Vision is our dominant perceptual sense. Dogs smell. Rabbits hear. But we humans predominantly use our eyes to inform us about the world around us. We see.
Just like any other muscle in the body, the muscles around our eyes can become weak or tight. When they do, our eyeballs can loose their nice round shape, becoming more oblong or egg shaped, either too long or too wide. If one or more of the six muscles that surround our eyes pulls habitually on that beautiful fluid filled ball of ours, then we can't see as well, becoming either nearsighted or farsighted. When we correct this visual disturbance with eye glasses, the problem gradually gets worse as we lean progressively more heavily on that crutch.
Practicing regular eye exercises is one of the basics of maintaining or reclaiming great eye health. Another basic is calming the optic nerve.
The optic nerve is a comparatively long and large structure that comes right from the eyeball itself, straight back into the brain. (A portion of the nerve fibers coming from each eye, actually cross each other, but that's a detail we can save for another time.) When the optic nerve gets highly stimulated from bright light or the tension of muscular strain, it becomes overburdened with chemical messages causing fatigue. When this happens, it can take a little while to calm down. This is where "palming" comes in. I'll describe that a little later.
When I was a young girl, growing up, my mother and my grandmother were both writers. They each spent many hours a day reading and writing. Yet neither of them wore glasses. Though sadly my mother passed quite young, my grandmother lived into her mid-nineties and lived her whole life long without getting any prescription glasses. And she read almost all day, everyday. This was because she had learned how to care for her vision from an eye health pioneer of her time, Dr. William Horatio Bates, M.D. (1860-1931.) She read his books, did the exercises, and blessedly taught my mother, who taught me. Many was the day when I would come across my mother or my grandmother palming or moving or resting their eyes.
Back in the day, instead of celebrity rags at the checkout line in the grocery store, you could pick up little self care books on natural health techniques. I still have a 35¢ hard cover copy on correcting vision problems naturally that I purchased in my early twenties. It is titled Sight Without Glasses, by Dr. Harold M. Peppard. The top of this little book's spine is ragged from the number of times I have pulled it out from my bookshelf. Another small paperback, that I have from back in 1994, by Richard Leviton is called, Better Vision in 30 Days. These little guides have kept me on track and I am so very pleased to say that they work! And there are lots of more very detailed resources available, like Help Yourself to Better Sight, by Margaret O. Corbett or The Eye Care Revolution by Robert Abel, Jr., M.D..
The exercises, or 'movements,' as Dr. Bates used to call them, are remarkably simple.
Palming. Palming comes first and foremost, for calming the optic nerve. This is done by placing the palms of your hands gently over your eyes to create a dark environment where your eyes can begin to drain off the remaining chemical residue caused by light from inside the optic nerve. This is best done in a darkened room, with a straight spine and the elbows resting on a surface which is at about chest level. Resting the elbows keeps them from fatiguing. Care should be taken that the palms rest very lightly on the bony structures of the skull, around the eyes with no pressing.
Bates felt that imagining movement, like a black boat, on a black sea, sailing in a figure eight was helpful while palming. I like to imagine a herd of black horses running around on a black beach at night. Doing visualizations, like these, while palming seems to help the optic nerve drain more quickly and completely.
When palming, it can take a little while for the eye to no longer see patches of lingering light and see only blackness. I can see complete blackness typically in about five minutes. But I have very good vision and well cared for eyes. Bates liked for people to palm for twelve minutes, warming the hands first by rubbing them briskly together, (raising the chi,) before starting. He also liked for people to palm before starting the other exercises or movements. This relaxes the eyes before asking them to engage their muscles. Then, just like gently stretching any muscle, you move first one way, and then the other.
Though there are a host of exercises allowing one to address any number of possible corrections such as double vision, wandering eyes or astigmatism, I have focused on just a scant handful of them to maintain my good vision. Almost all eye exercises are best done outside and my favorites are these five:
Sunning. This feels really great. I step out into the morning air, while the sun is still low on the horizon. I close my eyes and point my nose right at the sun. Then I slowly move my head from left to right, allowing my shoulders and upper torso to move as well, so that my face is moving in an arc of 180 degrees. I might do this for as long as four or five minutes.
Looking at a Distance. The next thing I like to do is see if I can see some distant hikers on the trail going up the mountain near my home. The trail is probably about a mile away from my front door. It's fun. We tend to have a lot of hikers here, and my husband and I often try to see who can see someone first.
