Help! My Yoga Practice Makes Me Dizzy!

I thought I’d start the actual yoga part of this blog with some tips for those of you who might already practice yoga but find it occasionally makes you dizzy or brings about a vertigo episode. There are some things you can do while practicing that may help you fend off the dizzy or avoid the episode.

First – as with any yoga practice – stay present and really tune in to your body. If something isn’t working for you – there is NO reason to continue to do it. Practice with a lot of space around you in case you stumble or fall (near a wall is helpful).

First of all, pick your classes carefully. Know that there may be days where a hatha or vinyasa yoga class is just not appropriate for you, as much as that might disappoint you. Trust me, I’ve been there! Maybe a gentle, restorative (next blog), or a deep stretch class would be better on that day. Hot yoga? I can’t imagine hot yoga working well for someone with a vestibular disorder so I would proceed with caution there, but again, if it works for you, go for it. Learn to tune in to your body and your vestibular system while practicing. Honor both every time you step on your mat. Begin to find your limits and modifications and learn to live within them, making peace with what life has given you. And celebrate with so much gratitude those days when you are well enough to do ANY practice.

Modify. Modify. Modify. That’s going to be your mantra for your practice right now. For example, if you find that camel pose (ustrasana) makes you dizzy or makes the world spin (vertigo), then while the rest of the class is doing camel – you can sit in heroes pose (seated on your heels) and breathe. I don’t know of a yoga teacher that would oppose to that (you just may want to let your teacher know ahead of time that dizziness and vertigo are issues for you and that you might be modifying certain poses). For me – camel pose is fine as long as I don’t drop my head back (see picture below). I lengthen the back of my neck and keep my gaze forward. I also don’t take the full pose (hands to heels) and keep them on my lower back instead.

camel

Or maybe fish pose (matsyasana) makes you dizzy (here again it’s probably the neck in extension that causes it). Practice supported fish instead with your head neutral (on a block) or even a bit higher than your heart to avoid getting dizzy. Many benefits…a nice heart opener, a nice stretch of the pectoral muscles, but with less risk of spinning. Anyone who has taken my yoga class knows this is my favorite pose to teach and to do!

supported fish

You may also notice that twisting poses cause some issues with your vestibular system. In those instances, keep your chin aligned with your chest. Turn the ribcage without turning the cervical spine (the neck). This works for seated, standing, or supine twists.

seated twist

In poses like triangle (trikonasana), extended side angle (parsvakonasana), and even balancing half moon (ardha chandrasana – not shown below), your teacher might cue you to turn your gaze toward your top hand or toward the sky. In these poses, I notice that keeping my chin aligned with my chest (neutral neck) or even looking toward the earth helps me to stay grounded and avoid the dizzies. Try it and see if helps you too.

triangle          side angle

If going upside down makes the world go upside in the opposite direction, use the wall for your downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) so that your head stays at or above heart level. Put your mat by the wall ahead of time (you may have to make it a habit to get to class early to do that) and place your hands on the wall so your body and legs form a right angle for your downward facing dog. For the “vinyasa flow” you can squat down to step back into plank and do the chaturanga pushup, upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), and then push back into child’s pose (balasana). Or do cat/cow into child’s pose. So many options for you! Or during standing sequences, just skip the flow altogether. While the rest of the class is folding forward and going through the vinyasa flow – you can step forward into mountain pose (tadasana) and then step back into the next standing pose. Mountain pose is such a wonderfully grounding pose and great for those of us who have issues with the vestibular system. So more time in it is a really good thing!

Down Dog Wall

Here’s a video of one way to modify a sun salutation that might prevent dizziness.

I had a student stop coming to class because she got dizzy in final relaxation (savasana). Savasana does not have to be fully supine to be effective.  If you find that lying on the floor is NOT relaxing because it makes you dizzy, find what works. I don’t know any yoga teacher that would rather you skip class. They would much rather help you find an alternative. Just don’t skip final relaxation. In my humble opinion, it’s the most important pose of the practice. Maybe you need to keep your eyes open (just keep them soft and try to truly relax). Or place a bolster under your knees and/or a blanket under your head. Or lie on one side (your good side – most people with vertigo know what that means). Or recline on a bolster or bolster/blocks so that you are not fully supine (shown below). When getting up – take extra time. Don’t rush – taking several breaths on your good side, and then sit up very slowly, letting your head come up last. You can even do savasana seated if need be.

savasana

The takeaway of this whole post is: yoga is about finding what works in YOUR body on THAT day. Don’t be bound by some idea of a perfect pose or not wanting to stand out or do something “wrong.” This is your practice and it’s supposed to be therapeutic for you. If it doesn’t feel that way – change it. Give yourself permission to honor your body (and your vestibular system).

