Meditation

@Nathan basic question. Do you sit and meditate cos the dizziness can overwhelm the meditation experience. I do mindful walking and hence asking, if staying still meditation is something I can explore.

BTW Very inspiring post and on point !

Please excuse my long response, I’ll try and explain my approach in full towards meditation and vertigo.

It took me a while to really accept that the purpose of meditation isn’t to make me less dizzy. The purpose of meditation after all, is not to change anything which is happening to you - but instead change your response, and become more in-tune with the nature of your own consciousness (instead of the anxious world of racing thoughts we often create in our heads).

I think you really have to meditate while dizzy to get the proper benefits, because that is the space in which you can have the most mental growth. Meditating while dizzy is a good way to prepare yourself for all the times you will feel dizzy while not meditating.

I normally sit for 30-45 minutes a day, but sometimes 10-20 minutes if I’m busy. I think the best time to meditate is in the morning, unless you struggle with sleeping problems (in which case doing it in the evening can help you sleep). I meditate with both the eyes open and closed depending on how I feel at the time.

It’s very common to feel very dizzy while I meditate, in fact it took me a while of practice to be able to keep meditating while dizzy and not end the session.

After a while of meditating through vertigo I began to realise that the experience of vertigo has 2 distinct components. There is the physical sensation of the spinning, and then there is the rush of racing thoughts which come with the spinning. The feeling of being “overwhelmed” by vertigo, is a process of anxious and racing thoughts, and not a physical sensation. I began to realise through meditation, that the reason I was ending sessions while dizzy was because of thoughts in my head telling me “something worse than vertigo is about to happen”, “you might pass out”, “you might go crazy”, etc. These thoughts came in response to vertigo naturally, but they are still only thoughts - not predications.

Now when I get dizzy while meditating, I notice the dizziness. After all, meditation is a process of noticing and exploring your consciousness - not blocking anything out. I examine the dizziness in full: where is it coming from? what exactly does it feel like? what physical effects are happening around my body? Do I feel more sweaty? Do I feel colder?

Then I notice the thoughts which arise with the dizziness. At this point they feel familiar - “aha! there is the thought that I might die”, “ah! there is the thought that it’s going to get worse if I don’t open my eyes”, “now let’s see if I can spot the thought telling me that I’m going crazy, cool - there it is!”.

I notice the interaction between the thoughts and the sensations. The way that each wave of dizziness brings on a wave of thoughts. I notice the effects the thoughts have, the way they change the “tone” of my perception emotionally. Emotion after all (when you seperate it from thoughts and physical sensations) is kind of like a filter which goes over our conscious experience. Just like thoughts and sensations, emotion is something distinct which you can notice going on in your head.

I make no attempt to block any thought or feeling, no matter how intense. Instead I explore them with curiosity. I let the thoughts bounce around in my head, without judgement. This is really the “workout” part of meditation. You are learning to pay attention to what is really happening in your head. Before I meditated, I was constantly swept up in my thoughts throughout the day, both positive and negative. I still have a lot of thoughts constantly, like everyone else, but I spend more of my life now living WITH my thoughts, rather than living AS my thoughts. I am not cured in any way, but I have a much better overall quality of life.

In my opinion this is the most important insight of meditation for people with anxiety. You are not a collection of thoughts and feelings and emotions and sensations - you are the place in which those things arise. It can take some practice to realise that these thoughts aren’t “You”, they are just thoughts. Thoughts are rarely important enough that you must respect them or listen to them.

There are a lot of good resources to explore meditation from a standpoint that is scientific rather than religious. The resource I like the most is Sam Harris’s book “Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion”. Sam also has a really great app with a 28 day introduction to meditation course, plus a bunch of other lessons from various schools of meditation. It’s a great app because it covers all the different forms of meditation and related philosophy, without anything voodoo. The app is kind of expensive but if you can’t afford it he gives a subscription away 100% free to anyone who requests it, no questions asked:

There’s also some books by Dan Harris (no relation to Sam Harris) which are pretty good for introductory reads, like “Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics”.

Another good resource is the meditation teacher Jack Kornfield. Although he is a Buddhist monk his teachings are very secular and useful for the non-religious practitioner of meditation. He has some great approaches towards anxiety in general, from his work on deathbeds helping people come to terms with dying. I highly recommend the 2 podcasts he’s done with Tim Ferris (they are free online). Here is the most recent:

One of the most exciting things about meditating through vertigo is when you start to realise that vertigo and anxiety are not the only things racing around in your head. Sharing space with the spinning sensations and thoughts of dying are also more mundane thoughts, like the fact your arm is itchy, that you have to respond to an email, or a curiosity about what your dog is doing. It’s good to notice them too, and realise that there is more to your existence in this moment than just being dizzy.

This is very useful for those real-life situations. You walk up to a reception desk at the bank, and all of a sudden things are spinning around you. Just like while you are meditating, all those thoughts arise with the vertigo. Your arms are sweaty, you have an urge to run, there’s a rising fear you might freak out and embarrass yourself.

So you thank the thoughts for arising - after all their intention is just to keep you safe. They would be helpful if you were in front of a tiger, but right now you are in a bank.

Then you notice the thoughts that are also in your head, the useful thoughts. The thoughts about what you need to say to the receptionist, the thoughts about what change you need to make to your bank account. You let the anxious thoughts stay where they are, and you engage on purpose with the useful thoughts which are helping you achieve the goals of your day.

You will probably leave the bank not having had the best time, but you got the things done you needed to, and nothing bad happened. At the end of the day that’s ok, that’s all you needed out of the situation. The reason you started meditating was not to turn you into a tranquil monk, but rather to develop healthy coping mechanisms to use in your day to day life.

Happy to answer any questions. I’m not an expert in the field of mindfulness, just someone who successfully integrated meditation as a better solution for coping with vertigo than anxiety medication.

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Nathan, you are my spiritual vestibular guru. thanks a lot for taking the time to type this out. I promise i am going to try this.

Interesting nugget that you sometimes meditate with eyes open.

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Awesome, within the space in which you can have the most mental growth.

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This is great Nathan, thank you so much. I’m going to try these out too. I have such belief in meditation and yet have really struggled to engage with it. I’m currently trying to introduce sustainable wellbeing practices into my life, and have a strong feeling meditation has got to be one of them.

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indeed inspiring point.