The Eyes Have It!
A couple of years ago my optometrist discovered that cataracts were forming in both of my eyes. He predicted I would need cataract surgery someday. I was not looking forward to this ambiguous ‘someday’. I don’t like the idea of any intervention to do with my eyes, let alone putting in a prosthesis–a new lens.
I believe we humans have a basic survival instinct for wanting to hang on to all of our body parts, no matter that they are weakened by injuries or disease.
I came across this bit of writing six years ago, before I was facing hip replacement surgery:
You don’t get to keep everything you started out with.
Who wants to have that sort of truth be told? In your 40-50’s, your vision is likely to go. In your 50-60’s, your hearing gets wobbly. Maybe you can forestall buying reading glasses or hearing aids out of pure vanity, but you’re only fooling one person.
You may not be familiar with what a cataract is. It’s a condition that is usually age-related whereby the lens of the eye becomes more and more cloudy. The result is that an individual’s vision becomes blurry or even develops a brown colour tint. One survey estimates that 50 percent of those over 80 years old have a cataract.
The day arrived for my cataract surgery on Monday last. As I write this post I’m looking out through a new left eye special Toric lens that helps reduce astigmatism. That’s a condition that I have where my eye is a little less than round.
I’d like to say that I can see clearly now, but I’m not quite there. Looking through just my left eye, colours are brighter. But there’s still some swelling, so my sight is somewhat blurred. This should hopefully get better in a few days.
Yogis would be well advised to observe the protocol that their doctors set out after cataract surgery. And, yoga teachers should be apprised of this protocol, too, as removal of a cataract is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in Australia. With an ageing population, more students will be showing up in yoga classes having had cataract surgery.
Here are the most important contraindications for post-op yoga practice:
In the first week or so, avoid any strenuous poses. This might include holding poses for long timings, i.e., standing poses, because this can contribute to elevation of blood pressure. Other poses that might have this effect are the ones where you strongly contract your abdominal muscles, such as Navasana (boat pose), Bakasana (crow pose), Pasasana (noose pose).
Avoid doing any of the inverted poses. Some of the common ones are Uttanasana (standing forward fold), Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-leg forward fold), Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog pose), and, obviously, Sirsasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulder stand). If you bend only to 90 degrees at the hips, you can still get the benefit of stretching your shoulders and hamstrings in half Uttanasana at the wall.
There are so many tools for healing in the vast array of yoga practices. It’s in the times when we are in recovery or rehabilitation that practices like guided meditations, pranayama and restorative poses shine the most.
I’ve certainly been drawn to yoga nidra and mindfulness meditation in this my healing time to soothe my nerves and boost my immune system.
Having said all of the above, I now admit to being a rule-breaker. Saturday night at the Wingham Akoostik Festival I was shaking my booty to the wild rhythms of ‘The Swamp Stompers’ and ‘Joe Camilleri and the Black Sorrows’.
Sometimes we have to leave a little wiggle room for wild abandon and celebration. Perhaps that’s good yoga, too.
Overall though, I’m still healing and so endeavouring to keep my nervous system quiet.
Good to see you are making a speedy recovery Eve 🙂 Thanks as ever for your wisdom and reminders that Yoga is such a constant companion for ones life at all stages
I am not sure how long it takes for the eye to heal completely after cataract surgery but I somehow think that 1 week is not long enough. I would be very cautious for at least 2-3 weeks. I teach a “Seniors’ Class” at a gym and have to be always mindful of many different conditions. They love their classes and are very eager to come back after surgery or injury, quite often before they are really ready.
Agreed. Every individual requires their own healing time. After seeing my specialist today, he reminded me to be patient, that incremental improvements take time.
It’s important to err on the side of caution. And, what’s the point of rushing anyway, especially in yoga.
here’s to seeing clearly and a speedy recovery Evexxxx
I had cataract surgery a 2 days ago and forgot to ask the surgeon when I could return to yoga classes and yoga teaching. I found your article very helpful re what type of poses to avoid and which ones to do as well as time frames for each. Also to listen to your body/mind for the right timing. Thanks so much Pippa
i want to ask can i perform all yoga as was doing before …atleast ater 8 weeks .. or the restriction for yoga is for life time after cataract surgery ?
The best advice you can receive about what to do and not to do is from your eye doctor.
I did yoga practice after one week but I delayed inverted poses for maybe a month.
However, I backed off what I was doing if I felt too much pressure in the eye. Or, I if I felt pressure afterwards.
I’ve done upside down poses fro 45 years and feel they are beneficial. But maybe a person new to yoga needs to go more slowly and carefully.
Thanks for being touch,
Hello Eve, I would like to know when you started doing full inversions again i.e. headstand? I had my surgery about 6 weeks ago. Dr has said that I can go back to normal practice but I am not confident to do what I used to previously. Thanks
Most doctors don’t do yoga so aren’t familiar with what we do. And, there are so many types of yoga!
I believe I started doing head-down poses between 4-5 weeks, simply forward fold (uttanasana) and down dog (adho mukha svanasana).
I ‘felt’ my way into it. If it felt like too much pressure on the operated eye, I back off.
This seems like the best way to go, and to do yoga generally 🙂
Thank you Eve. Yes, feeling through it sounds best. I currently do half forward folds with hands on knees or just mat work with full folds. I pull back when I feel pressure. Guess I will just take it slowly and give it another month or so before headstand etc
Good advice. Thank you. I had cataract surgery on my right eye a month ago and the left eye 2 weeks ago. Did a downward dog this morning and the right eye is fine but the left feels a little funny. I think I’d better give it another couple of weeks before doing any inversions.
Hi Danelle, This is good advice you’ve given yourself. No need to rush into inversions or dynamic practice until you determine you’re ready. Actually, this is generally good advice 🙂
I am having astigmatism -4.00 in left and -2.50 in right eye with -0.5 myopia in each eye. Can I practice Sarvangasan
Sorry, it’s not within my scope as a yoga blogger to advise you. Do you have a local, experienced yoga teacher who you might ask?
I’m having cataract surgery and I too am thinking to come up with a list of poses I can do so I can substitute.
I wondered what poses are okay. Can you bend to 90 degreees? I was thinking about modifying some poses. I just got back to yoga and back in shape again after pandemic and now this….
A good rule of thumb to follow is to avoid exercises that would create more pressure on your eye(s).
So any inverted poses would be contraindicated for the period of your recovery time. Also exercises or poses that create strong inter abdominal pressure. You probably will see your eye doctor shortly after the operation and then when your new vision settles. As their patient, he or she is the best guide for you. Kindly, Eve G.
Had cataract surgery, my advice, forget yoga for a while, at least a month or two. Replace it with walking swimming and sitting in a chair with 5 pound weights. Eat less so you don’t gain weight. First time responding