Power yoga may be my new favorite workout, if only because this happened this morning: There we were, an hour into a leg-quaking, arm-shaking class when the teacher told us to we were going to take a quick break to try something new. Having been to plenty of yoga classes in my day I immediately realized that a) unless you’re laying flat down on your mat there’s no such thing as a “break” and b) “new” always means tricky. But despite my muscles silently threatening me with total boycott if I did anything fancy, I followed her instructions to crouch down onto my heels. As soon as she told us to move both hands to one side, I knew what was coming. My old nemesis Side Crow:
This isn’t Emily but it’s basically what she looks like.
I know yoga’s all peaceful and whatever but I’m just going to say it. I hate Side Crow. I’m probably doing it wrong but I always end up with all my weight on my one supporting wrist and it just doesn’t seem right to pit gravity against the teeny tiny part of my body responsible for typing, ping pong and pageant-waving. Gravity always wins.
As I resigned myself to playing Weeble Wobble for the next few minutes, I glanced over at my friend Emily. This was only her second yoga class ever and while she was killing it – seriously, girl is a natural - hand balances are pretty tricky. Especially when you’re tired. But as I watched her, I realized that unlike my jaded self, she had no idea what was happening. No clue at all! Which is when the awesome happened.
She blithely followed the teacher’s instructions as we slowly rose up onto our toes, shifted our balance, brought our knees to one elbow and – just like the teacher told us – started to tip forward. I watched as Emily tipped. Then tipped some more. Then passed the point of no tip return and in the slowest fall ever inched towards the floor until she ended up looking exactly like this:
Yep, yoga turned her into a big, black dude.
As she peered at me through her arms – her expression a priceless mix of surprise and glee – I realized what she’d done. I’ve watched every dance movie in creation and she’d gone all the way through yoga to You’ve Been Served. Shoulder Freeze! Brilliant! I like that way better than Side Crow any day. She laughed and fell out of it. I fell out of my tenuous perch as well (which I’d like to say was because I was laughing but we all know it’s because I can’t do Side Crow anyhow). We rolled around for awhile like two really bad b-boys before it was time to stand up again.
And when we did: Whoa. I saw spots. My peripheral vision went black. I couldn’t hear. I felt nauseous and hot. You know, all the things I do right before I faint. But thankfully it passed after a few seconds. I wish I could say that was the first time I’ve ever gotten dizzy when I workout but it actually happens a lot, especially when I do something that requires a lot of up and down, like yoga. (And breakdancing.) And putting away laundry.
I’m a fainter. I’ve always been partial to swooning – and it turns out Emily is too – but it turns out that this kind of dizziness during exercise is a real thing.
That’s right, a condition normally associated with overly sensitive (or just overly corsetted) 19th-century rich ladies is felling super healthy Gym Buddies left and right. And it’s not just fainting but general light-headedness, dizziness and blacked out vision. Researchers say this phenomenon is perfectly normal. And it will kill us. Yipee!
Called Orthostatic Hypotension, it’s a seldom talked about side effect of exercise. While one of the known (great) side effects of exercise is lowered blood pressure, this can turn into a bit of a problem in situations that further lower your blood pressure such as suddenly stopping a vigorous exercise or suddenly changing positions. (I think I’m suddenly seeing a pattern!) So far, so fun, right? And then researchers from the University of North Carolina found that another problem is early demise, writing that “People with orthostatic hypotension were 1.34 times more likely to develop heart failure than patients without.” Avid exercisers that already have low blood pressure are at particular risk for orthostatic hypotension. As ehow.com explains,
“Exercise can cause sudden changes in blood pressure. A change of 20 points in your blood pressure can cause you dizziness or even fainting. This happens because for that moment the brain isn’t getting enough blood. Athletes and those who exercise regularly tend to have lower blood pressure and slower heart rate. So a sudden drop of 20 points could easily put an athlete into the realm of low blood pressure.”
My normal blood pressure and resting heart rate are usually quite low. Because of this, my predilection to swoon has become a joke with my husband as I have fainted a few times while he’s hugging me – handsome men just have that effect on me, I guess! I’ve also fainted at least twice with each pregnancy. (Pregnancy is another condition that lowers your blood pressure.) But non-preggo, non-hugging fainting is pretty rare for me. More commonly I’m just dizzy, light-headed, nauseated and have spotty vision for a few seconds. It’s remedied by remembering to stand up slowly and steadying myself with a wall or chair for a few seconds until the feeling passes. Except for the rare occasion when I actually hit the floor, these spells are barely noticeable and are not very bothersome to me.
The gym, however, amplifies these – both in intensity and in danger. For instance after doing Tabata sprints around the track with Gym Buddy Allison one day, we both reeled to the floor in a strange, slow fall. It seems to have been a combination of working so hard and then stopping so suddenly (we were not going to run even one extra step at that level of exertion, much less take a cool-down lap!) that brought both of us momentarily insensate. Similar to that, while doing my long runs I’m fine but the second I stop running (which of course I do immediately because I’m a “sprint to the finish line” kind of girl) I usually have to sit down for a few seconds on the end of my treadmill and wait for my vision to clear before I can walk to the paper towel dispenser and spritz my ‘mill down with ineffective-yet-mandatory cleaning spray.
So what’s a girl to do when a spell hits right in the middle of yoga? I looked up remedies for yoga-induced dizziness and found some interesting suggestions, some more helpful, others more hilarious: (I’ve listed them in the order you probably want to try them. You’re welcome.)
6 Tips to Try When Your Workout Makes You Woozy
- Contract and breathe. Yoga Journal advises potential swooners to “Contract the calf and thigh muscles strongly to squeeze blood from leg veins toward the heart. Start this action before you start to come up [out of the pose] and continue it while coming up and after you are upright. (2) Come up slowly to give reflexes time to respond. (3) Inhale while coming up. This lowers pressure in the chest, thereby helping blood flow into the heart.”
- Chin to chest. Ask Ananada adds, “As you come out of the pose, keep chin to chest. Even once you’re upright, keep chin to chest for several breaths before straightening your neck.”
- Jump to worst possible conclusion. Health Central scarily warns that dizziness in yoga could be from “inner ear disturbances, cardiovascular problems, drugs and medication side effects, neurologic disorders, endocrine, infectious diseases, neurocardiogenic syncope, herbs, etc” and that all of these need to be evaluated by a doctor. They add you will need “tests such as an MRI, EEG, carotid ultrasound, EKG, Echocardiogram, a TILT test, hormone and blood tests, as indicated after a thorough exam and evaluation. You may need an evaluation by multiple specialists including a cardiologist, neurologist or ENT specialist.”
- Give yourself a coffee enema. Another site listed “chronic constipation” as toxins can cause dizziness.
- Stop menstruating. Apparently your lady blood is betraying you (again!) on two fronts. First, a heavy flow can cause anemia which can make you dizzy. (Which makes sense.) Second, according to some yoga peeps, you shouldn’t do any kind of inversions when you’re doing Crimson Crow (or Red Warrior) pose because – and I swear I didn’t make this up – your blood will go back up into your uterus causing you all kinds of blockage issues.
- Dump your d-bag boyfriend. According to Raviana.com, “The most common cause for dizziness during a yoga practice is a locked solar plexus area (from stress and emotional holding patterns).” They recommend getting rid of major stressors and sources of negativity around you. And also maybe try a juice cleanse. Because why not?
So what about you – Do you get dizzy or light-headed easily? Does it happen during yoga ever?? Any other suggestions for me to help mitigate the woozies?