Many tinnitus sufferers would try just about anything to relieve their symptoms including remedies that may make them feel silly or uncomfortable. After all, didn’t we all try hitting ourselves on the back of the head when the Reddit Tinnitus Cure video went viral?
But what about something really out there? Would you stretch like a camel? Play bow like a dog? Arch like a cobra? Roll around like a happy baby?
As it turns out, studies are showing that moves like these may be one of our most effective treatment tools for tinnitus. If you’re willing to get stretchy—and stretch your comfort zone—it may be time to give yoga a try.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is when you hear sound that doesn’t have an external source. Patients usually experience tinnitus as a persistent, high-pitched ringing in the ears, but it can also be a buzzing, humming, roaring or even shrieking. Tinnitus is not a disease in itself, but rather a symptom of something else going on in your body like damage to the inner ear or a side effect from medication. Tinnitus also highly correlates with anxiety with patients often experiencing their most severe symptoms during times of high stress.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a comprehensive system for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. That said, the general public is most familiar with what’s called hatha yoga: a system of postures and breathing techniques that promote strength, concentration, flexibility and relaxation. Today, millions of people use yoga to better their lives through improved fitness, stress relief, mental clarity, healing and peace of mind.
How Can Yoga Help With Tinnitus?
As we said above, tinnitus is highly correlated with anxiety. Once tinnitus symptoms set in, patients tend to worry about them – what they mean and if they’ll ever go away. This causes more stress that only intensifies tinnitus symptoms, creating a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Yoga, with its many components of relaxation, meditation, mindfulness and self-acceptance, helps break that stress cycle and reduces severe tinnitus symptoms in the process.
What Does Science Say About Yoga and Tinnitus?
Researchers are showing that tinnitus, yoga and GABA may be closely interrelated.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a brain neurotransmitter that inhibits electrical activity and reduces symptoms of tinnitus, as well as anxiety and depression. Deficiency in the GABA receptor has been shown to directly relate to the worsening of tinnitus.
A recent study conducted at Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine that was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed that a 60-minute yoga session increased participants’ GABA levels by 27 percent over the control group. The control group, who spent the study time relaxing by reading books quietly, experienced no increase in GABA levels. The outcome of the study suggests that practicing yoga leads to increased GABA production that can lessen symptoms of tinnitus, anxiety and depression.
What Are Yoga Practitioners Saying?
Catherine Ghosh is an enthusiastic yogi, as well as a nature-lover, artist, writer, mother and co-founder of The Secret Yoga Institute. She’s also a tinnitus patient. While Catherine struggled to find peace when she first developed tinnitus, her yoga practice helped her both embrace the change and manage her symptoms. In an article on ElephantJournal.com, Catherine offers advice to fellow tinnitus sufferers:
“If you are looking for ways to manage tinnitus in your life, here are ten basic things that I’ve found helpful. Keep in mind, however, that each case of tinnitus is as unique as each person is, so listen to whatever works for your own body. But these practices significantly decreased the volume of my own tinnitus. I hope they help yours as well:
- Practice daily relaxation techniques as often as you need to (deep breathing, yoga poses, meditation, etc.)
- Spend time in nature on a daily basis, away from human-made sounds.
- If you know you’ll be exposed to loud sounds, wear earplugs, as exposure to loud sounds will make your tinnitus louder.
- Stop resisting or resenting your tinnitus. That just makes it louder.
- Avoid using headphones or ear-buds, and all electronic sounds as much as possible. Even the faint buzz of your laptop can increase your tinnitus. Unplug daily for as long as possible.
- Avoid holding cell phones or cordless phones directly up to your ear (use the speaker phone feature as much as possible)
- The best “white noise” to drown out your tinnitus with are natural sounds (as opposed to electrically generated ones): crickets, frogs, cicadas, waterfalls, rain, etc. Expose yourself to these as much as possible, as they are very healing on many levels. It’s ideal if you can reproduce them at home, like by installing a little waterfall, for example.
- Observe a vata-soothing lifestyle and diet, including daily self-massage. (Consult an Ayurvedic doctor or literature for more details on this.)
- Avoid exposing your ears to chilly winds or cold weather.
- Submerge your ears in a natural body of water has healing effects, such as floating on a lake, river, calm sea or springs for five to 10 minute intervals at a time.”
How Can You Start A Yoga Practice?
These days, most cities and towns have multiple yoga studios to choose from. Each studio and class is a little different, with sessions for all ability levels focused on everything from relaxation, to healing, to fitness, to endurance and more. Do some research online to find a yoga class near you that is right for you.
If you would prefer to try yoga on your own, there are many beginner poses that are said to improve tinnitus symptoms that you can try at home. Below are instructions for three such poses. Note that before you begin any new physical activity regimen, you should always consult with your personal doctor.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
- Start in a standing position with your feet stepped wide apart.
- Keeping your left foot forward at a 45 degree angle, turn your right foot out 90 degrees.
- With your palms facing down, raise up your arms until they are parallel to the floor.
- Take your right hand and reach down to your right foot, keeping your left arm extended in the air.
- Turn your head to look at your left hand.
- Hold the pose and then release, straightening your upper body back up.
- Repeat on the other side of your body.
Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
- Sit in front of a wall and raise your legs up the wall.
- Lie back and stretch out your arms to your sides. Palms should be facing upwards.
- Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing.
- Release the pose after a few minutes.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Start off on all fours.
- Lift your knees off the ground, reach your pelvis up towards the ceiling and stretch out your elbows.
- Your body should look like an inverted “V” or an “A”.
- Take care to lengthen the spine, and press down equally with your palms and heels.
- Hold and release the pose after a few seconds.