Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yoga dizziness

When I first started doing yoga, I started feeling funny things in my body that some yoga teachers couldn't explain to me. I went to a doctor; he did some very basic tests and determined I had no postural hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrome, or obvious heart problems. He said yoga puts people's body in weird positions, so sometimes these weird things happen. If I keep practicing, the symptoms might go away. If they don't, then I should stop practicing yoga. That last phrase was kind of unsatisfying. I looked at him quizzically and asked, "Really? I started yoga for health reasons and you're telling me to quit yoga if the symptoms don't go away?" He said, "Why yes! If you decide to go sky diving and find out it hurts your back, wouldn't the best and most obvious action be to stop sky diving?" Then he promptly kicked me out of the room with an annoyed look on his face. Hmm, if sky diving gave me backaches, I would definitely try to figure out why, because sky diving is not an activity known for causing backaches, just like yoga is not known for being a health harming activity, besides physical strains caused by doing the asanas improperly or forcing the body into advanced asanas before it is ready for them, but that's not why I went to see the doctor. So I decided very early on to document these funny feelings because I wanted to figure out the causes of these strange sensations, if and when they will go away, and/or if there are remedies for these symptoms.

Here are the list of "funny feelings" I get from yoga:

1: I would get dizzy from continuous deep breathing.

One teacher said it was because my body wasn't used to breathing so deeply and was going into shock. This is probably true. After 1.5 years of practicing, I actually can't proudly tell you I have significantly improved my breathing overall. I can however tell you I am now capable of noticing how poorly I breath outside of yoga class. I remember going to a voice lesson a couple years ago (before I started yoga) and the teacher told me to observe my breath, and I couldn't do it without stopping breathing. Observing = "consciously taking over control of breathing" at the time. Now I can somewhat observe it while it does its thing and my breathing is pretty shallow and choppy if I don't consciously deepen my breaths. And you can only be conscious of your breaths for so long before your mind wanders off to something else again.

2: At the end of class, during cool down and before savasana, when my teacher would make us sit, meditate and observe our bodies (this was not an Ashtanga class), I would be freaked out that my chest, or my mouth, or a foot, or part of my face would go numb and then feel pins and needles. This is probably related to the nervous system not used to deep breathing (but how would I know when I first started?)

3. I would get dizzy and have brief black outs when getting up from standing forward folds.

My teacher told me to breath deeper, same advice that Sharath gave to Claudia ("and drink more water"). Someone else told me to engage my leg muscles more because too much blood or too little blood in the head both can cause dizziness.

4. After savasana, sometimes my legs would still be shaking as I walked from the classroom to the change room. Recently my teacher told me it was probably because the savasana wasn't long enough and my nervous system hasn't fully recovered yet. This is all very speculative and unscientific but I have no idea who if anyone does research on all these phenomena I mentioned and because it's not health threatening, I doubt researchers would get funding to study them.

When I first documented these things my intention was that they would go away, and then my practice would feel awesome and look beautiful and I would live happily ever after. Or I would get bored of yoga and move onto something else. Unexpectedly, because yoga teachers keeps asking us to be internally aware of our bodies, I have become more and more sensitive to body sensations, so even though I don't black out in class any more, I now sense a million other small aches and weirdness in m body both on and off the mat. The most noticeable observation is that my breathing sucks. I've gotten to the point when I can maintain steady long breathing for about 2 poses + vinyasas, then my attention goes elsewhere until I happen to hear my teacher remind us to focus on our breath (which he probably says every 2 minutes). This tends to happen during sun salutations, janu sirsasanas, marichiyasanas, and first 2 of the final 3 closing poses (definitely not during utpluthih). Everything else I don't remember being able to breath smoothly for long. Off the mat I can now often catch myself holding my breath, or feeling anxious, which happens so much more frequently than I realized before I started doing yoga.

I guess the benefit of yoga is to have the ability to do a mental body scan often during the day, and whenever I feel anxious, to catch myself and start breathing deeply. Also, if I can notice body strains when it happens (e.g. poor posture sitting in front of the computer), I can correct myself before it becomes a big enough problem that I need to go see the doctor.

As for breathing, believe it or not I still feel funny when I breath deeply through the nose (oh I used to mouth breath a lot). Maybe a couple more years of yoga and it'll start to feel more normal?

28 comments:

  1. I've tried to make breathing a conscious primary function of my day, but a dusty warehouse stops me from deep-breathing. This obstacle, or what have you, makes it apparent at how awkward and stunted my breathing can get. As for the body scan, my brain seems to perform one every few hours. It's actually making me a bit twitchy and paranoid. That and I also get a head-rush after long folds. I admit the rush feels good, especially if I haven't hit any inversions in a while.

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  2. Dusty warehouse sucks.. do you wear a mask? I also get a head rush from headstands, but I usually go into child's pose right after that so I don't get dizzy like I do in standing forward folds.

