Trekkspill chair yoga for dark winter days

Make a Difference Movement Mondays program for dementia patients in Norway

Route 8 Flow

Photo: Karina Jacobsen
Residents in the dementia wing at Listaheimen in Vanse, Norway, tried chair yoga during the first Make a Difference Movement Monday event in December 2019, led by Mona Olsen, who was inspired to think about how to engage and prepare for movement in the dark Norway winter months and continue to thrive.

Mona Anita K. Olsen, Ph.D.
University of Stavanger

The Nordic Health 2030 publication was published this fall (, noting many interesting ideas about the future of health across the Nordics. A great read to spark conversation, this report covers concepts from the five shared values across the Nordics including trust; creativity and innovation; openness; cultivation, and responsibility to the relationship between hyper-exhaustion and future mental health pandemic concerns. It also discussed the idea of resilience, a key element of living in Norway in general, but especially during the dark, long winter months.

While not my first winter season in Norway, I was aware of the potential impact that my attitude on the dark season could have on my experience. This health publication inspired me to think about how to engage and prepare for movement in the winter months to be able to continue to thrive.

As part of the efforts to keep moving and find light in the dark season, I started a yoga experience in Farsund, Norway, called Route 8 Flow (, aimed at providing active learning, community building, and reflection experiences for attendees from flow to flowers. Taking many lessons from my experiences working with and teaching entrepreneurial service experiences to students, I wanted to find a way to connect a yoga experience in the community that would not only make a difference but also be culturally encompassing.

A few business model canvas designs drawn at The Longhouse at Lista later, I made a commitment to creative initiatives for Make a Difference Mondays. They would be a way to give back to the community and engage a different demographic than I would experience in a typical Route 8 Flow class.

After reaching out to some students from Route 8 Flow and some friends, I eventually got connected to Ingrid Gabrielsen at Listaheimen ( It is a health facility in Vanse, Norway, that serves dementia patients. Ingrid met with me to explain more about the current programming. She set up a time for me to meet with her team to share my ideas and learn about their needs and processing. Karina Jacobsen and Borglin Helvig brainstormed ideas on how to make a difference at Listaheimen.

I learned that working with the dementia patients would be the best area for Make a Difference Mondays. They said the patients loved accordion music. I also was prepped on the considerations of working with dementia patients—especially if we incorporated flowers into any of the activities. Karina and Borglin wanted to launch an activity that would physically engage the dementia patients within the building. We opted to launch a demo event in conjunction with encouraging the Christmas spirit: Make a Difference Mondays would now be Make a Difference Movement Mondays.

On a Monday in early December, we launched American Christmas Chair Yoga at Listaheimen. I brought in extra Christmas lights, red and green spotlights, and a speaker set with some American Christmas favorites, from Radio City to Frank Sinatra. A 30-minute playlist was created, and a subsequent 30-minute chair yoga routine designed. We set up the armless chairs in a large circle, provided each chair with a styrofoam noodle, and aimed to make the room koselig.

Route 8 Flow

Photo: Karina Jacobsen 
Residents in the dementia wing at Listaheimen in Vanse, Norway, try chair yoga for the first time as part of Route 8 Flow’s Make a Difference Movement Monday event, led by Mona Anita K. Olsen.

The ambiance was a hit, and we had a full room of participants come and engage. For the 30-minute session, participants worked on their breathing, gentle individual postures, and socializing partner postures. The flow was set to the music and created an opportunity for all participants to enjoy, even if some of the postures were outside their experience or comfort levels. At the end of the session, each participant was sent off with Christmas cheer. There was a noticeable energy difference in the room after the session. American Christmas Chair Yoga ended up being a success.

The future of this initiative is Trekkspill (Accordion) Chair Yoga, inspired by my grandmother, Anny Christiansen from Borhaug, who danced around the house to accordion music as she cleaned. I noticed how happy the music made her even in her final years. I still have her tapes and putting the cassette tapes on in her home from 1931 that I now live in, brings me joy.

Sharing that joy with dementia patients who also enjoy the nature of the music will also be a gift. In 2020, the Route 8 Flow team will volunteer to run the Trekkspill Chair Yoga program at Listaheimen. Taking place twice per month, the hope is to continue to encourage the connection of breath and movement in the dementia patients who attend and also to leverage music strategically.

Research suggests that musical memories are often preserved in brains with Alzheimer’s disease (for example) because core brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease. Further, trekkspill music is familiar to the demographic at Listaheimen, making the introduction of a new physical activity easier to embrace, making yoga feel more included in the Norwegian landscape.

This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

Mona Anita K. Olsen

Mona Anita K. Olsen

Mona Anita K. Olsen, Ph.D. is a British-American entrepreneurial academic based in Norway. She holds an academic appointment as an associate professor at the University of Southeastern Norway. As a Ph.D. student, Olsen was a U.S. Fulbright Grantee to Norway in 2012-2013; she continues to follow her dream in progress to make a difference in entrepreneurial education in Norway as a fourth-generation owner of Innovation Barn in Borhaug alongside her daughter and husky named Buddy Grunder. Learn more at