Glaucoma and Yoga: What Is Safe?

glaucoma and yogaBy Faye Martins

Are glaucoma and yoga a good mix? In spite of Yoga’s many benefits, not every pose is good for every person. In the case of glaucoma, an eye condition that causes increased pressure in the eyeball and can lead to gradual loss of vision, danger is greatest for untreated glaucoma; risk may be minimal when it is properly treated. The final word for what is safe, and what is not, rests with the physicians of our students. Teachers have no place in giving medical advice, unless the teacher is also a qualified physician. That said, medical advice is based upon data supplied to the physician and knowledge of a particular case. Therefore, Yoga teachers who are not doctors, should advise students to see a medical professional for a qualified opinion.

 

What We Need to Know about Yoga and Glaucoma

• Communication

Yoga teachers need to be familiar with glaucoma, but it is up to students to discuss their conditions with their doctors and share relevant information with instructors. Is the glaucoma under control? Has there been a recent surgical procedure? Are there other risks, such as high blood pressure, neck problems, heart problems, or stroke, that also make inverted yoga poses risky? These are all factors that should be addressed, when a student is applying to participate in classes. Students should be made aware of benefits, safety procedures, modifications, and that there is risk involved in any physical activity.

 

In fact, there is also a health risk for those who choose to live a lifestyle with no physical activity. Life doesn’t come with a guarantee and it’s not risk free. If a student arrives late, doesn’t fill out an application, and could care less about communicating with you, who is at risk? You both are. The student is putting his/her health on the line, while testing the extreme limits of your teaching position. If the student is harmed, second guessing comes into play, and the law might have something to say to you and the facility that hosts classes. Did I mention, there is a good chance you might be fired? Please communicate, this will prevent a lot of unnecessary pain and agony.

 

• Information

Informational handouts should be presented to students before they attend classes. Students should not have to know about eye conditions at the last second. Glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions that cause progressive damage to the optic nerve and often goes unnoticed in its early stages. There is no cure, but prompt treatment helps to prevent loss of sight. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends thorough exams for anyone over 40 with follow-ups at various intervals, depending on factors like genetic predisposition and age. Doctors also suggest that African Americans get an eye exam between the ages of 20 and 39. That said, an annual eye exam helps monitor subtle changes that the average person might not notice.

 

• Precautions

Students with glaucoma – depending on medical advice, severity, successful treatment, etc. – Should use caution when practicing any inverted yoga poses. According to glaucoma consultants.org, the safest rule is this: Avoid any pose that puts pressure on the neck veins. This can include both mild inversions and full inversions, but may not apply to every student with a glaucoma diagnosis.

According to the same site, postures like Forward Fold and Downward Facing Dog are usually safe as long as they are part of a sequence and are held for less than one minute. If held for extended periods of time, it’s usually safe to substitute modified poses or stop after one minute.

 

• Breathe

Students can be easily distracted during a practice with intricate body movements. Remind students to breathe! Proper breathing, especially during inversions, reduces pressure on the veins. Students often forget about breathing when practicing yoga poses. As guides of this practice, teachers need to steer students away from anything that puts them at risk.

• Alternative Poses

In “Yoga Journal,” Iyengar instructor Dean Lerner suggests these poses as alternatives to inversions (with modifications, as necessary): Reclining Bound Angle; Reclining Hero; Bridge; Standing Forward Bend; Intense Spread Leg Stretch; twists and forward bends. This is only the tip of the iceberg, because to completely address this subject requires deep research.

 

Food for Thought

Anyone who suffers from glaucoma can benefit from Yoga; each person, however, requires individual consideration. Assuming yoga instructors are already familiar with the condition, they can only rely on the information that students give them. In the end, sharing knowledge and practicing good judgment are essential for both teachers and students.

Ultimately, the mix of glaucoma and yoga can only be safe when students are informed of the risks. As teachers, we should make students aware of the risks of inversions. There are many more contraindications for inversion, which makes it important to inform students during practice. Modifications are not a problem. We can encourage our students to modify by demonstrating the use of blocks, chairs, or walls during asana practice.

(Yoga teachers may provide an additional service by reminding students, especially older ones, to get their eyes checked on a regular basis.)

 

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