Vertigo is the disorientating sensation of spinning. It is a symptom of dysfunctions in the vestibular system, which is comprised of the inner ear and brain.
Yoga practices have been shown to help prevent the physical sensations of vertigo. It has also been proven to reduce the anxiety and stress responses to vertigo.
The causes of vestibular pathologies are complex and Yoga is not a treatment or cure for vertigo. If you suffer from either the condition or the related symptoms, you should seek medical advice from your doctor.
In this article, we’ll explore the ways that Yoga practices can have a positive effect on vertigo and related symptoms.
Read to on discover:
- More about vertigo
- Causes of vertigo
- Treatments for vertigo
- 5 benefits of Yoga for vertigo
- 10 Yoga poses and practices for vertigo
What Is Vertigo
Not to be confused with a fear of heights, vertigo is the sensation that a person, or the world around them, is spinning.
Vertigo episodes, or attacks, can range from mild to so severe that physical balance is affected. They may last just a few seconds or for much longer.
Causes of vertigo
There are two main types of vertigo: Peripheral and Central.
The most common is Peripheral vertigo which is the result of problems with the balance mechanisms in the inner ear.
Peripheral vertigo is commonly caused by:
- Head injuries.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)- small fragments of calcium crystals break off from the lining of the inner ear channels and block the fluid-filled canals.
- Labyrinthitis – an inner ear infection.
- Vestibular neuronitis– inflammation of parts of the inner ear, usually due to a viral infection.
- Ménière’s disease – a rare condition causing sudden attacks of vertigo and hearing loss or tinnitus.
Central vertigo is the result of problems with parts of the brain including the cerebellum; the brain center that controls how the body works in motion.
Central vertigo can be caused by:
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)- a condition that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
- Acoustic neuroma – a benign (non-cancerous) brain tumor on the acoustic nerve.
- Stroke – blood supply to the brain is disrupted.
Treatments for vertigo
The general advice for a vertigo episode is to lie still in a quiet, darkened room and to avoid stressful situations.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is treated using a technique called the Epley maneuver.
Ménière’s disease is usually treated with medication. Other treatments include sound therapy to counteract the symptoms of tinnitus, physiotherapy to improve balance and dealing with stress, anxiety and depression.
Central vertigo can be treated with vestibular rehabilitation training (VRT); specialist therapy which retrains the brain through habituation exercise (repeated exposure to specific movements), gaze stabilization (exercises to improve the control of eye movements and make vision clearer during head movements) and balance training exercises.
People suffering from vertigo may also be referred to specialists including a neurologist, ear nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, or an audiovestibular physician.
5 Benefits of Yoga for Vertigo
#1: Reduces anxiety and stress
Vertigo attacks are stressful and may induce anxiety due to disorientation and loss of sensory control.
Practising Yoga postures, breathing, and meditation calms the mind and develops stress-coping mechanisms.
While stress does not directly cause vertigo, it exacerbates the symptom so maintaining cortisol (the stress response hormone) levels low by practicing Yoga could help to minimize the severity of vertigo episodes.
#2: Develops physical and nervous balance
Balancing Yoga asanas (postures) improve muscle coordination, inducing physical and nervous balance, which helps to conserve the energy needed to keep the body steady.
Practicing balancing asanas develops the function of the cerebellum (the part of the brain that controls motion) and of the inner ear so they can help prevent malfunctions in the balancing systems.
However, people who already suffer from vestibular dysfunctions and cerebellum disorders should not practice balancing postures.
#3: Improves blood flow to the brain and neck
Central vertigo can be triggered by strokes and migraines, both caused by a restriction of oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
Inverted Yoga postures (in which the heart is higher than the head) increase the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain while forward bending poses stimulate the circulation to the central nervous system: the spine and the brain.
These types of postures should not be practiced by anyone already suffering from a migraine, stroke or vertigo attack.
#4: Mantras create calming vibrations
Chanting mantras (sacred syllables, words or phrases) and humming in breathing exercises create a vibrational sound that reverberates through the body. This has a soothing effect on the mind and nervous system.
During a vertigo episode, humming or chanting mantras can help to alleviate the symptoms and the anxiety response because vibrations relieve stress and cerebral tension.
