When I first started practicing yoga in Berkeley, I wore contact lenses all the time. Then a friend commented that wearing contacts permanently enlarges blood vessels in the eye. “Look at people who’ve never worn contacts,” he said. “The whites of their eyes are much whiter.” He was right. So my original vanity to avoid being a “girl in glasses” bowed to my wiser vanity to maintain clear, bright eyes for the rest of my life.
I experimented with wearing glasses during physical activity: Working out at the gym (fine). Running (troublesome). Swimming using Rx goggles (surprisingly fine). Yoga (fine).
I tried all poses, including inverted ones from Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) to Sirsasana (Headstand), without complaint—and, believe me, I’m not one not to complain. Never did they move excessively, much less fly off my face. I removed them only for Savasana.
When I moved to Vancouver, I was surprised when a senior teacher directed me to remove my glasses in Sirsasana. I complied, but was unconvinced of a rationale. Most teachers didn’t insist on glasses removal for Sirsasana, so I continued to wear them for all active poses.
Recently the issue arose in a teachers’ discussion on students who refuse to remove their glasses. I can somewhat understand the preference for no glasses during Savasana and Pranayama, both which are practiced with closed eyes. But I’ve yet to buy into the removal of glasses for other asana.
Is it a safety issue? Could students fall and smash their specs doing Sirsasana? Impossible, as one would topple over onto one’s back, not one’s face. What about Sarvangasana? I see no way that glasses are even remotely in harm’s way. The only potentially risky poses are arm balances such as Bakasana. But if a student has no qualms about wearing glasses, why force removal?
Some suggest that the mere act of wearing something on one’s face (ie, glasses) creates an uncomfortable, distracting impediment. Well, as a glasses wearer, I can vouch for the lack of impediment if wearing well-crafted, well-fitted glasses. I love my Danish Lindberg frames (my collection pictured here). Made of titanium and acetate, light as a feather, they fit perfectly. Maybe I’d wear contacts if I did a sweatier form of yoga. But, for the precision required in Iyengar yoga, I must accurately see the teacher’s form and alignment.
Besides, if glasses are considered impediments, what about bangle bracelets (that jinglejangle), dangling earrings (lying in wait to rip an earlobe), rings (ouch!), that micro jesus piece necklace that falls in your face when you’re upside down, and watches (hampering your wrist and wandering your mind)?
Others propose that by removing glasses, thus blurring one’s vision, one can focus within. Isn’t yoga meant to develop internal focus, after all? Sure. But why is vision impairment foisted on those who use glasses? Why not require contact-lens users to remove their lenses? Why not have everyone close their eyes? (Indeed, everyone is requested to close their eyes in Savasana and Pranayama.)
But what about more-active poses, whether Sirsasana or Sarvangasana or the gamut of non-inverted poses? A point often overlooked is the difference between blurry vision and closed eyes. In a Yoga for Healthy Aging post by Shari Ser, a longtime physical therapist and teacher at Berkeley’s venerable The Yoga Room, she writes: “…As someone who is extremely myopic, if I can’t see clearly, I can’t hear as well and I can’t mentally focus. But if I close my eyes, my nervous system can focus on strengthening the balance sensors that remain.” (Read her full answer here.)
We are all visual balancers, which I blogged about in Blind balance, so I’m all for improving our vestibular system and other balance mechanisms. But for class consistency, all students must be either fully sighted (wearing corrective lenses if needed) or fully blind (with eyes closed).
Anyone care to convince me otherwise?