Every aquatic exercise class has its stragglers. Some are usually timely people who encounter an unexpected delay. But many are habitually late, either due to a tight schedule or because they are most interested in the more active, challenging part of the class.
Why spend time warming up for exercising? Easing into movement gradually increases the blood flow to the muscles and gently challenges muscle flexibility without causing excessive strain. It primes the neural receptors in the muscles and joints to sense position in preparation for balance activities. It gives an opportunity to rehearse breathing and complex movements, optimizing benefits during faster paced portions of the class. And a warm up can be used to promote mindfulness~ focusing on the sensation of movement as an object of mindful awareness. When you move mindfully, you notice how you feel during the interplay of sensations from your muscles, joints, skin and mind. Your focus is on the quality of awareness and your experience of the movement rather than the quality of movement. Most importantly, however it turns out is how it was meant to be. Even with a mindful practice like Ai Chi, there is great benefit in preparation with breathing practice, reviewing difficult steps and extending an invitation to focus on the experience of the postures and movements in the moment. What a great groundwork for effective exercise! And when I teach an aquatic class, I find that arriving early for a personal warmup before class helps me to be better prepared and more present for my class participants.
I have also noticed that some class participants regularly exit the pool early to sit in the whirlpool while the class is cooling down. They’ve exercised to their limit and the warm swirling water looks so inviting… But the cool down portion of exercise is equally important. It prevents blood pooling in the legs, and gradually slowing down and stretching in the water will decrease the likelihood of a rapid blood pressure drop, lightheadedness, fainting or cardiac arrhythmias. A reverse order of the five “core” steps of Ai Chi (enfolding, enclosing, uplifting, floating and contemplating) can serve as a fun and relaxing cool down from Ai Chi practice. In a faster paced aerobic exercise class, ending with some stretching, a few repetitions of the full Ai Chi practice or Ai Chi in 3 sequence and mindful walking are good ways to cool down and leave participants feeling relaxed and peaceful. But heading straight to the whirlpool after vigorous exercise is inviting circulatory challenges.
The preparation for “something more” that occurs in warming up and the gradual return to functional mobility during cool down are important components that help make your aquatic exercise program the best that it can be.
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