Yoga and Swimming

Yoga and Swimming
It’s hard to find a combination of exercises that work as well together as swimming and yoga. Swimming provides the cardiovascular benefits that yogi/nis need, while yoga’s weight-bearing poses are great for maintaining bone density. Both disciplines focus on breathing techniques, and both are intensely challenging mentally; this means that athletes drawn to one discipline will no doubt enjoy the other as well. In addition, neither requires one to wear shoes!

Unlike running, swimming is a whole body exercise, and it is therefore possible for a swimmer to have tight muscles on either the upper or lower part of the body. This makes any of the Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskar, an ideal complement to lap swimming. As almost every muscle in the body is worked during Sun Salutations, it’s possible to use the vinyasa as a warm-up before entering the pool, or also as a cool-down. Don’t want to touch the deck with bare skin? Try a half Sun Salutation before removing pool shoes; you can add shoulder stretches to make up for not engaging in Plank or Cobra.

The open-hip Standing Poses, particularly Trikonasana and Utthita Parsvakonasana, or Triangle and Extended Side Stretch, will help to open the muscles on the side of the body. This will translate into greater ease in breathing while in the water, as well as greater flexibility when swimming freestyle. In addition, holding Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior II, will also open tight shoulders.

Think about it – unless one is proficient at the backstroke, most swimmers spend a great deal of time working the front of their bodies. Couple this with work time on a computer, and muscle imbalances can spell problems for the lower back. Warm-ups such as Bitilasana- Marjaryasana, or Cat-Cow, will help address the issue. Belly backbends can also be helpful in strengthening the muscles of the upper and lower back without building bulk, as well as stretching out tight shoulders; beyond the Cobra inherent in Sun Salutations, consider adding asanas such as Setu Bandha Sarvangasana and Dhanurasana, or Bridge and Bow respectively.

Of course, the easiest way to indulge in both disciplines is to find a way to combine lap swimming with yoga classes. Most gyms with pools will offer both. Those who belong to aquatic centers or attend yoga studios will need to work a bit harder to make the combination of disciplines possible, but where there is a will there is a way. Swimmers who frequent pools without added gym facilities might consider asking the management to hire a yoga teacher; this would have the added advantage of classes that are set up specifically to balance the demands of the pool. Another idea is to find a yoga class at a local community center. On the other side, yogi/nis who practice in a studio can utilize the same strategy, searching for community pools that offer dedicated lap swimming time.

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