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  3. The classic case of "being tough" restricts the use of masks lest you become the warehouse weakling. It's not like a sawdust mill or something, but you can tell when you blow your nose after your shift! Actually, I don't breathe deeply when I'm in the back of the trucks (super dirty). The rest of the warehouse is fine since the dust is too heavy to leave the ground. ;)

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  4. Hope it's a temporary job for you... find a work place with cleaner air to breath when you get the chance!

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  5. I also noticed unusual sensations when I began practicing yoga. I did a lot of singing as a teenager, so the deep breathing itself wasn't such a shock, although the particular kind of deep breathing I learnt in the context of singing, in which you store(?) the air as low in your diaphragm as possible, is quite different to what I was taught for ashtanga. But back to unusual sensations, one of the first surprises was how super-charged with energy I'd feel for several hours after practicing---something very different to how I'd feel after working out or going for a run. In time I'd find that the post-practice energy levels would fluctuate in a somewhat unpredictable way. Often a practice with extra intense (for me) backbending would leave me feeling super-tired, but now and again intense backbends would leave me charged with more energy than usual. For the first few months of practice I would feel an almost irrepressible urge to weep in paschimottanasana. It wasn't that there was pain that brought me almost to tears; rather, it was some kind of not really painful intensity that somehow connected with that particular physical response to sadness. I get pins and needles fairly often too. There was one day when my left thigh went entirely numb after one of the hip stretches in primary, and it stayed numb for a couple of days. I was worried for a while that I'd done something bad to it but it went back to normal in due course.

    My feeling now is that these unusual sensations are positive, and are manifestations of all the various openings and cleansing processes that the ashtanga yoga practice induces. I think that the particular breathing technique of ashtanga is hugely important to this process, and I think it's a really good idea to try to carry the awareness of the breath with you from your practice throughout the rest of your day. I could definitely use more of that awareness myself. Thanks!

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing your experience in detail here John! Lots of women report getting teary in yoga but you're the first guy (that I know of) to admit it. What you and I go through seems common, but doesn't happen to everyone. I wonder why that is the case. And why don't singing exercises induce this kind of weirdness? Or maybe they do? I wonder if some people stick with yoga because they're curious how these sensations will evolve down the road and others quit because they are creeped out by the weirdness and do not want the unfamiliar sensations to continue.

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  7. I do at times get light headed when coming all the way up from the forward fold, but haven't experienced any other symptoms.

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  8. Hi Dr. Soliman, thanks for visiting my blog! It probably differs from person to person. I haven't heard that many people who share the strange sensations I feel. In fact, when I asked yoga teachers, they look puzzled, which suggests these might not be common symptoms. So maybe I'm more sensitive than other people. I encourage you to keep practicing though. New sensations may come up in the future :)

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  9. I also feel lightheaded after yoga. Not sure what it is, but the health benefits have been amazing for me so I continue. I do a yoga DVD as I am not ready for a class. I have chronic pain issues so am doing a very mild healing yoga and there isn't a class like this is my area, but I can't believe how the pain is diminished! (Now if I could just find a moment to meditate with 5 kids!)

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    1. 5 kids? Wow. Kudos for you for finding time to do yoga! I am glad yoga's helping you with your chronic pains. Don't let the lightheadedness discourage you from continuing yoga!

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  10. This was a great article- it made me feel a little bit of comfort to know that someone else is going through the same things! I've been practicing for two years, and only recently have I begun to feel very nauseous and dizzy, on and off the mat. It's actually much worse when I'm just sitting in front of a computer at work, which I find strange.

    When I spoke to an instructor I know, he suggested that it might be due to improper form when attempting inversions. Do you find that your symptoms reemerge when you do certain asanas, and do you have any coping strategies to deal with them? Many thanks!

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    1. Hi there, I've been practicing for 3 years now and these symptoms still reemerge for me. Alignment could have something to do with it (I sometimes feel nauseous when my neck is collapsed during back bends). Coming up from inversions still makes me lightheaded sometimes.

      If the symptoms do not incapacitate you, try not to worry too much and just let them come and go. Try a sip of water or some snacks if you're in front of your computer. Taking a couple of calm breaths helps the dizziness go away. If you're at a yoga class in a standing posture, remember to breath with your movements and actively engage the legs so you don't fall over. If you are really worried, you can go get checked by a doctor (note my experience with my doc - I view it as a sign that I'm actually healthy).

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  11. I also experienced what you describe in #3. When I would rise up from forward fold I would experience intense vertigo and inability to understand my physical placement, cloaked as dizziness. I love yoga and I would grind my teeth through this sensation, until I went to see a naturopathic doctor who did lots of blood work - I ended up having Lyme disease (one symptom is actually vertigo). Maybe just do a blood panel with a holistic doctor and test your endocrine system and vitamin levels - those things can often cause symptoms that would surface during yoga or any physical activity.

