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Inner Ear & Yoga Balance
Part of the inner ear, known as the vestibular system, helps you maintain balance by determining the position of the head.
Struggling to hold mountain pose in yoga and having a serious balance issue are totally different things — even if it might not seem so while you're toppling over in the middle of class. There are a few organs in your body that help you balance, some of which are located in your inner ear.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
These organs make up the vestibular system, which helps your brain figure out where you are in space. If there's a problem with this organ, you can have serious balance problems, such as vertigo.
Inner Ear Anatomy
There are two major areas of your inner ear: the hearing area and the balance area. You hear with a part of the ear called the cochlea and balance with the vestibule and semicircular canals. Within each of these parts is a little maze of tissue, fluid and hair.
The little hairs within your ear aren't like the hair on your body — they serve a much different purpose. They're extensions of nerve cells and sit in fluid called perilymph. When you move your head this fluid shifts, which makes the hairs move and signals to your brain what direction your head is moving in.
Problems Affecting Balance
Certain problems with the inner ear can throw off your balance in yoga class by affecting the information that your brain receives from those little hairs. A cold or other illness that makes your nose and sinuses stuffed up can also affect your inner ears. Often only one ear is affected, which throws off your balance because one ear is sending accurate information to the brain and one is sending inaccurate information.
Vertigo is a more extreme version of dizziness where you feel like the whole room is spinning. It's caused by either a buildup of calcium in the inner ear, a buildup of fluid, a migraine, or a blow to the head. You may need medication to treat vertigo, but balance exercises are a common part of treatment.
Yoga will be much more difficult if you have balance problems caused by your inner ear. At the same time, yoga can help you overcome those balance problems. Standing balance poses like mountain pose teach you how to use your eyes to compensate for a lack of inner ear sensitivity. It won't be easy at first, but over time you'll get better at maintaining your balance despite inner ear problems.
If you have inner ear problems and are struggling to get through your yoga practice, there are a few things you can do to help your balance. Going barefoot is a great way to give your brain some extra information about where your body is in relation to the ground since there are so many sensory nerves in your feet. You may also want to do your standing poses near a wall in case you fall, according to the Vestibular Disorders Association.
If you're experiencing balance and dizziness problems, try focusing on whatever part of your body is in contact with the ground as you move through your poses. The sensation from the ground will serve as a reference point as you move through poses, giving you constant feedback about where your body is.
Even if your balance and dizziness issues are caused by anxiety, they can make you anxious because you don't feel grounded. As you go through your yoga practice, try to breathe slowly and deeply. This will keep your more relaxed and it might even help you be more balanced.
Because the vestibular system of your inner ear isn't working properly the other organs you use for balance have to work overtime, like your eyes. Give your eyes a rest during reclining poses like savasana, where you don't need to balance. Close your eyes and put a towel over them to let them rest at the end of your practice.
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: Balance Disorders
- Yale Hearing and Balance Center: Vestibular Disorders
- University College London Hospitals: Inner Ear Balance Problems
- Jacksonville Hearing and Balance Institute: We Can Help You Overcome Dizziness or Balance Problems
- Audiology: Dizziness and Balance
- Iyengar Yoga: Yoga for vestibular balance and dizziness disorders