Millions of people around the world practise the art of yoga. While sore muscles and minor bruises are expected when performing strenuous asanas, experts have found it can cause more damage for some people.
According to a 2009 study, researchers from Columbia University found extreme bending caused some yogis to experience brain damage. Data from the survey revealed out of 1,300 yogis across the globe four people experienced the rare condition.
Rebecca Leigh is an advanced yogi who had a terrible experience in 2017. After completing the Hollowback Headstand she stood up and immediately felt there was something wrong and started to experience a terrible headache. "I tried to put my hair in a ponytail and my left arm was numb. I physically could not get my brain to tell my arm what I wanted it to do," Leigh told a news portal. Adding, "I had an awful headache… I had some strange visual issues and felt a lot of pain in my neck and head."
After seeking medical treatment, her physician informed her that what she experienced was a stroke. A CT angiography revealed she had torn her right carotid artery, a blood vessel that is essential to delivering blood to your brain. The medical term for this is carotid artery dissection and reportedly occurs in three out of 100,000 people annually.
Carotid and vertebral artery dissections are rare. They occur in about 3 out of 100,000 people each year, but they’re one of the most common causes for stroke in young and middle-aged adults. Overextension or manipulation from yoga, dancing and swimming are a few reasons why certain people may experience these types of tears.
“It’s hard to know for sure what caused it,” Dr Jessalynn Adam, a sports medicine physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, told a news portal. Adding, “In some instances, it is a bit of a freak occurrence, but classically it’s caused by manipulation of the neck from trauma, or high-velocity, high-energy stretching of those vessels and tearing of the lining."
While experts say this condition is very rare, there are some ways you can protect yourself and practise yoga safely. “If you really have to strain, if you’re not able to breathe through the exercise, if you feel any unusual symptom or headache or anything like that, be smart and listen to your body when it’s telling you to stop,” Adam told a news portal. Adding, "Wherever you are in your practice, it’s OK to be where you are. Accept yourself in that journey. I see people get over-eager, and that’s when bad things can happen."
Ann Swanson, the author of 'Science of Yoga,' suggests getting a qualified yoga teacher to help you learn the movements carefully. "I recommend finding a yoga therapist because yoga therapists have an additional two years and 800 hours of training to work safely with health conditions," she told a news portal.