Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Balance - - from Outer Space to Inner Ear! (ALS Exercise)

If we're smart enough to send a man to the moon and back, then why the heck can’t we…?

I’m sure we’ve all said it at one time or another. I know I have - - especially when dealing with the numerous challenges that come from living with ALS (also known as MND or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Of course, sending men (and women) into outer space has brought us many discoveries that we all benefit from every single day. Even low-tech simple discoveries - - like how to deal with dizziness.  

You know, those woozy feelings we get right after a too quick a turn of the head or from bending down to pick something up and suddenly the room starts to spin. Yup, all those off-balance moments we write off as just one more sign we’re getting older.

Turns out, astronauts experience exactly the same kind of woozy, off-balance sensations we do. That’s because while they’re up in space, the combination of zero-gravity and minimal physical movement provides very little stimulation to the astronaut’s inner ears and vestibular (balance) system. Their brains and bodies simply adjust to the “new normal” of - - floating. Once they return to earth and gravity, even the simplest of movements can trigger an over-reaction inside their inner ears, causing balance wobbles and disorientation. But rather than live with it, they do slow, progressive training and in three to four weeks are back to normal.

Photo courtesy of
Somersaults Gymnastics Center,
Cedar Rapids, IA
Actually we’re all at risk of not doing enough movement to stimulate our inner ear receptors. As kids we hung upside down, ran in circles and had fun on the swings. Adults who participate in sports and fitness programs that include lots of variable movement can maintain healthy vestibular systems as well.  But most of us go from our cars, to our computers, to eating meals and on to an evening of watching TV; all in the same seated position. Eerily making our “new normal” a lot like - - floating!

Then, just bend down to pick up a pencil and BINGO - - sparkly stars!

Even though I’ve faithfully followed a daily exercise routine I thought would help counteract the effects of my now slowed-down life, I noticed occasional bouts of dizziness. No, not a new symptom of ALS or ‘old age’; I simply wasn’t doing enough of the right kind of exercises - - ones specific to stimulating my inner ears and my body’s balance system.

What are the best exercises to do?
The best exercises for inner ear health are ones that move the head up, down, sideways and in full rotations.

Two of the basic five RESET series taught by Original Strength are head nods and rolling. Of course, the entire RESET series was part of my daily routine... or was it? I’ll admit that after a while doing several sets of just looking up and down got boring. And rolling on the floor became precarious trying to avoid various pieces of living room furniture. Often I’d leave head nods and rolling to the very end of my routine and you know how it goes:  Oops! Out of time!

So, how did I build these two essential and beneficial exercises back into my day? Do them first thing in the morning - -and in bed!

Think about it. A bed mattress provides perfect padding for a few simple exercises, they take only ten minutes to do and once done, are out of the way for the rest of the day!

Of course you should only use a bed that’s wide enough for you to safely roll from your back to your stomach and back again. Plus, have a spouse willing to relinquish their side of the mattress for your new morning routine!

What are head nods and rolling?
According to Original Strength, in addition to activating the vestibular system, head nods restore reflexive control to the neck which is the ability to move the head through full range of motion.

HOW: The basic head nod begins by looking down (tucking chin into chest), then look up as high as you can, chin in the air. Repeat up and down, up and down and up and down.  Second part: bring your chin towards your right shoulder then swing it to your left shoulder. Repeat several times. Third part: using the chin again, draw a big imaginary circle in front of you. Slowly going clockwise and counterclockwise. 

Moving Your Head
Use this link to watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/j4yBESA3rKM

Rolling is a way to safely rotate (spin) the head and body all the way around which provides healthy stimulation for our inner ears. Plus, activation of your body’s entire vestibular system which includes the brain, inner ears, eyes, skin, spine, hands and feet.               

HOW: Rolling is simply lying flat and transitioning from your stomach to your back and from your back to your stomach. There are many ways or styles of rolling and they are all wonderful to experience. I suggest you learn Tim’s ‘relaxed rolling’ first and then progress to the variations found on their video channel or the book, Pressing RESET; OriginalStrength Reloaded.

Relaxed Rolling
Use this link to watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/o9fk4TLncCQ

I’m proud to share that after just a few weeks of getting back to daily rolling and head nods my moments of dizziness completely disappeared. My mini-routine is now a solid habit and since it’s super easy to do, I’m never gonna give it up!

Try it out yourself.

And remember, as you go forward happily navigating the space that you live in, be sure to thank the astronauts for showing us - - it can be done!

Dagmar's 10-minute Rolling Routine:
Take a slow deep breath in and slowly exhale while relaxing your belly.

  1.  Begin on your back. Draw the knees up to your chest and rock your bent legs slowly side to side.  Then keeping the knees bent lower your feet to the mattress - - roll the head right, chin to shoulder, roll head left, chin to shoulder. Repeat several times.
  2. Slide both legs straight (lying flat on your back) and slowly roll over to your belly. If there is enough room, continue in the same direction and roll onto your back. Rest a moment, breathe and roll all the way back to your starting position. Rest, breathe repeat several more full body rolls.
  3.  Roll onto your belly and prop yourself up onto your elbows. Perform several head nods going up and down. Several looking right and left. Then use the chin to draw an imaginary circle thus performing a large head circle in one direction and the other.

Finish by stretching out flat on your belly or back. Take a few more deep breaths and relax.  

Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger

"Head nods not only restore posture, they can help your body's major systems (immune, digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory systems) to not only function better, but to function optimally."
Tim Anderson & Geoff Neupert, 
Creators of Original Strength

Email recipients: Use this link to read blog on the web. 


  1. Good job again with your helpful post! Thank you! Cindy

    1. Thank you Cindy, always good to hear from you!


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