My yoga practice needs “re-visioning”. Not because it lacks variety or direction. No, it needs to be revised because I just learned it may be counterproductive to my eyesight.
A few days ago, my optometrist handed me a diagnosis of glaucoma. It came after a follow-up visit with a more extensive peripheral vision exam, and a set of detailed photos of my optical nerves. My optical nerve in my right eye is clearly damaged, it has gaps in peripheral viewing capability and the pictures show deterioration. Totally sobering.
The clue in the first visit to the eye doctor that he should dig deeper, increased intraocular eye pressure using the “puff of air” glaucoma test. I am now on eye drops to reduce this eye pressure. Apparently, I will need to take these drops for life, or at least until I have cataract or another laser surgery at some distant point.
Now here is the thing, glaucoma is contra-indicated for a lot of the yoga I do. See: Head-down yoga poses increase eye pressure in glaucoma patients from the American Optometric Association for example. Being upside down in even a “simple” down dog has been shown to increase intraocular pressure. And you know I love being upside down. In fact, I was hanging upside down in aerial yoga just an hour before my second visit with the optometrist, and my eye pressure was in normal range during that office visit. Will that be my last time for aerial yoga? The blog post before this one was all about down dog. Maybe those were some of my last "dogs" ever?
What I do know, is that many of the most pivotal times for me as I journeyed towards becoming a yoga instructor, were when my own asana (physical) practice was paused. The times that I had a sore elbow, or stiff shoulder, or bum knee. The times that I was a bit emotionally broken for some reason. This was when my own instructors drove home that yoga was more than down dog, more than headstand, more than asana. It was then that I learned that yoga was about the philosophy of life as a whole.
My life as a whole is pretty good, and I take the glaucoma thing as just one more chapter yet to be written. Let’s see what happens.
As I move deeper into yoga as a teacher and still (always!) as a student too, I find myself in conversations and practices that not long ago would have been unfathomable. Yesterday was one of those times. Yesterday I spent just about an entire practice in Downward-facing Dog Pose, or Adho Mukha Shvanasana.
I think this started out with my instructor Briel suggesting I stretch out my legs in Down Dog so we could move on with our morning practice. Next thing you know we are having conversations about how Down Dog is cued by different instructors and practices, trying those implementations along the way. Most importantly, we examined how I should do it for my own body; a body with tight hamstrings, tilted pelvis, and a spine and neck exhibiting kyphosis. We snapped screen captures off my Zoom feed while I attempted all these Down Dog variations.
“You know this is supposed to be a resting pose.” I jokingly reminded Briel at one point, as I did Down Dog over and over and over, for almost ninety minutes. In fact, in Ashtanga yoga it is the point where you catch five breaths before you move on to the rest of that exhilarating practice. One of the pictures above is Down Dog after a full cycle of an Ashtanga Sun Salutation (Namaskara) A.
Now I cannot imagine ever teaching my own yoga students Down Dog for an hour and a half. It is good though, to go back and look at these foundational postures every now and then. Subtle shifts in our body and mind occur as our practice, as our life, evolves.
So next time your instructor, maybe me, tells you to go into that “simple” Down Dog, pause for a moment. Pause for five breaths worth of moments actually and think about which “Dog” is right for you.