I would like to share with you 3 ways yoga helped me manage and get over an episode of Labyrinthitis.
Before the summer of 2021, I had no idea what Labyrinthitis was or how debilitating it can be.
I was lucky; I made a full recovery – well apart from some ongoing tinnitus.
For many people, though, it can be incredibly debilitating and some continue to suffer from it long-term.
The whole experience, despite being pretty traumatic, taught me so much, on a personal level and also as a yoga teacher.
Coping with any health challenge is difficult but with yoga by your side, you can manage and deal with anything.
What Is Labyrinthitis?
Labyrinthitis (sometimes called vestibular neuritis) is a viral infection which affects the inner ear. It can cause severe sickness, dizziness, vertigo (sensation of feeling that you are spinning) and tinnitus. I took this from the NHS website on Labyrinthitis:
“It usually gets better by itself within a few weeks – symptoms can start suddenly; come out of nowhere. The worst of the symptoms usually last a few days and balance returns from 2-6 weeks after the acute attack (although it can take longer). “
Not a nice condition at all.
Before I share the 3 ways yoga helped my Labyrinthitis, let me share my experience of it.
My Labyrinthitis came out of the blue. It was a beautiful bank holiday weekend and I had decided to take 3 days off teaching. I was really looking forward to my indulgent little holiday.
On Saturday morning I had booked myself in for a hair appointment. My hairdresser only lived 5 minutes down the road, so I decided to walk there.
Two minutes into the walk, I suddenly felt really sick and incredibly dizzy.
It was like being on a fairground ride. Everything was moving and I couldn’t see properly. I thought, that if I just sat down and stay still for a moment it would pass.
It didn’t pass and every time I tried to move a little, I was sick.
I knew I had to try and get home, and this terrified me. However, 15 minutes later I got home; staggered to the sink and stayed there, holding onto it for dear life as the world continued to spin around me.
To cut a long story short I ended up in A and E for the day. I was given anti-sickness tablets and put on a drip to rehydrate me.
It took 2 days for the sickness to subside.
The vertigo lasted for a few weeks longer. The only way I can describe the feeling is if you go back to the last time you were really drunk – trying to stagger home afterwards and not being able to walk in a straight line. That was me (only 10 times worse) and definitely not as much fun.
3 Ways Yoga Helped Me Manage and Heal my Labyrinthitis
1. Yoga helped keep me sane
At its worse labyrinthitis is a scary existence. Everything that you take for granted like being able to see and walk in a straight line, eating and driving is all taken away from you in an instance.
You feel utterly helpless.
Sitting there in A and E with a cardboard sick bowl knowing that you can’t move without the aid of someone else, is enough to send you into a panicking spiral.
It has been well documented that stress and anxiety make the symptoms of Labyrinthitis worse.
Luckily yoga has great tools to come to your rescue; cue in breathing and meditation.
When it started to get too much in A and E I turned to my yoga breathing practice to help me out.
The one which popped into my head straight away was square breathing. After a few minutes of practising, I could feel myself get calmer and less agitated.
Here is how to do it:
- Simply picture a square in your mind.
- Inhale following one side of the square.
- Hold your breath and then follow the second side.
- Exhale as you follow the third side and pause the breath again as you complete the square.
- Just keep going with this for as long as you can.
After a few minutes of Square breathing, I felt calm enough to try some meditation using a simple affirmation to help me stay focused.
An affirmation is a simple statement which starts with ‘I am. You just repeat it with the rhythm of your breath. For me that day I chose ‘I am ok.’ That was it but do you know what? It worked.
Both practices stopped me from going under that day – they were a comfort and also a very helpful way of passing the time.
2. Yoga Helped Me Mentally with my recovery.
Having a yoga practice is more than simply practising postures on the mat. Yoga also offers guidance in the way we treat ourselves and others (the Niyama’s and Yamas).
I hate letting people down – I really do. I knew that I was committed to teaching classes and privates the following week after my attack.
For one stupid moment, I thought, that I could still find a way to teach (even though the world was still spinning).
A kinder voice told me otherwise though. You need to rest it said, you need to be kind to your body and let yourself recover.
This kinder voice was Ahimsa, one of the Yamas which simply means to treat yourself with kindness.
I am so glad I did so, as with Labyrinthitis comes extreme fatigue as well as all the other symptoms. At times it was so overwhelming and I often found myself just nodding off several times a day.
I am pretty sure that taking time out and resting longer than I thought I should have done, helped to speed up my recovery in the long term (and get my energy back).
3. Yoga Helped Me Get My Balance Back
What I love about yoga is that you can change your practice to accommodate where you are in life. It will never let you down on that front.
Recovering from Labyrinthitis is a slow process. One of the things which really helps is to get moving as soon as you can.
Simple walks are recommended – just a little way at first and then gradually further. This apparently helps re-train the brain’s vestibular system (sense of balance and proprioception).
I did start the walking drills as soon as I could. The first time I went out I couldn’t go far at all and felt like a drunk – unable to walk in a straight line and nothing at all coming into focus. Eventually, I was able to go further and further.
The further I went the more confident became.
The trouble with just walking is that it moves you in one direction and your head stays looking forward most of the time. To really get your vestibular system functioning a little better you need to challenge it in other ways.
This is where yoga came in.
Apparently, the balance system of the human body ‘is extremely complex, with multiple organs working in rhythm to maintain balance (and avoid dizziness). Our vestibular system lies in the inner ear and must coordinate with the brain and the rest of the body.
Yoga is a great way to challenge our balance and proprioception in space, as a sequence of poses moves not only the body but also the head in different directions.
Add the fact that moving with the breath helps to keep our nervous system happy (and away from the fight and flight response) we are in the perfect position to work on our balance in a safe and nurturing way.
At first, simply moving from mountain pose to a forward fold was a very wobbly experience, but gradually I found I was able to add more and more movement into my practice.
After a few weeks, I could practise a low lunge without falling over.
Six weeks on and my time on the mat included as many directions as possible like forward, side, back and rotational bending, along with simple one-leg balances like knee to chest and poses where my head was looking in a different direction to my body (like warrior II).
As I got more confident I started playing and challenging myself a bit more. For example, I experimented with turning my head in different directions whilst holding a pose.
To stop me from falling over I used props like a wall, chair or my yoga blocks. They gave me a sense of security and allowed me to push myself a little out of my comfort zone.
What I learned most of all was to be patient. Recovery was terribly slow for me and that was fine. I just kept taking baby steps and moved forwards as much as I could on any particular day.
I hope you found the above article helpful especially if you are suffering from Labyrinthitis or something similar.
My balance took a good 4 months to get back but it can take longer for some people. The great thing about yoga is that you can tweak your practice to where you are at.
As you get better and stronger your yoga practice can adapt with you so that you are always able to challenge yourself and improve further.
If you would like to try a yoga class which will help you to train your balance skills in a safe and nurturing way, please try out the class below. Just grab a mat and a couple of yoga blocks (or books).