IMPORTANT: If you’re currently experiencing vertigo, please wait for symptoms to subside before continuing to practice. If you have Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), it is best to perform postures very slowly and avoid any jerky actions, especially with the neck and head. Consider practicing near a wall or having a chair nearby if you’re prone to lightheadedness. Additional tips below.
The information contained on this page and website is not intended as a substitute for professional health care.
Consult your physician before beginning any exercise regime.
What is Vertigo?
Our sense of balance is a complex interaction between the inner ear, vision, and proprioception – the brain’s ability to communicate where the body is in space. Those suffering from vertigo and other vestibular disorders can experience dizziness, disorientation, and poor coordination. Vertigo is a disorder associated with a disturbance in the sense of balance and equilibrium in the brain and this causes dizziness. It usually affects the area that is responsible for the direction of motion – the inner ear. Causes range from a lack or drop in blood flow to the ear, calcium or fluid accumulation, a blow to the head, various medical conditions, or a viral attack. Even a simple virus can attack the inner ear and affect the nerve connectors to the brain can cause vertigo and affect your sense of balance. Common symptoms of vertigo include headache, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, feeling of being pulled, swaying, and tripping due to lack of balance. Crystals in the ears and seasonal allergies can bring on episodes of dizziness and vertigo.
How Does Yoga Help Mitigate Vertigo?
The human balance system is extremely complex. We have multiple organs working in rhythm to maintain balance. In fact, all the body’s systems work together to create homeostasis in the body. A wandering mind can contribute to feeling unstable, emotionally and physically. Practicing yoga consistently helps quiet the “monkey mind” and improves our ability to focus which, in turn, helps us balance. Yoga increases circulation and affects both the sympathetic (fight and flight) and parasympathetic (rest and repair) functions of the autonomic nervous system. The vestibular system – the balance system in the inner ear – must coordinate with the brain and the rest of the body. Yoga improves the three aspects of the vestibular system to help with balance: vestibular ocular reflex (VOR), vestibular spinal reflex (VSR), and somatic balance strategies (coordinated contractions of muscles to oppose CoP deviations) needed to maintain balance when standing upright or moving through space.
VOR – VOR is a reflex that maintains visual focus when the head is moving in a different direction and/or at a different speed than the body. When practicing yoga poses, focusing on a focal point while moving the head and body in a different direction helps to foster the VOR reflex. (See video below).
VSR – VSR helps to maintain the body’s alignment, as well as the head’s position in relation to the body. It also stabilizes the head while the body is moving. Practicing yoga, especially “balance poses”, help to foster the VSR reflex.
BALANCE STRATEGIES –
• Ankle strategy – Muscle contraction in the ankle joint to maintain your center of mass (CoM)
• Hip strategy – Muscle activated when your center moves the hip joint forward and backward
• Stepping strategy – Muscle activated when your center (CoM, CoP, CoG) moves away from your body
More Tips To Help Reduce Episodes of Vertigo
Practice against/near a wall: Patients with balance issues should work near a wall to avoid falls or have a chair as a balance aid
Breath: Focus on breathing slowly during practice. Consciously relax the muscles in your neck, jaw, chest, and diaphragm.
Eyes: Keep your eyes focused on something not moving. Cast your gaze toward the floor
Feet: Balance can be enhanced by working with the feet, e.g., using toe separators. Go barefoot as often as possible to keep the muscles of the feet strong and flexible. Also, foot massages help to maintain blood flow and strengthen bones from the inside out. Check out the Yoga for Stronger Feet article to learn more
Sleep: Sleep deprivation can instigate balance challenges. Get adequate rest
Nutrition and Hydration: Dehydration and not eating well can exacerbate dizziness. Stay hydrated and nourished
Essential Oil: Placing 100% pure peppermint oil under the nose before practicing
Patience: Have compassion for yourself. Healing is always slower than desired. Although there is no permanent cure for vertigo, with or without medication, there are some things you can consider to help treat vertigo successfully without medication, physical therapy techniques, chiropractic care, and lifestyle changes are all positive steps toward reducing vertigo attacks.
Exercises to Help Improve Balance
- Standing with your weight on one leg and raising the other leg to the side or behind you
- Putting your heel right in front of your toe, like walking a tightrope
- Standing up and sitting down from a chair without using your hands
- Walking while alternating knee lifts with each step
- Practice pranayama – breathing techniques – often, such as what is featured on this site
- Use all three yogic techniques – breath, bandhas, and drishti – while doing balance poses
More advanced training methods include:
- Practicing yoga blindfolded (under the guidance of a trained instructor)
- Using a balance board or Bosu ball to exercise
Treatments to Consider
Here are some options available – like the Epley Maneuver – to discuss with your physician to help restore your sense of balance.
Practice Safely – Additional Pointers
- Do not hold your breath
- Make sure you practice yoga slowly to avoid dizziness
- While doing any standing forward folds especially, move slowly with mindfulness
- Always be aware of how you place your neck. Keep it neutral
- Avoid looking towards the ceiling in standing postures
- Back-bending poses that require you to hang your head back might cause dizziness
- During your practice, if you feel dizzy at any point, stop immediately, and go to Child’s Pose
- Use a wall and/or chair if you’re prone to vertigo and dizziness