An interview with Charlotte Kahn from Maida Yoga on Teaching Yoga for Parkinson’s on August 3, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Around the same time that I became a yoga teacher, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). By teaching my father yoga using the support of a chair, I discovered first-hand how yoga could help my father’s PD symptoms. Since then, I trained as a yoga therapist, and now I have been teaching yoga for groups and individuals with the condition for over 6 years. In partnership with the charity Parkinson’s Care and Support UK (PCSUK), I run weekly specialist yoga sessions online. In addition, I run an annual teacher training “Teaching Yoga for Parkinson’s” for yoga teachers and carers. My mission is to share yoga to help improve the lives of people with PD.
Please tell me a little about your background and what got you involved with awareness.
It was around the same time that I became a yoga teacher, that my father was diagnosed with PD. At that time, I didn’t have specific training in making yoga accessible, but I could see that yoga focused on the exact areas where my father’s Parkinson’s symptoms were impacting him. Through stretching, balancing, joint mobilizing, and strengthening he stayed active and relatively mobile. Breathing exercises and relaxation helped alleviate his anxiety, and in deep relaxation almost like magic his tremors subsided. Practicing yoga also gave my father a sense of achievement, which helped to boost his confidence. I saw first-hand how Parkinson’s could impact someone’s life, but also discovered how yoga can help to make a huge positive difference.
Can you tell me more about your advocacy?
Craving for a better understanding, I trained for two years with Real Yoga to become a yoga therapist. I began running weekly group yoga classes for people with Parkinson’s for the charity Parkinson’s Care and Support UK (PCSUK). I was immediately drawn to this charity as it is the only one in the UK which focuses on non-pharmaceutical approaches and complementary therapies to improve life with Parkinson’s. The charity offers a whole range of online exercises classes including yoga, Tai Chi, and aerobics. People with PD are welcome to join my weekly yoga class on Tuesdays at 4pm via Zoom through the charity’s website.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
Teaching yoga for Parkinson’s is a subject very close to my heart. Seeing how Parkinson’s impacted my father’s life shaped my path as yoga teacher and I am dedicated to sharing how the tools of yoga can help improve the lives of other people with PD.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s awareness have when working with you?
I am not a doctor or medical professional; my experience comes from working with people. In my weekly yoga class for people with Parkinson’s, I teach mindful gentle movement which can be practiced standing or seated in a chair. In Parkinson’s, there is a tendency for posture to become increasingly flexed, with the head held forwards. We work on posture and exercises that target each area of the body to keep joints flexible, improving strength. We also work on balance training to prevent falls.
I have created a 3-hour workshop “Teaching Yoga for Parkinson’s” which I run for yoga teachers and carers. This workshop explores the benefits of yoga for people with PD and how it can be used to alleviate anxiety to help promote a feeling of wellbeing. The workshop also includes an experiential yoga practice tailored for people with PD. The next training will run online on Tues 3rd Oct – please note carers will receive a discount code on request, please email me for a discount code.
What effect can your advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s awareness?
Relaxation and visualization practices are where my students say they feel the most profound impact. In relaxation, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which I believe is the most healing part of yoga. After relaxation, participants are less anxious, visibly calmer, with some reporting that its they feel their tremors are less noticeable.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your advocacy?
Many people with Parkinson’s avoid yoga classes because they worry that they can’t do the postures, or their tremors may be noticeable, or they may “freeze”. My goal is to teach inclusive yoga that is accessible to everyone. People with Parkinson’s will feel the positive benefits of yoga – and an all-important sense of belonging.
How does this also assist the caregivers?
I run an online 3-hour workshop “Teaching Yoga for Parkinson’s” which I run for yoga teachers and carers. The next training will run online on Tues 3rd Oct – please note carers will receive a discount code on request, please email me for a discount code.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
If you think that yoga is not for you, I urge you to give yoga a try. I have designed yoga classes that are accessible to everyone, beneficial for Parkinson’s symptoms, and hopefully a bit of fun too!