I Tried It: Mid-Winter Pool Yoga at One of Philly’s Best Hotels

Hydroga at W Philadelphia is part flow, part pool party — and guaranteed to warm up your weekend.

Hydroga in the outdoor heated pool at W Philadelphia’s WET Deck takes place every Sunday morning through March 26th. / Photograph courtesy of The Lab

Working out in an outdoor pool in the middle of winter might not sound super appealing at first, but don’t knock it till you try it, as the saying goes.

This past Sunday, I experienced Hydroga — or, water yoga — hosted by W Philadelphia and local concierge personal training company The Lab in the year-round pool at the hotel’s WET Deck. The water — heated to a steamy 98 degrees Fahrenheit — helps to extend deeper into poses without added strain, while simultaneously calming the mind and increasing blood supply through the body, according to Dave Hem, the instructor leading the first class of the six-week series.

“Who’s ever really mad in a pool?” Hem asks as I and nine others shed the shelter of our plush robes and enter the pool. He’s right. Instantly, I’m met by comfort and warmth, and forget that it’s about 40 degrees this morning — not terrible for mid-February, but chilly enough that getting out from under my pile of blankets earlier was difficult.

We begin by taking a few opening breaths. I sink my shoulders into the water and perform the warm-up stretches, lifting my chest and gaze to take in the view of the cityscape. Then, as instructed, I close my eyes and extend my arms to float out beside me for guided breathwork.

“Open your eyes and see the ripples your bodies are making,” Hem says, and I watch how my movements affect the water, moving it in every direction.

“Now focus on your breath to limit the movements,” he encourages, and soon the water calms. Submerged up to our chins, we all take a deep breath and let it out over the surface of the water, “like you’re blowing out a candle, gently.” Each exhale produces small ripples that come together, making larger, more controlled patterns.

From there, we move into a series of modified cat-cow poses. I stretch my arms behind and open my chest before rounding forward to hug the water in front of me. I can feel my back muscles getting some extra TLC, thanks to the heated pool.

Slow movements and focused breathwork transition into the cardio burst portion of class. Moving to the music and making larger ripples now, I and my fellow yogis follow Hem’s lead, rolling our hips and raising the roof with dripping hands. We’re splashing around and sporting ear-to-ear smiles — it feels like the yoga retreat version of a spring break pool party.

Hydroga led by The Lab’s Dave Hem. / Photograph courtesy of The Lab

From there, Hem turns to warrior poses where we’re meant to let the water lift our legs with their natural buoyancy. Cold February air creates goosebumps over my skin as I lift my arms in and out of the water, but they felt less like a winter chill and more like glorious reminders of my strong movements.

After a short flow, we let the water still before closing with a focused meditation, our backs again supported by the pool’s wall. With each breath, I feel myself sink deeper into the water until my chin rests comfortably on the surface, giving me a quasi steam facial. Plus, with each breath I feel lighter overall, like the stresses of my world have rippled off my back — at least for today.

Together, we all raise our arms above our heads before bringing them to heart center, permanently marking the movement and mindfulness of the 45-minute class. “Gather your harvest and hold it around you like a bubble of protection,” Hem says.

And so, I do. I step out of the pool, sip on post-class hot chocolate, and eventually make my way back to “real life” knowing that the city feels just a little bit warmer, and I, all the more grounded.

Hydroga at W Philadelphia takes place every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. until March 26th. You can buy tickets ($45) for any class here.