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Chair Yoga for Ataxia

Guest Author: Ellie Martin

Many people practice yoga for its long-lasting effects on the body. For people with limited mobility, it may be trickier to practice traditional yoga. Fortunately, chair yoga is a great option that provides the same benefits as traditional yoga. Chair yoga is accessible to anyone, even those with health conditions or mobility challenges.

Chair yoga has been around for a while. In 1982, yoga instructor Lakshmi Voelker-Binder came up with an idea to make a more accessible experience for a student who had arthritis. Now, chair yoga is practiced around the world. Chair yoga has many benefits for health and wellbeing including improving strength, flexibility, balance, boosting your mood, helping manage symptoms, and reducing pain.

NAF's Chair Yoga Program

NAF, in partnership with Sacred Mountain Yoga, provides a chair yoga program designed for people with Ataxia. It is offered for free and presented virtually. The instructor of the program, Natalie Marnica, teaches us this new, accessible way to do yoga. Her yoga program is a mix between seated and standing poses, and she explains modifications for those who are unable to stand. I sat down with Natalie for a Q&A to learn more. Here are some helpful yoga tips based on that interview.

What types of videos/exercises are helpful for balance?

Yoga helps the mind and body communicate with each other to become stronger, which can improve balance. In Natalie’s videos, she demonstrates balance-specific exercises that can be done while sitting or standing. You can check out some examples in one of her past sessions, available below. She provides helpful exercises while sitting, then she provides an option for standing. 

How often should someone practice chair yoga?

For anyone with Ataxia, Natalie recommends practicing chair yoga for 20-30 minutes per day. She says this lowers the stress levels in our body and makes it a more relaxing experience. It’s also a fun way of doing helpful exercises at home.

What are the goals of chair yoga?

  1. Reduce Stress
    When we are feeling very stressed, our bodies tend to react too, which can cause even more stress. Stress can be a big part of any type of condition. Practicing chair yoga helps us focus on one thing at a time. Completing this simple exercise daily can help lower stress levels and relax our bodies. Regular yoga might cause anxiety for a person with mobility issues because they worry about the ability to perform some poses. Chair yoga removes that barrier and provides a safer alternative that offers an easier experience. 
  2. Feel Better
    Natalie works on a lot of head, neck, and shoulder exercises to help with back pain and improve posture. These types of exercises are very important to someone who is using a walking device because it opens up the back muscles. Natalie also said that chair yoga improves upper and lower body function. Along with physical benefits, chair yoga helps us feel better mentally as well. It can help lessen feelings of anxiety and boost mood.
  3. Accessibility
    Chair yoga is designed to be accessible to everyone, especially people with mobility issues. You do not need to have perfect balance or the ability to get up and down from the floor because you use the chair for support, which makes it ideal for people with Ataxia. There is no experience that is needed to participate. Chair yoga provides a safe and supportive environment for anyone. 

Chair yoga is becoming more widely used in health clubs, fitness studios, and therapy programs because of its many benefits and accessibility. The sessions by Natalie are a great resource on our journey with Ataxia. Find a full list of previous sessions at ataxia.org/webinars.

Disclaimer: Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, exercise, treatment, or nutritional supplement.

 
References

“What Is Chair Yoga? What Are Its Benefits?” GoodRx, GoodRx, www.goodrx.com/well-being/movement-exercise/chair-yoga. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

“Webinars.” National Ataxia Foundation, 20 Feb. 2024, www.ataxia.org/webinars/.

“About.” Sacred Mountain Yoga, www.smyoga.ca/about.html. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

 

About the Author

My name is Ellie Martin and I have a rare form of Cerebellar Ataxia. I recently graduated from college where I studied rehabilitation services. I wrote this article as a part of a series of blogs to share information I learned along with some personal experiences on the subject. 

Read My Past Articles:

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