It’s all a balancing act (chairs, chats, and facing our fears).

Limbering up with yoga

In a chair yoga class recently I was delighted when a person remarked about how regular practice was taking effect. They commented on how “It’s really helping with all that neck and shoulder stuff, it’s more free now”.  I knew exactly what the person meant.  It feels so good when yoga-inspired movement and breathwork begins to soothe stiffness and pain.  It is like being liberated from something heavy and we become mentally brighter when the body feels freed up.

At times I feel so stiff and creaky that I joke about needing some WD40.* Yoga is great for limbering up the joints, especially for those of us who live with fibromyalgia or arthritis. Chair yoga and standing forms can help anyone who has a fear of falling or balance issues too.

Photo by Cottonbro Studio.

Balance

Our balance often worsens with age, even in people with generally good health.  It can be affected by stiffness in the joints, which is why all forms of gentle movement are helpful.

Did you know that most commonly, our balance is affected by inner ear problems? [i]  It can help to get your ears checked by your GP.

If anyone on medication experiences balance loss, talking to their doctor might lead to a replacement drug that is more suitable.  In some cases, when no substitute is available, a lower dosage might be offered.  Always ask questions and check out your options.

Photo by Christina Morillo

Communication

In my own work as a non-medical professional, communication comes up time and time again as both an obstacle and a source of support. 

It is always better to talk about a struggle rather than keeping it all in.  You know this! At the same time, seeking a solution requires more than tea and sympathy. When it comes to any ongoing health issue, support from someone with clinical training makes sense.

Finding my voice

I had health issues for 10 years and lost my confidence. As a very young carer at a time when mental health and ‘caring for the carer’ were not common topics of conversation in Ireland, I adopted the mantra of “just get on with it” for two years. As well as being at home with my mother as she was dying, my young son needed all the attention and nourishment that I could offer. But when it came to me, I had no idea about how to mind myself. Eventually I became unwell and was forced to seek help. At times I felt fobbed off. Once I started asking more questions and changed doctors to one that had better communication skills and was willing to support my efforts at self-education, things got much better. 

Photo by Leeloo Thefirst

Health questions and healing

I took a long, slow route to healing with yoga and without medication. Was that the wisest choice? The answer to that question can never be known.

One thing I know for sure is that the principle is the same for all of us, no matter what the questions are about. Share your thoughts and ask the questions that matter to you. Silence and repressing your worries will only exacerbate illness. Everyone needs support on the quest for balance, so don’t hold back!

Improved balance and a calmer mindset

With practice yoga improves balance and impacts on our psychology too.  It reduces the fear of falling.  This is very helpful, because for some people, the panic is real. They may even avoid going out much as they get so anxious, and unfortunately social isolation and lack of movement just makes everything worse.

We are social creatures, so joining with others in a relaxed environment can boost confidence and a person’s perception of  independence.[i]  This  link between yoga, improved balance and how it impacts on the fear of falling is powerful, and the very first pilot study was conducted in 2010.[ii] This topic is especially relevant for adults over the age of 65.

Robust research

The studies that exist are often very small. For example in one trial, just 9 adults with Alzheimer’s Disease (average age 83) took part in an 8-week yoga programme.  Each person was tested before, during, and after the course. Researchers found that “Positive changes were seen across all physical measures”[iv] because of chair yoga.

While we wait for more research to emerge, there is plenty to go on. We know that yoga works. It offers us over 5000 years of indigenous wisdom to build on! It is a bonus that findings within clinical trial settings are promising.

To sum up

Movement is good for us. It limbers up the joints and can reduce pain and stiffness. Chair yoga is a great alternative to a standing class. To develop better balance, and to reduce our fears of falling, first we need to explore the root cause. Getting guidance from a qualified medic is advised, and scientific testing can be very helpful. Talking to someone about any health issues or concerns is crucial for wellbeing. Do not hold it all in.

Last but not least, if you need some inspiration then I encourage you to read about Jean Bailey’s chair yoga class (pictured above). Jean is 102! See the link below.

Thanks for reading. If you have anything to add, there is a comment box below. Till next time, take care.

-Kathryn.

*WD40 is a lubricant used for door hinges, machinery and all sorts.  It also protects metal from rust and corrosion.


References

To read about Jean Bailey’s chair yoga class click here.

Thanks to the members of Parkinson’s Ireland who shared their wisdom and insights lately to inspire some of this article.

[i]“Balance Problems and Disorders.” National Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[ii] Kim et al (2009), ‘The effects of 8-week balance training or weight training: For the elderly on fear of falling measures and social activity levels’. Qual Ageing.2009

[iii] Schmid (2010) ‘Effect of a 12-week yoga intervention on fear of falling and balance in older adults: A pilot study’. Arch Phys Med Rehabil

[iv]Mc Caffrey et al  (2014), ‘The Effect of Chair Yoga in Older Adults with Moderate and Severe Alzheimer’s Disease’, Research in Gerontological Nursing.


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