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Lizzie Hemmant and Sue Gilmore, SLK Aqua Yoga (©AAH/Alan Wright)

SLK Aqua Yoga hosts a wide range of classes at swimming pools across West and East Sussex. AAH visited an Aqua Yoga session hosted by founders Sue Gilmore and Lizzie Hemmant at West Grinstead Swimming Academy to find out more…

What is SLK Aqua Yoga?

SLK comes from the name of its founders Sue and Lizzie, as well as Kriya, a yoga discipline that incorporates different breathing, stretching and relaxation techniques. In a water environment with natural buoyancy, gravity and hydrostatic pressure, it can offer a gentle form of exercise for people of all ages. 

When was the business formed?

Sue and Lizzie met five years ago when they both attended an Aqua Natal course. Having trained as Aqua Yoga instructors too, they had each run courses independently before joining forces to form SLK Aqua Yoga. Lizzie said: ‘We spotted a new pool being built in West Grinstead, we thought it would be an ideal location and that inspired us to start a business. Our launch was delayed due to Covid, but we managed to host one-to-one sessions and gradually grew numbers as the rules were relaxed.’ 

What makes a pool ideal for yoga?

No hard floors, no impact and no risk of falling. Many of those attending have mobility or health issues, so free parking next to a pool is ideal. It is also important to use pools with a consistent depth (rather than shallow and deep ends) and where water is heated to a high temperature than most leisure centres. As well as holding 12 lunchtime classes in West Grinstead each week, SLK Aqua Yoga has expanded its team and now offers classes at four other pools in Storrington, Small Dole, Lewes and Seaford. Lizzie said: ‘Most large leisure pools have waters temperatures around 28° whereas we use pools heated to 31° or more. If the body gets cold, your muscles can’t relax and that impacts your flexibility, so the warmer water helps everyone feel more comfortable.’ 

Lizzie Hemmant leads a class (©AAH/AW)

Who attends the classes?

They attract people of all ages looking to improve their physical and mental health. Bryan Martin makes the short journey to West Grinstead from his Cowfold home while he continues to recover from an operation. He said: ‘I had a hip replacement and this kind of activity is perfect during the initial stages of rehabilitation. The Aqua Walking class is the first step, as they get you in the water in a stable environment, which is important as you feel vulnerable after an operation. I have built up my confidence and strength and have now progressed to Aqua Yoga. The instructors ensure you progress at the right pace without pushing too hard and adapt exercises to suit you. I’m usually the only man and have no idea why! It’s fun, great for body conditioning and I don’t get any of the injuries I’d pick up at the gym!’

What range of classes is offered?

Aqua Walk offers gentle walking and static exercises, designed for people with stability and mobility issues (particularly pre-operation and post-operation) as well as those with knees, hip, ankle and back pain or breathing difficulties. Aqua Yoga is suitable for most people and exercises are adapted where necessary for individual needs. Aqua Tone is particularly suited to post-natal and menopausal women as it focuses on core, abdominal and pelvic floor toning, while Aqua Yoga Fit is set to upbeat music. Aqua March is ideal for smaller and deeper pools, while Aqua Jog is based on the ‘Couch to 5K’ concept, offering short bursts of jogging on the spot initially, interspersed with simple yoga techniques and working up to a 35-minute jog. Sue said: ‘Our motto is “Aqua Yoga for every day and every one”, so we have classes to suit different people. We limit class numbers to eight, so we can provide one-to-one attention when needed. We’re all self-conscious about our bodies in one way or another, and we find many people prefer to be in smaller groups at privately-owned pools.’

There is also an Aqua Natal class?

These are suitable for pregnant women, from 14 weeks to full term. However, expectant mums can join any class that fits with their other commitments. Both Lizzie and Sue have trained with Birthlight, a UK-based charity that has pioneered teacher training courses in yoga to nurture the physical wellbeing of women and babies. Lizzie said: ‘For expectant mothers, it’s lovely to experience weightlessness in water, as pregnancy can be tiring. Gentle movements relieve pelvic and back pain too, as water’s buoyancy allows for up to 30% more body movement. There is a wonderful social side to our classes too and customers often meet for tea and cake at Camellia Botnar afterwards and lasting friendships develop.’

Bryan Martin attends Aqua Yoga every week (©AAH/AW)

Do health professionals refer patients to SLK Aqua Yoga?

Horsham Hospital Falls clinic recommends classes to people with stability or mobility issues. SLK has also developed relationships with midwives, osteopaths, physiotherapists and other specialists in both the public and private sector who recommend aqua yoga to patients and clients for a wide range of reasons. Lizzie said: ‘Those who have just had a knee or hip operation particularly benefit. They typically experience tightness in their muscles and joints after an operation and regular exercises can be challenging. People find they’re more comfortable in water during their early post-op rehabilitation. We start them gently with Aqua Walk, which is minimal impact, and guide them as they make gradual steps to recovery.’ 

Can it help with arthritis too?

Aqua Yoga can help with a wide range of conditions including arthritis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis and scoliosis, as well as breathing difficulties, perhaps relating to long-Covid or asthma. Others find it helps with stress and anxiety. Emma Campbell attends SLK Aqua Yoga and is now recovering from an operation. She said: ‘I was on an NHS waiting list for two years due to the pandemic, and have attended classes both pre-op and post-op. When I finally had my operation, I was determined to do everything I could to help my recovery. Doctors recommended that I walk every day as part of my physiotherapy, but the weather has been dreadful and footpaths are slippery and muddy. Aqua Yoga has been perfect for me. When you’re in water, you don’t think you’re doing much as it’s so relaxing, but my core muscles are strong for somebody who has recently undergone a major operation. The instructors build your strength slowly too as they understand your limitations. I really can’t speak highly enough of them!’ 

Further information:

For details about classes and pools, email slkaquayoga@gmail.com


Article first published in AAH (All About Horsham) Magazine on 1st April 2024.