Does Yoga Pose a Problem for Eyes?

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Posted: September 18, 2018
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Few forms of exercise have seen the same rise to popularity as yoga has in recent years. While yoga broadly refers to a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices, it is the physical element that is widely appreciated in the United States.

Yoga is thought of as a healthy pursuit, but can the postures actually pose a threat to your visual health? Researchers have recently begun to consider the relationship between inverted (upside down) poses and increased intraocular pressure (IOP). The concern is that these postures may temporarily raise the IOP of fluid in the eye, which is commonly associated with glaucoma and other visual complications.

Activities That Can Increase IOP

women-doing-yoga.jpegSeveral yoga postures put the head below the heart. From downward-facing dog, where the body forms an upside down V shape, to more inverted poses like headstand or handstand, many common head-down poses have the potential to affect your IOP.

The American Optometric Association highlighted a study in which every participant experienced a measurable increase in IOP within one minute of holding downward-facing dog, standing forward fold, plow pose, and legs-up-the-wall pose. IOP remained elevated as the participants continued to hold each pose for two minutes. After each pose, the participants sat for two minutes and their IOP’s returned to their baseline measurement.

In addition to head-down yoga poses, some other behaviors thought to potentially increase IOP include:

  • Using inversion tables
  • Playing horn instruments
  • Bungee jumping
  • Wearing swimming goggles

There is currently no evidence of a clear connection between the temporary elevation of eye pressure from these activities and long-term optic nerve damage. Eye doctors are trying to discover if there are common behaviors that can negatively affect visual health. However, patients with glaucoma are more at risk from any increases in eye pressure and should avoid head-down poses and other activities that cause a measurable rise in IOP.

Yoga can be an effective form of exercise, and exercise is closely related to your physical wellbeing. Generally speaking, brief spikes in IOP should not raise concern in an individual with good visual health. But keep in mind that repeated practice of these poses could potentially lead to worsening eye damage over time and might promote or worsen glaucoma and other eye conditions. Discuss any concerns that you may have with an experienced ophthalmologist. For patients with glaucoma, there are many poses that do not involve inversion.

Increased IOP and Glaucoma

Let’s talk about how increased IOP is relevant to patients with glaucoma, or who are at risk for developing the condition. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Glaucoma is caused by damage to the nerve that connects the eye to the brain. This damage is usually the result of elevated intraocular pressure. The most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, often has no symptoms and can only be detected by thorough eye exams, including ones that measure a patient’s IOP.

If you have glaucoma, elevated IOP, or are at risk for glaucoma, you should schedule an eye exam with an experienced eye doctor. Our ophthalmologists can evaluate the health of your eyes and discuss your personal ability to safely perform head-down poses and other activities that may cause an increase in IOP.

Schedule Your Eye Appointment Today

At Susskind & Almallah Eye Associates, our ophthalmologists are here to help you have the best visual health possible. Call us at 732-338-0153 today to schedule a comprehensive eye exam. We have offices located in Manalapan Township, Toms River, Brick, and Barnegat, New Jersey.