I saw an article recently while browsing Facebook that caught my eye. It was describing a new study showing that inversion positions such as downward dog in yoga can increase eye pressure and worsen glaucoma. Until that article popped up on my newsfeed that implication had never occurred to me. Was all my downward dog and yoga practice increasing my risk for glaucoma? What about my patients who already have borderline pressure? What about my patients who are already diagnosed with glaucoma? You can bet that I clicked on the article link.
Glaucoma is characterized by pressure that is too high in the eye. This increase in pressure causes compression on the optic nerve and over time that compression will cause damage to the tissue around the optic nerve. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years old, however it can be prevented if found and treated early enough. The main point of the article was that doing inversion positions, which are common in yoga practice, can increase the eye’s intraocular pressure above baseline a significant amount. This rise could be potentially dangerous in those who are at risk for glaucoma or those who have already been diagnosed.
Inversion positions such as downward dog are shown to increase intraocular pressure, similar to lifting weights and doing push ups. The greatest pressure increase was found in the downward dog position – a position that is very common. The pressure increase also remained elevated for a period of time after performing the poses. So what does this mean for patients at risk? The sample size of participants in the study was limited so direct conclusions cannot be drawn. The bottom line – yoga does not cause glaucoma but if you are at risk for glaucoma, have a family history, or have been diagnosed you may want to contact a yoga instructor to get help in modifying your practice away from inversion positions. Now knowing all of this information I will be continuing my yoga practice but I will not be making modifications as I do not fall into a risk category. I will, however be mindful to discuss with patients that have a higher risk and also practice yoga.
If you have a higher risk or are concerned about your practice and you are in the Albany area I would suggest getting in touch with Katie Collins of Katie Collins Yoga for a private lesson. As a nurse and yoga instructor Katie has an in-depth understanding of the body as well as disease and can help modify your practice to your specific health and wellness needs. Check out her website or find her on Facebook.