Love and light to you!

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An Attitude of Gratitude

While a gratitude practice isn’t necessarily “yoga,” yoga does help you to be present to what’s around you, which can include finding those little moments throughout the day where you can find gratitude. Studies show that grateful people are happier people. My Christian faith also teaches me to focus on gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In all circumstances! That means even in the times that are rough.

It’s not easy, especially in the face of adversity or a chronic illness like a vestibular disorder that changes how you must live your life. But it’s important. I like to make it tangible. I suggest you write it down. Whether you can find one, five, or 10 things in a day to be thankful for, write them down in a journal or write them on a sheet of paper and throw them in a jar. You will be amazed at the difference in your attitude in just a few weeks. And on REALLY hard days, you can look back and smile at your grateful memories.

Again, I know it’s not easy. Some days, when I’m so dizzy I can’t do anything but lie on the couch and listen to spa music. Or when the migraine is so bad, all I can do is lie in bed and pray for relief, it’s hard to find things for which to be grateful. But on those days, I remember that I have a comfortable bed or couch when others do not. And I have heat or air in my house to keep me comfortable. And while one ear is completely deaf, the other one works great, and my new bone-anchored hearing implant helps me hear even better. And I have one kitty who curls up next to me to show me he cares and the other kitty makes me laugh all day. Or maybe my Mom or Dad called that day and left a message just to say hi and to let me to know they are praying for me. And I have a caring husband who brings me an ice pack or a ginger ale. Or a well-timed text from a friend that just reminds me that I have people that care. Or there’s actually fresh fruit in the house to make a smoothie. It may be something so little or seem insignificant, but it’s cultivating that attitude of gratitude.

In the shower today, I started thinking about having a vestibular disorder today vs 20 years ago and ALL there is to be grateful for there! Just a few things I thought of:

  1. We have support groups that we don’t have to drive to get to. We can share our battles, struggles, and victories with others like us through blogs or in Facebook groups.
  2. If a trigger is a food additive or an ingredient like salt, gluten, MSG, or dairy – there are SO many more options now for us than for those who came before us.
  3. If we aren’t up to traveling or visiting with family or friends, we have Skype or FaceTime to stay in touch and see our loved ones’ beautiful faces. We have Facebook to keep in touch with all of these people too. Not the same as face to face, but I can imagine how alone someone in 1996 with a vestibular disorder must have felt.
  4. There is so much information online to help. While we have to be careful about which sites to trust, there are sites like VEDA that give so much wonderful information for the newly diagnosed and for those of us who want to know more or who have changing symptoms.
  5. There is more and more research happening every day to help us.
  6. Natural approaches to medicine are more readily available and more generally accepted. I’m not endorsing any of these (except for yoga, obviously) because I do not know the efficacy, but yoga, tai-chi, qigong, acupuncture, chiropractor, supplements, essential oils, sound therapy, and medical marijuana (in legal states) have given many people relief. I’ll write here, in future blogs, about natural approaches that I have tried and what has and has not worked for me.
  7. There is UBER and LYFT (at least in my city) to drive those of us who aren’t able to drive for a season or more to doctor’s appointments or anywhere we need to go – at a relatively reason rate (most of the time).

I’m sure there are more. Let me know if you think of them in the comments.

Love and light to you!

thankful

How Can Yoga Help Me?

First of all, I’d like to give you my yoga credentials. I’ve been practicing yoga for almost 20 years, and I am an ERYT200 (200 hour Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher ) and an RYT500 (500 hour Registered Yoga Teacher). In addition, I have a certification as a professional yoga therapist (member IAYT). I also have diagnosed Meniere’s Disease and semi-diagnosed Vestibular Paroxysmia (read about my battle here).

So how can yoga help with a vestibular disorder? I know you you’re thinking, “Um, isn’t yoga about standing on your hands or on your head? That just doesn’t seem like something that I COULD do, much less something that I SHOULD do to help with a vestibular disorder!”