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    1. Hi Anonymous, I think #3 is just our brains not very good with dealing with change of blood pressure in the head. Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by ticks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyme_disease with a bull's eye pattern where you've been bitten. I don't know why it's a trend for naturopathic doctors to call all general symptoms with fatigue and vertigo Lyme disease. I already know my blood circulation system is not very good because I often have cold hands and I get dizzy when I stand up too suddenly.
      You can deal with this by getting up much much slower from forward folds and inversions. Squatting down will also help get rid of the dizziness.

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  12. Hi Yyogini - I pretty much have most of the symptons you've described while doing yoga. I hold my head up during down dog, forward folds, etc. It's uncomfortable on my neck (thus, probably interferes with the benefits of the pose) but it beats fainting so I do it!! Hopefully, we'll find a solution. I think it's a problem with low blood pressure and poor circulation. I have Raynauds, too. Boo hoo! :)

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    1. Hi JeanyVet, I'm not sure if doing lots of yoga asana practice will improve our circulation/blood pressure problems or if the asanas merely expose us of the problems that we have. We should keep each other updated in a few years :)

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  13. Ha !!! Same ''problem'' here as well! Standing forward bends and fainting feeling and yes I am sure it's low BP since mine is never higher than 105/65. Most of the time it's 95/60. Ugh :(

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    1. Hi Andrastea, thank you for your comment! I personally have "normal" blood pressure (110-120/65) and I still get this dizziness problem. I think low blood pressure is a common reason for dizziness though.

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  14. " I actually can't proudly tell you I have significantly improved my breathing overall. I can however tell you I am now capable of noticing how poorly I breath outside of yoga class."

    Ha! That sounds like me. I was thinking of giving vinyasa another shot although it has made me dizzy in the past. I was looking to see if anyone else had experienced that. My blood pressure is on the lower side and I prefer hatha yoga but the studio closest to me does vinyasa (sadly, a 5 minute walk vs. 20 minute walk is sometimes the difference between my making it to class or not!)

    After reading this, I think I'll give vinyasa another try. Thanks!

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    1. Good to hear! Just take it easy in vinyasa classes. Some vinyasa teachers feel like they are under the invisible pressure that they must "give students a good work out". I used to try so hard to keep up that I forgot to focus on my body's signals. But now I realize a yoga class is not an aerobics work out class. It's okay if you are a few breaths behind the teacher's cues. Body/breath awareness come first!

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  15. Good afternoon,

    I've been doing yoga for about a week. So I'm really new to this. I'm a competitive powerlifter and strongman competitor and have competed heavily the last 3 years. I had a right hip injury and decided I should do yoga a few times a week to help with flexibility and hopefully decrease injuries.

    After class on Monday my left thigh went numb and still it. John mentioned it earlier. I'm not sure what to make of this?

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    1. Hello Noturhardcoregamer,

      Yoga works on the nervous system and the fascia (I heard a yoga teacher saying the nadis/meridians may lie within the connective tissues). If you have never put your body into these shapes before, the fascia in various areas of your body are being manipulated dramatically for the first time in a long while.

      First of all, make sure you're not forcing yourself into the poses in yoga classes. When you've reached your flexibility limit, stay there, even if you look like you are nowhere near the "ideal shape" demonstrated by the teacher and the others in the classroom. If the numbness is temporary, just observe it. Watch it comes and goes away in different body parts. If it doesn't go away for days, then you may need to go see a doctor. Make sure to take deep breaths whenever you feel a stretch while in a pose.

      From what I understand, in lifting you hold your breath to protect yourself while you lift. None of these "observe what's going on inside your body" stuff. In yoga it's the opposite. You never hold your breath and should do an inner body scan of how each body part is feeling as often as possible during a yoga class.

      Hope this helps,
      YYogini

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  16. Please choose a different font. My eyes are bleeding.

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    1. Hi Anonymous, perhaps it's your browser that's interpreting my font differently? I'll try to choose a more conventional font but can't guarantee I will keep it. Thanks for visiting my blog though!

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  17. I used to be looking for this particular information for a very lengthy time.
    Thank you and good luck.

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  18. I just purchased a "yoga for beginners DVD" I did the practice last night, meaning it showed me the different poses, and I went along with it. I have an autoimmune disease with adrenal fatigue so I get light headed a lot and frequent headaches. I'm not sure if it's due to bad posture but the mountain pose created the most dizziness for me. I hope it improves because it's not pleasant. I didn't see this in the comments at all, but if anyone is still getting dizzy, research "adrenal insufficiency." I'm not sure if this is something anyone else has it, but I thought I would share this information. Hope all is well!

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    1. Thanks for sharing this information Amanda. I looked up "adrenal insufficiency" and the disease looks pretty serious to me. In your case you should follow doctor's instructions. By mountain pose you mean standing up straight right? Believe it or not a lot of people have problems with that pose! I hope it improves for you too... just take it easy. You may want to look into restorative yoga practice.. That could be helpful for your situation.

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  19. this aticle was very helpful. I feel total blackout while doing sun saluation when we breathe deep and fold hands upwards. It's discouraging sometimes. Is there a particular time to do yoga? I mostly get time to do it in evening or night.

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