A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with narrow-angle glaucoma. It was a bit of a surprise to me and to some of the medical professionals I work with! I had a full eye exam in March and everything was fine. In October, it wasn’t.
Since my diagnosis, I have been curious about what glaucoma is and I have learned that there are two main types of glaucoma and that both of them, if left untreated, will damage the optic nerve and potentially cause blindness.
So what is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition that affects eyesight, usually due to a build-up of pressure in the eye, which can damage the optic nerve. There are two main types.
Primary open-angle glaucoma
- most common type of glaucoma
- happens gradually
- eye does not drain fluid as well as it should (like a clogged drain)
- eye pressure builds and starts to damage the optic nerve
- painless and causes no vision changes at first
- also called “closed-angle glaucoma” or “narrow-angle glaucoma”
- the iris (coloured part of eye) is very close to the drainage angle in the eye and can end up blocking it
- when the drainage angle gets completely blocked, eye pressure rises very quickly
- complete blockage is a medical emergency
I’m so blessed that I will have eye surgery in January that should resolve the issue completely. In the meantime, I want to keep up with my asana practice and I have been concerned about the effect it will have on my eyes. I do not want to cause myself harm on my yoga mat.
I have revisited what I was taught more than 30 years ago, which is that people with glaucoma should avoid inverted yoga poses. Why? Because bringing the head lower than the heart can increase the pressure within the eyes.
A small medical study was done in 2016 by Dr. Robert Ritch, from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai (NYEE) in New York. Dr. Ritch and his team studied the effects of four inverted yoga poses on intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure within the eye:
- downward dog
- standing forward bend
- legs up the wall
The research team took pressure measurements before the poses, after the participants returned to a seated position, and then again after waiting 10 minutes. What they found was that even after 10 minutes, the pressure for most people remained slightly elevated from baseline. This is not a problem if you have healthy eyes. However, for someone like me, it’s a concern.
“Results showed that both groups of study participants had a rise in IOP in all four yoga poses, but the greatest pressure increase was found during downward dog.”
So, in order to keep moving on my yoga mat, I have had to modify my practice. No inversions for me! I have started using the wall and a chair for a lot of poses that would normally bring my head below my heart, like downward dog.
Another study I read indicates that moderate exercise, including cardio, can help moderate pressure in the eyes. So, with a bit of research and reassurance, I’m modifying my practice and still moving!
Below is a link to a short practice you can do at home if you, like me, need to keep your eye pressure under control.
My glaucoma-friendly practice is also supportive if you find kneeling on the yoga mat challenging or if your wrists are uncomfortable in poses like downward dog.