#5: Improves breathing efficiency
Vertigo can be caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain and is easily exacerbated by stress.
Practicing pranayama (breath work) helps to increase lung capacity and optimize oxygen absorption into the blood, while also inducing calm.
During a vertigo attack, awareness of the breath and capacity for deep thoracic breathing can be very beneficial for minimizing anxiety and alleviating disorientating symptoms.
10 Yoga poses and practices for vertigo
One study showed that Yoga asanas were more efficient in reducing vertigo-related symptoms in vestibular dysfunction than gaze stabilization.
These poses and practices are best suited as preventative measures.
1. Child’s pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is a calming pose that relieves stress, anxiety and fatigue. It also helps to calm the central nervous system.
2. Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottasana)
Seated forward fold is an introspective pose that stimulates circulation to the nerves and muscles of the spine. It nourishes the spinal cord, which has a positive effect on the brain.
3. Spinal twist (Vakrasana)
Spinal twist is a simple seated twist that stimulates the spinal nerves and improves circulation.
4. Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
Cobra pose is a gentle backbend that improves and deepens breathing.
5. Shoulder stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
Shoulder stand is an inverted Yoga pose that balances the nervous, circulatory, and respiratory systems. It also calms the mind and boosts the immune system.
Practiced with caution, this posture improves the flexibility of the neck vertebrae and tones the nerves passing to the brain. Circulation in the neck area is improved which is beneficial for the ears and eyes.
6. Tree pose (Vraksasana)
Tree pose is a standing balancing posture that develops muscle coordination and concentration.
It improves physical balance, helping to prevent falls. Fixing the gaze on a point of focus in this pose improves eye-muscle coordination and develops the ability to keep the mind calm and still.
7. Bhramari Pranayama (bumblebee breath)
Bumblebee breath is a calming breathing technique that incorporates humming on the exhalation. It can be practiced by covering eyes, ears and mouth with the fingers to draw the focus further inward. It relieves stress, anxiety and cerebral tension. The vibration of the humming sound creates a soothing effect on the mind and the nervous system.
Brahmari should not be practiced by anyone suffering from severe ear infections.
8. Nadi shodanan (alternate nostril breathing)
Alternate nostril breathing is a practice that helps to balance the nervous system, the brain hemispheres and the energies of the subtle body. It increases circulation to the brain and enhances overall balance. It also calms and centers the mind to invoke a meditative state.
9. Trataka (candle gazing)
Candle gazing is one of the shatkarmas (cleansing practices) which helps to clear the mind of negative thoughts. It consists of gazing externally at a candle flame before closing the eyes and maintaining an inner image of the flame steady. It balances the nervous system, improves concentration and curbs wandering minds.
10. Eye yoga
Yoga offers a series of exercises that help to alleviate various disorders related to the malfunctioning of the eye muscles.
Palming the eyes with warmed hands relaxes the eyes and stimulates circulation to this area.
Rotational viewing (fixing the gaze on the thumb while rotating the arm in a full circle) improves the coordination of all the eye muscles.
Preliminary nose tip gazing (fixing the gaze on the thumb on the nose and with the arm extended) improves the accommodating and focusing power of the eye muscles.
Yoga for vertigo: concluding thoughts and advice
In summary, Yoga can help to prevent the onset of vertigo and related symptoms.
Yoga for vertigo seeks to reduce stress and anxiety, to enhance physical and nervous balance, and to make breathing more efficient.
The asanas and practices can help to prevent conditions that may trigger vertigo attacks such as migraines and strokes by improving the circulation of oxygenated blood to the brain. It can also help to treat and manage symptoms and conditions affecting the nervous system and viral infections by boosting overall immunity.
Remember, Yoga is not a cure for vertigo and most asanas and practices should not be practiced during a vertigo attack.
If you suffer from regular or infrequent vertigo attacks, you’re encouraged to seek medical assistance to discover and treat the root cause(s) of the symptoms.
Regular practice of Yoga can be an effective way to restore balance in the body and mind, helping you feel more grounded and in control.
To explore some of the practices mentioned in this article in more detail, check out these pieces: