108 Sun Salutations. The aftermath

So. Here’s the thing. Those 108 Sun Salutations I so proudly accomplished back in early January. Maybe not such an accomplishment after all.

No hang on, that would be to take away the euphoria (albeit short-lived) of hearing that one hundred and eighth marble plop into the singing bowl, strategically placed, at the head of our mats, for easy access during the final forward fold of each salutation.

But what happened later, I could’ve done without.

You know that thing we say, when our head’s so brim-full of stuff – so much to do, so little time – we’re finding it hard to untangle one thought from the next? That phrase: ‘My head’s spinning’.

Maybe it’s a creative thing? So busy with work, too busy to think, the ideas and the emails and the phone calls, the ‘Must remember to do this’s and the ‘Can you just do that’s swirl around our fevered brains, but we reach for the kettle and crack on and, eventually, the words fall onto the page, the ideas come and we know it was worth the angst to get there.

Or one of those ‘Uh-oh, I shouldn’t have had that last glass’ moments (which has also been a creative thing, in my experience), that point when we finally escape the tyranny of alcohol-fuelled peer pressure and stagger to our beds, and that big paper globe above our head just won’t stay still. But then we close our eyes and go to sleep and wake up next morning feeling crap, but at least our head’s stopped spinning.

Well, this time round (ha!), the room really was spinning.

Round and round and round.

It spun with my eyes open. It spun with my eyes closed. It spun when I turned over in bed, still asleep. And it was still spinning next morning when I staggered to the bathroom, legs buckling, as the carpet swayed beneath me.

The previous evening, part way through a Thursday yoga class – sun salutations as it happens – I found myself wobbling out of a lunge, then wobbling into a forward fold, before crumpling onto the mat with a thump.

And that’s where I spent the rest of the class, mentally checking my face still worked and my fingers still wiggled. No matter how much I blinked or told my brain to focus, that ceiling hatch just kept going round.

From time to time, the Gremlin (with me at the class, thank goodness), and my yoga teacher, Pat, kept watchful eyes on my pulses and other vital signs, the nonchalant wave of my hand assuring them I was fine, carry on regardless. ‘Fine’ being a relative term.

Two hours and a chat with the on-call doctor later, they managed, by various degrees of incremental propping, to get me sitting upright. By 10.30pm, four and a half hours after leaving the house, I was home, bloody starving, and destined to spend the next several nights attempting – and failing miserably – to sleep at the recommended 45 degree angle.

I really am fine now. Long since back on the yoga mat and recently returned to my regular Pilates class (nervous of an encore in a roomful of comparative strangers, I ducked out for a term). In fact, three days after that first vertigo attack, I was on the piste in Meribel for a week. Business as usual.

Catherine-wheel Vertigo Dizzy
You spin me right round, baby, right round… Dizzy trees and Catherine Wheels via Pixaby

So what was it?

‘BPPV’, said the on-call doc, reasonably emphatically.

I now know that Benign Paroxymal Positional Vertigo or BPPV (equally as tongue-tying in either form) can affect anyone over-40, and twice as many women as men.

Tiny specks of calcium in the inner ear find their way into the wrong bit of the semi-circular canals, scrambling the messages between your ears and your brain which tell you which way up you are. Certain positions of the head trigger symptoms and lying down flat can exacerbate the problem (so lying on my yoga mat watching that ceiling hatch spin, with hindsight, wasn’t the best idea).

BPPV usually goes away on its own after several weeks without any treatment, but there are exercises you can do at home, moving the head into various positions over a few minutes, which can speed its departure. As you might imagine, I did plenty of those. Or a GP or physio can perform the Epley Manoeuvre.

My issue with this, however, is twofold. Since January, I’ve chatted at length to a good friend who received the BPPV diagnosis a few years ago – after an array of tests and scans and hands-on attention from a number of medical professionals (as opposed to a telephone consultation). I’ve also spoken to a physio friend who deals with patients suffering vertigo, and delivers the Epley Manouevre.

With BPPV, I’m told, each attack can be as vicious and debilitating as the last. And the prospect of a twenty-minute walk into town and back, which I undertook as a means of rehabilitating myself – let alone a week’s strenuous activity at altitude – would be inconceivable to my pal.

Yes, my dizziness returned a couple of times, roughly two weeks apart, but each time less debilitating, save for the migraine headache that came along with it. During that time, granted, I was doing daily vestibular retraining exercises and researching ‘vertigo’ assiduously for further clues. Maybe that helped diminish the episodes. Maybe not. Hard to tell.

A virus, then? Possibly. One of the most common causes of vertigo is inner ear infection. Vestibular neuritis causes inflammation around the nerves that help the body sense balance and the resulting severe bout of vertigo can last a day or more, sometimes with hearing loss. In most cases the symptoms gradually ease and go within a few weeks as the infection clears.

I’d cancelled our Sun Salutation marathon initially due to a heavy cold which was particularly affecting my right Eustachian tube. It passed and we rescheduled a couple of weeks later, but that brief illness could still have been impacting on my inner ear. Again, hard to tell.

Or there’s the metaphysical explanation…

‘Never again 108 sun salutes, please,’ said my dear friend Joshua, an acupuncturist, healer and trusted spiritual teacher with an uncanny knack of ‘getting it’.

‘That energy is too strong,’ he said, likening it to the release of Kundalini energy.

Kundalini is commonly represented as a coiled snake at the base of the spine. Like any other snake, poke it with a stick and it might not behave quite as you’d hoped. Sure it might bring you bliss, spiritual enlightenment, even ‘a whole-body orgasm’ (Heaven forbid! In public?), but it might just as easily bring you ‘headache, migraine or pressure inside the skull‘ and ‘extreme dizzy spells‘. Hmm.

I think what worries me most about all this is that, prior to attempting our marathon, we’d both researched it very carefully – albeit online, never knowingly having met a 108 Sun Salutations veteran.

Without exception, every piece I’ve read talks about the joy, the sense of achievement, the physical challenge, the spiritual buzz. They wax lyrical about releasing ‘stuck emotions that no longer serve you’, the ‘negative energy’ you ‘no longer wish to define you’. They talk about the need to prepare beforehand, to be aware of your alignment and posture, your breathing, about restorative postures post-challenge, of wrist loosening, healing baths, rest, nourishing food and water, and massage therapy. The full TLC parcel.

But what they don’t talk about is what might happen two or three weeks after the event, when all that activated Prana, all that upward energy, packed with the stuff you ‘no longer wish to define you’, does indeed get released (inadvertently), helter-skelters up your spine then stays there spinning like a stuck Catherine Wheel, fizzing away, because you (equally inadvertently) resisted its departure out the top of your head.

There’s a lot online about Kundalini energy too – with little to inform the reader where any particular writer sits on the continuum between hard-nosed charlatan and genuinely learned, spiritual ‘guru’ – but there’s one thing they appear to agree on: resistance is futile. Resistance will bring you pain.

Maybe it was BPPV, maybe it was a virus. Maybe, just maybe, it was spiritual in nature. But I guess what I’m saying is, be careful what you wish for. That 108-step journey towards enlightenment might not be quite as blissful as you’d hoped.

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