In our modern day and age, we rarely look at a distance, but if we were people in ancient times, it would be very helpful to see if that distant fruit tree was ripe or not, or to notice if anyone else was over there. Spending just a little bit of time looking at a distance helps us to counter act all of the time that we spend reading or staring at close up screens while engaging with technology.
Often while driving, on open roads, I'll rest my eyes by looking over the steering wheel at the far off landscapes ahead of me, allowing my peripheral vision to keep track of what is happening near by. And while I'm at my computer, I frequently gaze out the window, behind my screen, at the large tree across the street, allowing my eyes to focus on its leaves and branches for just a moment or two. These kinds of tiny habits give the close up muscles of
my eyes a little chance to rest and relax and greatly reduce any
symptoms of eye fatigue. My grandmother used to say, "Look up." She said that gazing into
the sky or the trees overhead was very relaxing for the eyes and the
Looking Close and Looking Far. This is one of my very favorites. I enjoy seeing how quickly I can change my focusing ability. After looking at the mountain in the morning, I'll take a few moments to briefly look at my thumbnail, held about eight inches from my face. As soon as I can clearly see my cuticle and the details of the skin around my nail, I glance back at the mountain and see how long it takes for me to see details there. Then I look back at my nail, and then back at the mountain. I maybe do this half a dozen times, or more, depending on how acute my eyes are and how quickly my vision can adjust.
Swinging. This one I do seated, with my eyes closed. It is important not to move your eyes too quickly for this exercise. Slow and steady is best. Begin by holding your head in a comfortable position and looking straight ahead. Then close your eyes, and start by moving just your eyes to the left, as if you were looking to the left. Then to the right. Back to the left again, and back to the right. Go easy, especially when you are doing this for the first time. Go nice and slow and not too far. Repeat a comfortable and gentle number of times. Pause for a moment or two after you've completed this, keeping your eyes closed. 'Rome wasn't conquered in a day.'
After that, with eyes still closed, let your eyes swing up and down. Then, after that, try moving on to the diagonals. First up on the left and down on the right. Then, up on the right and down on the left. Try to make your movements nice and even, gradually moving your eyes without letting them jump along. And always come to center, resting your eyes for just a moment or two before changing directions. This really gives those six muscles a nice, deep, long stretch.
Watching My Dog Chase the Ball. This one is really lovely and I do it every day. We take our dog to the park and throw the ball for her. I watch her very carefully, yet with soft and relaxed eyes, not straining, never straining. As she quickly moves away and back toward me again, my focus naturally changes to follow her. The muscles around my eyes actually change the shape of my eyeballs, in a steady fashion, slightly longer or wider to maintain the focus in a continual stream of gentle natural movement.
If you don't happen to have a dog, maybe you have a ball, a similar version of this exercise happens when you hit a ball against a wall and let it bounce back to you and hit it again. Tennis, or pickle ball or ping pong accomplish a similar effect.
My grandmother was a great ping pong player, well into her advanced age. And she often rested her eyes, by sitting down and closing them briefly after a game. She rested her eyes while reading too. She'd hold her finger on the page, so her eyes would not have to strain and search for the next line. She also blinked, a lot, not only at the end of every line while reading, but also while just looking around or speaking with someone. She always read with good and even light and she never stared or let herself strain her eyes in other ways.
Just like any exercise program, doing it once or twice won't get you there. It takes a near daily commitment to see lasting results.
Meir Schneider, of the School of Natural Healing, based in Berkeley, California, has taken this type of work to a beautifully refined level. He was born legally blind and can now drive on the freeway. He teaches how to work with and improve or prevent a variety of eye health challenges including blind spots, glaucoma and macular degeneration. There are more answers to eye health problems than just drugs or surgery.
I am currently working on not only maintaining my beautiful and blessedly perfect vision, but also on preventing cataracts. I'm having success doing this by adding in a few new eye exercises, that I'm now learning, along with keeping my self fully hydrated and doing periodic water fasting, (please see one of my new favorite books on this method of natural healing by Kate McCarthy titled Water Fasting.) I also use two or three drops of Dr. Schulze's Eyebright Formula in distilled water in an eye cup, every day. This gives my eyes a nice bath in healing herbs that definitely help to increase the blood circulation to all of my eye structures, while keeping them nourished and healthy. So far, it is all definitely working!
May you and your family and friends come to know the joy of maintaining and reclaiming beautiful eye health and vision with these simple habits of relaxation and gentle movements that you can easily incorporate into your lives.