With the recent storm in the media about the various “dangers” of yoga to the body, one thing caught my eye more than anything else, retinal tears were mentioned.
This is not the first time I have heard of retinal tears or detached retinas linked to yoga inversions. As I have a personal occurrence of this (twice) I thought my experience would be valuable to teachers and students alike.
What is it?
First a very amateurish explanation of a retinal tear – I am not after all an eye surgeon but having discussed this with three top ones I think I can explain it in laymans terms.
In it’s simplest form the eye is a round ball with jelly (called the vitreous) inside. The retina is a light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of the eye. The optics of the eye create an image of the visual world on the retina, which serves much the same function as the film in a camera.
In your sight everything is upside down so the TOP part of the back of eye represents your LOWER field of vision and vice versa. (this is important to understand)
People who are myopic (short sighted) with a HIGH NEGATIVE (-) numbered eyesight prescription have an increasing egg shaped eyeball which is less stable. The jelly can pull away from the sides of the wall (through head traumas, age, or other things) of the inner eyeball and sometimes tear pieces of the retina with it.
Signs of retinal detachment can vary from flashing lights, flickering or a distinctive “shadow” in the eye. It can tear slowly but requires quick action to save loss of vision. With today’s technology it can be fixed (several options depending on severity etc) If it is not rectified loss of sight will occur.
My original retinal detachment in my belief was acerbated by a headstand workshop. In any teacher training prolonged inversions are a precaution or even a prohibition for people who have had this condition Having not had a detachment before and not knowing all the above stuff I didn’t think about my risks.
I will point out CLEARLY that I have a HUGE predisposition to this happening, here is why:
- My nearsightedness was over -13 in one eye (VERY shortsighted) giving me an egg shaped eyeball, less stable with loads of room for stuff to bump about in
- I had lens replacement surgery for vision as my eyes eventually rejected contact lenses which I had worn since I was 8 years old. This gives a higher risk for retinal detachment as its invasive.
- I’d had vitreal detachment that didn’t tear the retina years before (where jelly pulls away from the inner eye)
- I also did huge amounts of “headbanging” (eg to rock music) in my 20s and 30s eg shaking the jelly around as well as my booty!
So why do I think the headstand workshop acerbated this if there were so many other factors?
The symptoms were starting on the way home…slowly. It took me a week to see that it was happening and only then because I am very aware. They fixed it with a scleral “buckle” (external band aid if you will).
The tear was against gravity, the shadow in my eye was in the top of the field of vision, meaning the bottom part of my retina had been torn. So the jelly had pulled upwards (when I was upside down) This is my theory.
I have asked 3 top surgeons and they disagree but I just have a strong feeling about it. My strong feeling got me to the hospital quickly before the symptoms were really noticeable.
I had another tear next to the same site recently which required invasive surgery. The explanation was that the original buckle failed or became weak. Since the original tear I do not do prolonged inversions.
So what do I think now?
It would be very short sighted of me to blame headstands or indeed dismiss a possible link altogether. But I have no firm conclusion, just an experience to share.
Who knows, I’m not the only one to link this to prolonged yoga inversions. All I like to do is share the information and I DO think that teachers should be aware that people with very high myopia should be very careful with prolonged inversions.