The Vestibular System

In the most narrow sense, the vestibular system is a part of the middle ear that contains the uticle, the saccule, semicircular canals and the vestibular nuclei. It is commonly known and undisputed that this system is involved in balance. What has been demonstrated, but is less well known, is that the vestibular system is intimately invoved with learning, change, and human relations. It also cannot escape notice, that the vestibule is located together with hearing, in the ear, which is a sound and vibrational energy collection system. There is a strong functional interrelationship between hearing, balance, learning, movement, and social openness. The solar plexus and proprioception receptors throughout the body are also related to vestibular function.

The Reich and Lowen tradition speaks often of falling anxiety. Falling anxiety is not a mental mistake but rather the experience of of a hampered vestibular system, perhaps together with insecure footing. Vestibular mediated signals cause the motor system to increase or decrease its signal to specific muscles, especially in the core and neck. Chronically contracted and shortened core and neck muscles are endemic in our society and a major part of armoring. This chronic signal to contract is what might happen to brace oneself for the impact of a fall. People with this type of contraction perhaps always feel they are actually falling or about to fall. Needless to say the sensation is one of insecurity. This is hard to address with 'gung-ho' style physical 'fitness' training because forced movement stimulates more bracing which makes movement even less balanced, which causes more input to brace, etc... Often a person with poor balance gives up exercise in frustration.

Vestibular function also controls eye movements. One theory of near-sightedness is that convergance and divergance of the eyes in early life is inappropriate for given visual targets causing stresses that result in an increase of axial length of the eyeball. If the vestibular system is hampered, eye movements (saccades) will be decreased, which increases eye strain. Also if vestibular function cannot ensure balance, the visual processing system will be recruited to handle balance, which distorts the role vision plays in human contact.