A few years ago, I had a health scare and ended up going to a specialist. I’m fine now (at least as far as I know), but I still see the doctor once a year.
He always asks me a few questions, one of them being whether or not I’m exercising regularly. I am, and a couple of years ago, I told him that I’d started doing yoga and asked if that was safe.
He nodded, then added, that he’d heard it was extremely difficult. He’s right, but one woman’s story shows that this very old form of exercise isn’t necessarily safe for everyone.
According to the New York Post, Maryland resident Rebecca Leigh was trying to build a social-media following around her yoga practice. She would strike advanced poses and write about them.
However, one of those bodily manipulations almost cost her life. In October 2017, Leigh decided to try her hand at a pose called a “hollowback headstand.”
If you’ve never seen it, know that it’s one of those poses that seems to defy the laws of nature. Your head ends up inverted, your back bows, and your legs end up balanced just so to keep you from plummeting to the earth.
Fail to get any of the elements right, and you’re in for a rough landing. Well, Leigh kept her form on point, but something else happened instead — something terrible.
“I sat down on the couch afterwards because I had some strange peripheral visual issues and felt a lot of pain in my neck and head,” she wrote on Facebook. “While I was sitting there, I tried to put my hair in a pony tail and my left arm was numb.
“It just flopped around and didn’t do what I wanted it to. I physically could not get my brain to tell my arm what I wanted it to do.”
It turned out that Leigh had torn her carotid artery and experienced a massive stroke. The trauma of the tear even caused a small aneurysm. At first, she didn’t believe it when the doctor told her.
‘Kevin and I both let out a little laugh, because we thought he had to be kidding, she said. “There was no way that someone my age, in my health, could have had a stroke.
“But [the doctor] responded to our laughter in a solemn silence, and his face said it all.” It turns out that a number of similarly strenuous activities can cause just such an injury.
Experts call what Leigh experienced a carotid tear. Athletics such as yoga or swimming or dancing can cause it.
However, so can giving birth or even sneezing. The signs of such a tear mimic those of your typical stroke and include droopy eyelids, headache and weakness on one side of the body.
Leigh’s tear has healed, and she has been able to resume her athletic activities. She even continues to practice yoga, although she has toned her practice down a bit.
“I know that I will never be where I was before 100 percent,” she said. “The fact that I can touch my toes is enough to make me smile. I wanted to share my story so that something like this doesn’t happen to any other yogis.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.