Class Notes, Week 31: Yoga for vertigo

Vertigo is a feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement.

The Moksha yoga teacher training program requires me to journal once each week about my experience with the poses and assignments + my practice and progress. This is part of that weekly assignment.

I am apprenticing in a yoga therapeutics class for the next few months, every Thursday night.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn from a master teacher, Gabriel Halpern, as I work with someone who carries a specific issue that requires one-on-one TLC.

My assigned student for this one-on-one is RT.  She has vertigo.  She’s also a Moksha-trained yoga teacher.  And one more thing: While most of my apprentice peers are doubled up with a student, I am working with RT … solo.

As the assignments were given, and we met our student for the first time, here is what was going through my mind on that first night:

  • Oh, crap.  I have no clue what’s appropriate for vertigo.  I know nothing about this condition.
  • Oh, crap.  RT is a yoga teacher and probably knows what she needs already.  My instruction will get an internal eye roll from her.
  • Oh, crap.  I am flying without a co-teacher.  RT is relying on me.  And I have nobody else to rely on in this situation (save the guidance of Gabriel) … but me.
  • Oh, crap.  What did I get myself into?

I allowed these “oh, craps” to show up, but I didn’t want them sticking around too long.  No sense dwelling, and letting these doubt-riddled thoughts douse the confidence.

My intention for participating in this program is to be 100-percent present for my student, so that’s what I did: I began focusing on her.  Listening to her story.  Watching her body.  I was observing and responding, the best I could with the limited information I possessed.

Uncertainty and self-doubt crept up throughout my first night working with her.  But I flagged it, and did my best to nudge it away and forge ahead.  It wasn’t easy.  Especially as I fumbled with the straps and messed up folding blankets appropriately for RT.  Sigh.  Looking back, it’s actually kind of funny.  No place to go from here but up — right?

Here is my (evolving) Five Step Program to succeed as a yoga therapist apprentice …

Step No. 1: Learn as much as I can about vertigo.

  • I spent my Friday night Googling as much as I could about vertigo, specifically benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).  This is the form of vertigo RT has.
  • “Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is caused when things like infection or inflammation stop the tiny calcium “stones” inside the inner ear from moving as they should,” according to WebMD.  “This sends a false message to the brain and affects a person’s balance.”  Sudden head movements that displace these crystals create the “the room is spinning” sensation that freaks out the afflicted.  While RT has identified that position with the help of a doctor, the fear of that trigger (and perhaps others) has created a concern about how to practice yoga.
  • I also stumbled upon 16-page yoga thesis on vertigo, which could prove as helpful as the WebMD and Yoga Journal articles that provide background on the condition.
  • I’ve talked to people who’ve had BPPV, to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to experience this condition — and what I should keep in mind as someone attempting to help.  This includes a yoga teacher trainee peer.  Another teacher trainee has put me in touch with her PT peer who addresses vertigo with patients.
  • And surprise!  While polling the medical doctors in my own family, I learned that my father had BPPV for two years in the 1970’s.  It was such a severe case that he had to be hospitalized for one week.  This is was a pretty profound piece of information, something I never knew about my own father!

Step No. 2: Research yoga postures that align most appropriately for someone with vertigo.

  • Online research has helped provide a baseline — but I want to make sure I’m following Gabriel’s instruction versus something I’ve pulled blindly off a website. Gabriel has context, and knows this student, after all.  So I reached out to him immediately, and today he sent me a sequence to work on with RT for the next class.  Now I need to study it, and learn it.

Step No. 3: Breathe.

  • I need to apply yoga techniques to myself to overcome the worry and doubt … not to mention, overcome the fatigue of a very long Thursday. Gabriel’s time with us lasts from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.  This is after all full day of work for me.

Step No. 4: Stay focused on RT.

  • I am here for her, to help her, her make sure she is comfortable.  The emphasis on the self — myself — needs to drop at the yoga studio door.

Step No. 5: Have fun.

  • I want RT to have fun!  The best way to inspire that is to relax, and have fun, too.

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