Well – you’re mostly right – going upside down may not be the best way to help someone with a vestibular disorder (although for some people, like me, it’s usually not a problem). So this blog is not about your stereotypical view of yoga. I’m here to help by using yoga more as therapy.

I should note that you should always check with your doctor before starting any yoga practice. You will need to make sure that your vestibular disorder/diagnosis does not have contraindications that would prevent you from participating. (Full Disclaimer)

Here are some ways yoga can help. I’m sure I’ll dive into more as I write this blog.

A. Yoga asana (the physical practice of yoga) can help with balance, lessening fatigue, improving blood flow, and activating the central nervous system. Restorative poses can help relax and calm you and can also help you sleep, which many people with vestibular disorders have trouble doing. Deep stretch poses can help calm you while also giving your muscles a stretch they might desperately need after being tight and constricted from an attack. Yin poses can help balance energy through the meridian system.

B. Pranayama (yogic breath work) can either help relax you or energize you, depending on what you need at the time. I’ll talk about both.

C. Meditation has a lot of science behind it and can help with stress release and calming the central nervous system. As those of us who have vestibular disorders know, stress can be both a trigger and a result of vestibular disorders. This is a big one!

Through this blog, I hope to explore many tools to help those with vestibular issues. Some may work for you, some may not. But you will definitely learn to tune in to your body and learn to work with it.

present

Wishing you fewer dizzy moments ahead.

Love and light!

What is a Vestibular Disorder?

Just need to get this in the blog before I dive into the yoga stuff.

The Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA) (for which I’m thrilled to be an ambassador) has great information regarding all of the types of vestibular disorders. Here’s their site so you can dive in and learn! http://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder 

In case you don’t feel like clicking to their site right now, here’s a short description and common diagnoses (taken from the site above):

“The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that process the sensory information involved with controlling balance and eye movements. If disease or injury damages these processing areas, vestibular disorders can result. Vestibular disorders can also result from or be worsened by genetic or environmental conditions, or occur for unknown reasons.

The most commonly diagnosed vestibular disorders include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis, Ménière’s disease, secondary endolymphatic hydrops, and perilymph fistula. Vestibular disorders also include superior canal dehiscence, acoustic neuroma, ototoxicity, enlarged vestibular aqueduct, and mal de débarquement. Other problems related to vestibular dysfunction include migraine associated vertigo and complications from autoimmune disorders and allergies.”

Love and light to you!

 

My Battle with Vertigo

My hope with this blog is to help others with vestibular disorders by showing how the practice of yoga can help manage it and/or accept it. The doctors at the Mayo Clinic said I was doing amazingly well considering the level of my unilateral inner ear dysfunction and credited my yoga with that. I do too. How has it done this? Stay tuned for future blog posts.  Yoga Teaches Us

I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease in 2008. I had a sudden hearing loss two years earlier with tinnitus and fullness in my right ear, and then, in 2008, the vertigo started with a vengeance. I wouldn’t wish vertigo on anyone. It’s the most disconcerting and anxiety inducing condition I’ve ever experienced. I’ve fallen a few times when my head decided to forget where it was in space (drop attack).

Over the years – my Meniere’s has essentially burned itself out but now I experience dizziness/vertigo frequently and with no warning or apparent reason. Fortunately, these attacks are short (less than 2 minutes) and cause no nausea. I had surgery a couple of years ago to receive a BAHA (bone anchored hearing device) as the hearing in my right ear went to a profound loss. I have constant tinnitus in my right ear (and many different “sounds” with the tinnitus: high pitched squeal, a constant “high A”, crickets, trains going by, someone typing on a computer occasionally, etc). Thanks to meditation, the tinnitus rarely bothers me.

I’ve seen 22 health professionals over the years and the diagnoses vary and no one has been able to help me find complete relief yet. I’ve decided I’m done trying to find out what is wrong and just focus on what is right. I have good days and bad days. I have gotten to the point of acceptance that I will live with a vestibular disorder. But I choose NOT to live in fear. There are days I don’t drive and days I stay on the couch most of the day. But on days I feel good – I savor and do what I can. I still teach yoga, although not as much as I used to or would like to. I work part-time from home in technology. I travel when I can and know that I may have to take a break and rest more than I’d like. I try to focus on the positive. Some days that’s easier to do than other days. I try to take care of me. I do yoga and meditate every day. I try to eat well. I practice gratitude. That’s all I can do!

Love and light to you!