People with glaucoma, the leading cause of irreversible blindness in America, may require specific modifications when practicing yoga. As many as 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of them know they have it, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation.

A recent study has identified postures that students with glaucoma should avoid if they wish to enjoy yoga’s benefits without increasing fluid pressure in the eye. An increase in this intraocular pressure (IOP) is the most common risk factor for optic nerve damage from glaucoma, and modifying IOP can prevent or slow the disease’s progression.

“While we encourage our patients to live active and healthy lifestyles, including physical exercise, certain types of activities, including pushups and lifting heavy weights, should be avoided by glaucoma patients due to the risk of increasing IOP and possibly damaging the optic nerve,” said Robert Ritch, MD, senior study author, and chair and director of Glaucoma Research at New York Eye & Ear Infirmary, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, in a news release. “This new study will help clinicians advise their patients on the potential risk associated with various yoga positions and other exercises that involve inverted poses.”

IOP will increase in any body position other than seated or upright. Postures found to increase IOP include inversions such as downward-facing dog, standing forward bend, plow, and legs up the wall. Prior research has noted an increase in IOP during headstand. While study authors did not conclude that these postures increase the risk that glaucoma will progress, the findings indicate the need for further research. The study is available in PLOS(2016; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144505).

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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