Ask the Teacher is an advice column that connects Yoga Journal members directly with our team of expert yoga teachers. Every other week, we’ll answer a question from our readers. Submit your questions here, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you advise me on glaucoma-safe asanas?
—Sandy in Silverdale, Washington
We sought the advice of Camille Palma, MD, RYT-200, is a retina specialist practicing in the Chicago-land area. She has been exploring meditation and the body-mind connection since she was a teenager. A graduate of Stanford University and Baylor College of Medicine, she is on faculty at Cook County Stroger Hospital. In 2016, Palma completed a 200-hour training at Corepower Yoga. Since then, she has taught studio classes, as well as individual classes for private clients and her ophthalmology colleagues. Here’s her professional advice.
Glaucoma is a condition in which abnormally high eye pressure causes optic nerve damage. The basic caution that we give patients who have glaucoma is you don’t want anything that’s going to potentially raise the intraocular pressure–the measurement of the fluid pressure inside the eye. Inversions do put you at risk for increased ocular pressure because you have more blood flow to the brain.
Know the Severity of Your Eye Condition
What you can do depends on your level of glaucoma, too. If you have very severe glaucoma, don’t do anything with your head down, or anything where your blood rushes to your head. That means no Handstands, Headstands, and postures like that. There was a 2015 study that looked at the rise in intraocular pressure with a variety of inversions, including Downward-Facing Dog and Forward Fold. After a minute in each position, there were significant increases in intraocular pressure. It returned to normal within two minutes of coming back to an upright posture. This kind of pressure rise may or may not be damaging to the nerve; it depends on the severity of a person’s disease.
Yoga practitioners with more advanced glaucoma should probably avoid all inversions and modify their practice accordingly. For example, hold a Plank or Table Top instead of Downward-Facing Dog. Those with less severe glaucoma can likely pass through these postures as they move from one pose to another in a yoga flow, but I wouldn’t recommend holding them.
Talk with Your Doctor About Healthy Exercise
If you’re a yoga teacher, encourage your students to talk with their doctor to get a fuller understanding of their own condition and be educated about the risks attached to their personal glaucoma diagnosis. That way they can have an intelligent conversation with their provider about how to incorporate yoga into their routine.
As a doctor who does mindful movement on a regular basis, I spend a lot of time communicating about how to keep my patients as active as possible. I like having patients feel empowered about what they can and can’t do.
Your eyes are a reflection of your general health. I do think that exercise in general—and of course, yoga specifically because of all of its benefits—is indirectly helpful to eye health. If your body is healthier, your eyes are also going to be healthier. In the case of glaucoma, tailoring your practice to fit your individual needs and risk profile can go a long way in keeping your vision and your body healthy in the long term.
Got a question about alignment in a certain yoga pose? Want to better understand an aspect of yoga philosophy? Need advice on how to approach a challenging situation in your class? Submit your questions here or email us at email@example.com, and we may answer it in an upcoming column.