A Meditative Approach to Coping with Chronic Dizziness & Imbalance
by Maeghan Culver, ND of Bastyr Center for Natural Health
Beginning with the roots of Naturopathic Medicine, this presentation explores the mental, emotional, and spiritual components of living with chronic vestibular illness and how meditative practices can help manage stress and improve mood and quality of life.
As we go through our day, we all face challenges in remaining rooted in reality. It may be as simple as getting caught up in a list of things to do or as severe as having your world slip and spin and twirl. No matter the cause, when we lose touch with our grounding it is easy for what is important to us to get lost. By practicing mindfulness and meditation we begin to reorient our lives and find that when things do go off track we are able to gain good footing a little easier and a little quicker. Below are some simple exercises to start with.
All Meditation generally starts the same:
- Get into a comfortable position. Allow your eyes to gently close.
- Take a few deep breaths and allow your mind’s focus to come into your body.
- Notice the weight of your body–on the chair, on the floor, etc.
- Notice the moving of your belly as you breathe in and as you breathe out.
BREATH TRACKING: 6 Breaths Per Minute
By changing our breath we can affect our heart, our brain, and essentially every cell in our body through improved oxygenation. Deep breathing helps take us out of a “fight or flight” response and change our perception of reality from stressed to a calmer “rest and digest” state. Breathing exercises can also improve mental clarity and reduce brain fog.
For this exercise you will need a watch to time your breaths. Breathe through either your nose or your mouth, whatever feels comfortable to you. To change your perspective and improve your mood through this exercise, try mindfully breathing in “peace” or “calm” or other positives and breathing out “stress” or other negatives. Without forcing yourself to breathe too deeply, begin to time your inhalation and exhalation. Notice how long you are breathing in and then how long you breathe out. Gradually extend the breath, working your way up to 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Continue to do this breathing, not forcing it, but relaxing into it for 5-10 minutes.
This exercise is designed to create a tether or anchor from your mind down into the Earth. This is particularly helpful for those of us who tend to have our heads up in the clouds.
While continuing to breathe slowly and easily, envision a cord extending down from your spine. It can be a rope or a wire, a band of light or even roots. Allow this cord to extend down from the base of your tailbone and travel down through whatever building you may be in, through the foundation, and down into the ground. Imagine the rocks and water, the layers of sediment and the fossils as your chord continues to travel down further and further. Eventually it will come to the core of the Earth. In whatever way seems best to you, allow your cord to become anchored or tethered to the center of the Earth.
Once you are really rooted to the Earth, imagine light or energy coming up from the center of the Earth, flowing up your cord and filling your body with its energy and vitality. Allow this flow of light/energy to continue for as long as you like. Once you are ready, bring your awareness back to your body, to your breath, the movement of your belly in and out. When you are ready, open your eyes, knowing that you are still connected to the Earth.
This technique can be used to help alleviate body tension and general anxiety. While you can do this exercise sitting, it works better lying down. Try doing this technique right before bed to help you fall asleep.
After grounding in your breath, without judgement or a need to change anything, bring your awareness to your feet. Notice the weight of them. Are there any places that you are holding tension? What are the sensations of this area? Now imagine they begin to feel heavy. Imagining them sinking or disappearing may help. Give yourself permission to relax and let go of tension. Now bring your awareness to your legs. Briefly note the sensations here and then proceed to imagine them becoming heavy/sinking/disappearing.
Continue to use this process on the rest of your body, going to the thighs, the pelvis, the belly, the chest, your shoulders and arms, ending with your neck and head. Spend more time on parts of the body where you hold the most tension. To recognize muscle tension and achieve greater relaxation, you might try briefly flexing or clenching your muscles before relaxing muscles. To relax your neck, face, and jaw muscles, try yawning.
If you use this relaxation technique at night, you may find that you fall asleep before completing a scan of your entire body. After you have gone through a scan of your entire body, take a few deep breaths and enjoy this state of relaxation. When you are ready, allow yourself to become more aware of the space around you, wiggle your fingers and toes, and open your eyes.
For a guided body scan meditation, try using the “Relaxation” program of the Mindfulness Meditation app by Mental Workout Inc.: http://www.mentalworkout.com/store/programs/mindfulness-meditation/
For those times when we know we will face challenging situations or difficult people, using this tool can help us to feel protected and better able to express our most authentic self.
While remaining grounded in your breath, imagine a big golden container above your head. This can be any kind of container–a bowl or goblet, even an egg. This container holds a glowing golden liquid. Imagine the container tipping so the golden liquid slowly spills over the edge and begins to cover you. It starts at the crown of your head and begins enveloping your entire body. The golden liquid keeps pouring until there are no gaps, even wrapping around the bottom of your feet. This liquid is light as a feather but strong as steel.
As you breathe in this space of golden protection, state an affirmation around good boundaries and safety. For instance, “l am safe in my body and able to freely express myself.” Or, create an affirmation specific to the challenge you are facing such as, “When I speak with my boss I can freely voice my opinions.” As you state this, imagine the power of it going through the golden liquid and fortifying it. Use this meditation technique to positively reassure yourself and gain confidence. If you are a “people pleaser” use the imagery of golden protection to give yourself permission to create a safe space where you can be authentic and take care of yourself. If you are a spiritual person, you might imagine that the golden protection comes from a higher power.
You can remain in this imagery as long as you like and create as many affirmations as you like. When you are ready, allow your focus to return to the breath and open your eyes. Anytime you start feeling stressed or challenged, restate your affirmation and remember the feelings of being safe and protected.
Find what meditation techniques work best for you. Bring yourself into the present (refocus your thoughts out of the past or the future into the now). Try to focus on positive thoughts rather than negative thoughts, and consider what is working in your life rather than what you feel is not working in your life. In this way you can improve your perspective and emotions, enter a more peaceful and calm state, and gain a sense of having more control and self-confidence. If your mind wanders while meditating, don’t stress, just refocus and keep meditating. With practice, you will be able to train your mind and body to relax more deeply and refocus quickly from distractions.
For more information about meditation, read Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life and other mindfulness books by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Maeghan Culver, ND of Bastyr Center for Natural Health
Dr. Culver is a first-year clinical resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, where she supervises student physicians in the Department of Naturopathic Medicine. She also sees patients in private practice in Practitioner Care at Bastyr Center.
Dr. Culver is interested in being a catalyst for your healing by supporting a healthy lifestyle, encouraging optimal function with techniques such as craniosacral therapy and hydrotherapy, and utilizing specifically targeted nutritional, botanical, and homeopathic prescriptions.
Dr. Culver helps to educate her patients about their human body and empowers them to engage in their own healing process. She works with patients of all ages and has special interest in chronic pain, autoimmune disease and weight management.
Dr. Culver believes that the human body is capable of amazing things if only we listen to and support its needs. Each person is unique in body, mind and spirit, and by tuning into this we can ignite the spark of healing.
Education & Affiliations:
BS in General Science and Sociology from the University of Oregon in 2007
Became a licensed massage therapist in 2010 through the Belleview Massage School
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in 2013
Member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
More information about Dr. Culver: http://bastyrcenter.org/content/view/2747
Meditation Image from: http://www.bastyr.edu/
Source: The Seattle Dizzy Group