Mind-body Balance Training for Special Populations

Individuals who are balance challenged, such as those with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, require a  method of balance training that usually includes keeping two feet on the floor. Fusing Western, Eastern and somatic concepts, this well-rounded practice combines ancient postures with traditional exercise to meet the balance needs of individuals with special needs, from the feet to the brain.

Many personal training and group exercise sessions incorporate balance exercises into the routine. Balance training is used to increase the efficiency of single-leg pattern movements such as gait or standing on one foot. When the word “balance” comes to mind, trainers and instructors often think of unstable-surface equipments . Although these tools are highly effective, especially with active adults, special populations require a different method of balance training—a process that usually includes keeping two feet on the floor. Balance exercises, like any other exercise, must be progressed before incorporating highly unstable surfaces. In addition, balance training is more than a physical practice of balancing on one leg. It challenges the vestibular system, proprioception and brain; thus, the mind and body work as one unit.

What follows is a “wholistic” balance-training guide that fuses Western, Eastern and somatic concepts. This well-rounded practice combines ancient postures with traditional exercise to meet the balance needs of individuals with special needs, from the feet to the brain.

Who Can Benefit From Balance Training?
The term “special populations” is defined differently in various contexts. In terms of exercise, special populations typically refers to individuals who require special attention or care to address their condition, needs or ability. Generally, there are program alterations that differ for special populations compared to the average healthy adult or athlete. The balance exercises presented here are beneficial for everybody, but were specifically designed for individuals who have a movement disability or neurological disorder. Diseases and ailments result in physical, mental and emotional alterations. As a result, bodies experience motor weakness, sensory changes, visual disturbances, fatigue and sensitivity to heat or paralysis. From seniors and stroke survivors to individuals with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, a wide range of special populations can benefit from mind-body balance training.
Key Components to Balance Training for Special Populations
The five following components can be used to help people comprehend their training programs and progress. These components maybe used individually or together to further progress and regress balance exercises. This ensures that exercises are safe, achievable and enjoyable.

Awareness unites the brain and body connection and enhances focus and concentration. While being aware, people are present in the moment and able to recognize breath patterns. Awareness is crucial to execute balance effectively, as stressed and fluttering minds distract from the task at hand. During awareness building, you can educate your clients on the foot’s triad, which are the points on the foot that form a triangle. This includes one point on the heel and two points on the medial and lateral ball of the foot.
Visual affect either assists or challenges balance, based on the visibility or focal point. Closing the eyes stimulates sensory receptors and proprioception. Partial or fully closed eyes help train the body for real-life situations such as fogged glasses, darkened room or visual impairments resulting from a stroke.

Balance challenge variables include:
Partially closing the eyes (see eyelids)
Closing one eye
Closing both eyes
Looking at a focal point
Visual fixation on stationary target with head moving
Visual fixation on moving target with head stationary
Eye gaze moving with the head

External stimulus incorporates either equipment or perturbation into the exercise, and either challenges balance or promotes concentration and assistance. A Pilates ball, strap or trainer’s touch may promote alignment or balance assistance. External stimulus combined with movement incorporates sensory stimulation with cognitive object concentration.
Contact point refers to anything that promotes balance while assisting the body or alignment. A chair, wall, body bar or a trainer’s shoulder can assist a client’s balance. Reducing contact points, such as lifting one foot off the floor or releasing one or both hands off the hips, challenges balance. Individuals with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease often have days that are better than others in terms of movement and balance. Therefore, some may require adding a contact point such a wall or ballet bar to hold onto while reducing the contact points of the foot.
Movement includes any small or large range of motion of one or more body parts. During balance training, the person may move his or her head, upper body or whole body. As a general rule of thumb, the more body parts that move, the more challenging the exercise becomes. In turn, movement can be used to progress from static to dynamic poses.

Researched By : Kátia C. Rowlands – Pilates Instructor & Personal Trainer – 082 513 4256 •

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