The Optic Nerve and Bikram Yoga

No matter how many Bikram Yoga sessions you complete, there is always at least one thing you hear… you absorb in your thought process…that you hadn’t really heard, or really listened to before. The next best step is to be able to translate what you hear to your body’s movements… and thereafter, to be able to truly understand and feel the benefits and impact of applying what you hear on your body and on your overall well being and health.

Day 10 of the 30 day challenge, Monday, the 5th of September, I paid particular attention to ‘stretching my optic nerve’. I had heard instructors say this time and time again in previous sessions, but could never really ascertain whether I was in fact stretching my optic nerve. In Standing Deep Breathing, the first breathing exercise, following the inhale, you exhale slowly whilst dropping your head back as far as it can go, and shifting your eyes up to the ceiling, and then to the back of the wall (or as far as you can go) for a count of 6. If you focus on the movement of your eyes during each breath, rather than the movement of your head, you will physically notice your optic nerve stretching. This is very much a rolling sensation of your eyeball massaging the inner tissues behind your eye.

Once I felt this, I asked myself – well, how is this good for me? Why is this worthy of mentioning within the dialogue of a 90 minute class?

Admittedly, I am neither a qualified yoga instructor nor an eye specialist. I am however curious to find out what others have written on the impact of yoga on the optic nerve.

What is the optic nerve?

The optic nerve forms part of the central nervous system, and transmits visual information from the retina to the brain.

The Optic Nerve

The Optic Nerve

Health risks linked to damage of the optic nerve

  • Impaired vision, or partial or complete sight loss
  • Glaucoma
  • Optic neuritis
  • Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy
  • Optic nerve hypoplasia
Relationship of (Bikram) Yoga to the optic nerve
The benefits and risks of Bikram to the optic nerve are not unique to this type of yoga, but are relevant to all types of yoga (hence ‘Bikram’ in parenthesis for the title).
After reading multiple articles online, it appears the relationship of (Bikram) yoga to the optic nerve is merely a preventative one – whereby, by stretching the optic nerve, you reawaken the central nervous system, and assist in shifting your own flow of energy to the spine and away from the lingering thoughts and stresses residing in the mind, aiding relaxation and meditation. It also helps to prevents inflammation of the optic nerve, which can then strengthen and improve vision and decrease the probability of developing some of the conditions mentioned above.
Bikram Yoga postures to avoid if you have Glaucoma
However, for individuals who currently have diagnosed optic nerve conditions, there are some postures that even pose as a risk. For example, it is advised that individuals who have Glaucoma should avoid inversion postures. According to glaucoma specialist Dr. Rick Wilson, poses with the ‘head down and body up’ should be avoided for long periods of time. Inversions increase blood pressure temporarily, which adds pressure in the eyes, and therefore has a negative impact on glaucoma. Three of the 26 postures in Bikram Yoga should therefore be avoided: the Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose (Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana); the Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana); and the Rabbit Pose (Sasangasana).
Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose

Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose

The Rabbit Pose

The Rabbit Pose

Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose

Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose

Bikram Yoga postures that are particularly good for glaucoma 

Postures that are particularly meditative in nature, and that offer higher levels of relaxation are good for glaucoma sufferers (The Dead Body Pose – Savasana and the Half Tortoise Pose – Ardha-Kurmasana) . Additionally, postures known to reduce blood pressure are also beneficial (Head to Knee Pose and Stretching Pose – Janushirasana and Paschimotthanasana; Spine-Twisting Pose – Ardha-Matsyendrasana; and the Wind-Removing Pose – Pavanamuktasana).

Bikram Poses for relaxation – Recommended for those with glaucoma

Half Tortoise Pose

Half Tortoise Pose

Dead Body Pose

Dead Body Pose

Bikram Poses for lowering Blood Pressure – also recommended for those with Glaucoma 

Wind-removing pose

Wind-removing pose

Head to Knee and Stretching Pose

Head to Knee and Stretching Pose

Spine-Twisting Pose

Spine-Twisting Pose

Conclusions?

Everybody’s different, our bodies are our temples, and yoga can help everyone in different ways. Strong awareness of our own conditions and limitations can empower us to adapt yoga to meet our own needs. I found a video that may be useful for those suffering from glaucoma, and if you’re interested, take a few moments to watch and get practical tips on how to adapt some postures to meet your needs. Do bear in mind these videos are not specifically pertaining to Bikram Yoga, so the postures have been taken from Hatha Yoga generally rather than from Bikram’s 26 posture sequence. Enjoy!

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5 thoughts on “The Optic Nerve and Bikram Yoga

  1. Pingback: Breathing Meditation Techniques | Free Guided Meditation

  2. Pingback: Yoga for Healthy Living | Vinny News

  3. Pingback: Mind-Body Practice Tai Chi Qigong |

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