring an entirely new level of challenge to this yoga workout.

And people do fall off their boards—a lot. Since Rogue Aquatics in Central Point brought pool-based yoga boards to the Rogue Valley only six months ago, most participants and instructors alike are beginners.

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“I should probably have gills after all these years working in the water,” says Kathy Zuk, owner of Rogue Aquatics, who has been teaching yoga and aquatic exercises for more than 40 years.

“There was a steep learning curve about how to get on the yoga board and stay on.” Zuk says that while falling off the yoga boards is inevitable, it’s also a big part of the fun.

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Natalie Stawsky, a yoga trainer at Rogue Aquatics, says that simply standing on a yoga board requires the core muscles to work constantly to maintain balance, and that’s what makes the workout so effective. “You try to do the usual yoga poses and movements that you would do in a regular yoga class,” she says, “But you are on a moving surface and can easily fall in the water.”

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Zuk likened yoga on boards to balancing on a Bosu ball – the inflatable dome-shaped training ball seen in gyms everywhere – but easier. “It’s all about core strength and balance,” she says. “It incorporates cardio and yoga movement poses and stretches all at the same time that it requires balance.”yoga board requires the core muscles to work constantly to maintain balance, and that’s what makes the workout so effective. “You try to do the usual yoga poses and movements that you would do in a regular yoga class,” she says, “But you are on a moving surface and can easily fall in the water.”

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Rogue Aquatics offers yoga board classes twice a week. Zuk limits the classes to eight participants to allow plenty of space around each board. Each 45-minute class begins with warmups in the shallow end of the pool before mounting the boards. Once on the boards, the poses are the same as those in a typical yoga class. Each class ends with savasana, a meditative relaxation, which Zuk says the movement of the water enhances.

Response to the classes at Rogue Aquatics has been very positive, Zuk says, and people who normally participate in other types of workouts find it highly challenging. “Everybody loves it,” she says. “It’s fun and you’re laughing the whole time. The participants say, ‘it’s an insane workout.’ Just imagine balancing on a board for a half-hour with your core engaged the entire time. You feel it [in class], and then you feel it more tomorrow.”

Stawsky says that participants need a certain level of fitness to get the most out of the class, and it may not be accessible to everyone. “To exercise on water boards, you first need to be able to pull yourself up and get on and off the board safely, so it requires a lot of strength in your arms and shoulders.”

However, you don’t need to be a swimmer or a yoga expert, Zuk says. “Our only concern is if people have shoulder injuries. We would want to know of any rotator cuff injuries before starting, but even non-swimmers can be in the shallow end and you don’t have to have a great yoga background.”

Skills practiced on the yoga board can transfer to stand-up paddle boarding, Zuk adds. In fact, before yoga boards came along, some people had been taking SUPs into pools for year-round practice.

Zuk decided to learn this new fitness skill and offer it to others because she’s personally seen the benefit of water exercise. Yet she feels that there is a misperception around it that younger and fitter people can’t get an adequate workout in the water. “I’ve been doing water activities for years, and it’s probably what enables me to continue skiing, hiking and running,” she says. “And it’s probably why I haven’t needed a knee replacement.”

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More to Explore

How to make yoga more accessible: Just add water

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If board-based floating yoga sounds a little too ambitious for you, consider a water yoga class. Doing yoga in warm water makes it easier for anyone to experience the strength-, flexibility- and balance-improving benefits of yoga–even non-swimmers.

For example, in the one-hour water yoga workouts at Rogue Aquatics, many of the poses are the same as those done more commonly in ashtanga vinyasa yoga classes. But the buoyancy and fluidity of water enable participants to extend their range of motion and hold poses longer. A variety of floatation toys, including pool noodles – those long foam tubes – and kickboards, aid participants to help further improve balance and muscle strength.

Because it’s low-impact and easily tailored to any fitness level, anyone can benefit from water exercise, regardless of age or ability. For those seeking relief from pain and arthritis, or who are overweight or elderly, weight-bearing exercise can be difficult. Exercising in water is an excellent alternative.

“Water is so forgiving,” says Kathy Zuk, owner of Rogue Aquatics. “Yet the resistance allows you to get your heart rate up and keep it up at a training level for 40 minutes.”

Suitable swimsuits

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For those who are feeling self-conscious about doing yoga poses in skimpy swimwear, Zuk and Stawsky have ordered new swimsuits designed to be more modest and comfortable. Think men’s swim jammers, but for women.

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