- Fitness influencer Rebecca Leigh had a stroke while doing a hollowback headstand yoga pose.
- She tore a cartoid artery, apparently sending blood to her brain, a doctor told her.
- Extreme neck movement has been associated with cartoid artery tears, which can cause strokes.
- While studies say some yoga moves carry health risks, other studies say it can help with stroke recovery.
- Leigh has been subjected to online harassment since sharing her story. She said she shared it so that she can help people with similar health issues.
Fitness influencer Rebecca Leigh had a stroke when she least expected it.
Leigh was filming a yoga tutorial for her more than 27,000 Instagram followers when it happened. She often films herself demonstrating different poses and gives health advice. In the tutorial, she positioned her body into a hollowback handstand, a difficult type of handstand that involves arching your back and neck instead of keeping your whole body straight.
Leigh’s vision went blurry and limbs went numb, she told SWNS. After conducting a CT angiography scan, which analyzes blood vessels, a doctor told her that she tore her right carotid artery, apparently sending blood to her brain and causing a stroke and brain aneurysm.
“The doctor on staff came into the little room we were waiting in and said in a monotone voice: ‘Well, you my dear, had a stroke,'” Leigh told SWNS. “We thought he had to be kidding. There was no way that someone my age, in my health, could have had a stroke. But he responded to our laughter in a solemn silence and his face said it all.”
The type of damage Leigh had, a cartoid artery tear, is usually the result of extreme neck movement, according to Health magazine. It can come from sudden neck movements, like with a powerful cough or sneeze, or extreme neck rotation or extension, as in yoga or dancing, Mersedeh Bahr Hosseini, a stroke specialist at UCLA, told Health magazine.
The stroke risks associated with yoga have been studied before. A 2013 study found a number of cases where yoga — and particularly headstand poses — led to injury. But a separate study, published a year earlier, found that yoga assisted in stroke recovery.
Ever since she shared the story about her stroke, Leigh has been subjected to criticism about how she should manage her own body. In an Instagram post Monday, Leigh expressed her disappointment. She said she wanted to share her story to help people who may have to deal with the same health issues.
“For every one comment of support I’ve gotten from my story, I’ve had about 200 more telling me how disgusting I am, how arrogant I am, and how I should die the next time I do yoga and that I deserved to have died that day,” she wrote. “This breaks my heart because I wanted to let anyone else who thought a stroke couldn’t be happening to them, know it very well could.”
Leigh was 39 years old at the time of the stroke, in 2017. But the nerve damage still effects her everyday life. She still practices yoga and shares poses with her followers — though now she only uses poses she’s sure she can pull off.
“I know I will never be where I was before 100%,” she told SWNS. “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.”