Be Thankful for Your Body

Coincidentally, we are coming up on Thanksgiving. Why coincidentally? Because I hadn’t thought about that fact until I had nearly finished writing this post. The inspiration for this week’s post came from my visit to Arizona last week. I spent a full week at Miraval resort and Spa in Tucson. Miraval is famous for promoting mindfulness, restoration of the body, soul and spirit, and pushing (or gently pulling) you out of your comfort zone.

I am not really a spa kind of guy. I’m not big on massages and yoga, and am skeptical of too much foofy foo touchy feely stuff. But, I went with an “open mind and heart,” as I was advised by an old college buddy who practices yoga regularly. My wife and I were invited by our friends who had been there before. We are slowly recovering from a family tragedy, and they thought it might help us. It did, but I won’t delve into that here.

One of the many exercises and activities was a yoga hike. This involves getting up very early in the morning, hiking up into the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, and doing 30 minutes of yoga on the rocks as the sun crests over the peak of the mountain, then hiking back in silence. Sounds serene, doesn’t it?

“Doing 30 minutes of yoga on the rocks” isn’t as easy as it sounds, because the rocks are: (1) hard, (2) sloped, and (3) not far from a ravine full of cacti. Falling over is fairly common for me when doing yoga, so add in a little fear and anxiety. It was difficult. I could not hold several of the poses, and I was sweating and making noises that didn’t fit with the beautiful surroundings. At the end of the session, I was a little frustrated that I had not been able to keep up with the instructor. Then, as we wrapped up, the instructor said to us, “Be thankful for a body that allows you to do this.” That stopped me in my tracks, and on the silent one-hour hike back, I started thinking about the people that come into my office every day. Very few of them have bodies that would allow them to do what I had just done (even if I wasn’t very graceful).

Balance and walking require harmonious integration of information received from the eyes, the ears, and the proprioceptive system involving touch and joint sense. As a vestibular specialist, my job is to figure out what is wrong when this system breaks down. Is it an ear problem, or a brain problem? Is it medication, or nerve damage? The list of possibilities goes on and on. But for many of us, this system works beautifully, and when it does, we should be thankful for a body that allows us to do this.

About Alan Desmond

Dr. Alan Desmond is the director of the Balance Disorders Program at Wake Forest Baptist Health Center, and holds an adjunct assistant professor faculty position at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. In 2015, he received the Presidents Award from the American Academy of Audiology.


  1. I can understand Jenny’s feelings. 6 months ago, I bent over to pick up something off of the floor and ended up on the floor. I was spinning so severely that I could not even focus to crawl. Now I have a very sensitive vegetative system and almost immediately I started to vomit. Now I have only been in the balance business for 42 years and felt like I knew what was happening. However, my symptoms as I lay there did not fit anything except a possible viral attack. I did think that I might also have BPPV, but could not do any maneuvers to self treat since I could not stay in any position due to the emeses and retching with dry heaves. I could not shut down the nystagmus even with fixation. I sat there in a recliner and continued to throw up for over 6 hours. I honestly could not make it to the bathroom without someone hanging on to me. Finally I tried to self treat in case it was BPPV and unfortunately only made things worse. One of our staff members came over to try to assist and the nystagmus was so intense in every position that nothing seemed to help. We recorded my eyes and found that the nystagmus was in excess of 80 degrees/second. To make a long story short, the next day I was checked for possible cerebellar stroke (negative thank goodness). With medication to decrease the nausea, we were able to do some of the maneuvers and found that it appeared that I had experienced both viral labrythitis and multiple canal BPPV. Now we don’t know if the BPPV initially involved multiple canals or if I caused a canal conversion when I tried to self treat. It took 3 weeks to actually successfully clear the BPPV and I still have problems with the unilateral weakness. I do fine on firm surfaces and when there is a lot of light, but not on uneven surfaces or in the dark. This experience certainly gave me a lot of empathy for all the patients I have evaluated and treated over the years. It also gave me a great appreciation for balance rehabilitation. This is only part of the story, as I have decided that there must be a hereditary component to this dizziness. I have one son with Meniere’s and another son who has exactly the same problem that I do. However, his initial episode completely destroyed his horizontal semi circular canal, but left function in the posterior so that he gets to experience occasional posterior canal BPPV on that side.
    Jenny, I am sorry that your having the struggles.

  2. While reading this article, the first thought to enter my mind was along the lines of, “He’s complaining??? I wish I could do that!” Then as I continued to read I realized that my feelings were validated. Thank you for “getting it”.

    I’ve suffered with imbalance issues for 2 years after a quick hitting, devastating and life changing illness. One minute I was upright and the next I was crawling up my stairs, unable to hear or stand. I ended up in the ER with pneumonia and ear infection. My hearing and balance never returned. I now have a Cochlear, but I still struggle daily with not bouncing off walls, walking on uneven ground and across snow covered parking lots. I live in Maine….snow covers parking lots 6 months out of the year! Someday I want to ride my horse again, sadly I know it may never be possible.

    Thank you for understand the struggles!

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