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Yoga inversions may cause inner ear problems

The Upward Bow pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) and other yoga poses that require the head to be inverted may disturb the inner ear and cause vertigo and dizziness. The inner ear has a vestibular system formed by three canals that are approximately at right angles to each other and which are responsible for the sense of balance and spatial orientation. The inner ear has chambers filled with a viscous fluid and small particles (otoliths) containing calcium carbonate. The movement of these particles over small hair cells in the inner ear sends signals to the brain that are interpreted as motion and acceleration. Inversion of the head can cause some of the otoliths to shift position or slip into one of the semicircular canals and induce vertigo and instability, often accompanied by nausea.

The disorientation resulting from changes in position of the head is often diagnosed as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), and is treated by trying to reposition displaced otoliths back to their original position by turning the head in specific ways. The Epley Maneuver, developed by Dr. John Epley in 1980, is often performed by a doctor or a physical therapist and requires holding the head at specific angles, and then turning the head 90 degrees to the other side for specific periods of time to allow the otoliths to settle.

Vertigo is very debilitating because it makes it impossible to perform ordinary activities. The irony of developing vertigo through yoga is that yoga is supposed to help the body and the mind. Many people practice the yoga positions that require inversions without any problems, but unfortunately, it is not possible to predict who will be affected adversely by inverted yoga poses.

The purpose of yoga, and all other exercises, is to improve the body. You have to use discretion in establishing the limits of stress to which you will subject your body in any physical activity. Going beyond your comfort zone may improve your confidence, but it also has the potential of causing temporary or permanent damage.

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