Can These Simple Eye Exercises Improve Your Sight?

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

In the first years of the 20th century, a New York eye specialist, Dr W. D. Bates, did research and work on eye diseases which led him to the conclusion that defective vision is not due to permanent changes in the shape of the eye but to functional derangements.

Dr Bates argued that when the eye is used to look at an object, the external muscles which surround the eyeball are used to change the shape of the eye itself. He claimed that when a distant object is being examined, the external muscles move the back of the eye towards the lens, and that when a close object is being examined the opposite happens. He suggested that these muscular changes alter the shape of the eyeball and argued that individuals who are myopic (short-sighted) or hypermetropic (long-sighted) have eyeballs which have been misshapen by faulty action of the external muscles.

According to Bates, when a patient is myopic his eyeball is kept in a position which makes the viewing of distant objects difficult. On the other hand, when a patient suffers from hypermetropia, the eyeball is kept in such a shape that the viewing of near objects is difficult.

Thus, if people with defective vision are really suffering because the external muscles of their eyeballs have been strained, the logical next step for the Bates theory was to suggest that they should learn to relieve the strain and tension on their eye muscles in order to improve their vision. When he put his theory in to practice Bates found that it worked. Not surprisingly, however, it was vehemently opposed by opticians, ophthalmologists and doctors.

Bates suggested that many people with strained eye muscles suffer from mental tension which has set up a corresponding physical strain on the eyes and, in particular, on the muscles which control them. Bates believed that tense, nervous people are more likely to develop defective vision than others and he stated that overwork, worry, fear and anxiety can all help damage the eyesight.

The Bates answer was to encourage his patients to learn how to relax themselves properly. He advocated both general exercises, designed to relax the whole body, and specific exercises, designed to relax the muscles around the eyeball. The following regime is based on the Bates philosophies and on Harry Benjamin’s book Better Sight without Glasses.

1. First you must learn how to relax your body and your mind. (See my previous advice on relaxation).
2. If you’ve ever stared at something very hard you’ll know that the muscles of your eyes can get so tired that you eventually have to turn away and relax a little. Dr Bates had a technique called ‘palming’, which he recommended to patients who wanted to know how to relax their eyes effectively. To do this you should sit in a very comfortable position, as loose and relaxed as you can get. Then close your eyes and cover them with your hands. Don’t press on your eyes. Leave your hands slightly cupped. There should be no direct pressure on your eyes at all. Now you can either let the blackness gently fill your mind or, if you find it easier, allow images from your store of daydream scenes to fill your mind. Do this for ten minutes at a time, three times a day, if you have defective vision. Otherwise, do it whenever your eyes feel tired.
3. You should exercise the muscles of your neck and shoulders; if these are tight, they’ll have a bad effect on the small muscles round your eyes. First raise your shoulders high. Then lower them. Do this a few times, after which you should try pushing your shoulders back as far as possible. When you’ve done that a few times, move your head as far forward as you can – try to touch your chest with your chin. Then move your head back so that your chin is as far away from your chest as possible. Finally, try turning your head to the right as far as it will go and then to the left as far as it will go. These are exercises that you should try if you get tension headaches or aching eyes.
4. You can also do some specific exercises to help relax the muscles round your eyes. Allow your eyes to go up into your head as far as possible. Keep your head still and don’t strain the muscles at all – just take your eyes as far as they will go naturally. Next do a similar exercise taking your eyes as far left as they will go and then as far right as they will go. Again, keep your head as still as you can and don’t strain your eyes. Finally, try holding up your index finger (either hand will do) a few inches in front of your eyes. Look at the finger and then look at any object in the distance. Look backwards and forwards between your finger and the distant object ten times. Rest for a moment or two and then repeat the exercise. If you have defective vision you should practise these exercises several times a day.
5. You can use your imagination to improve your vision. Look at any line of print. Concentrate hard on one word in the middle of the line and then close your eyes and imagine that you can see the one word far more clearly defined than the other words in the line. Open your eyes and look at the line again. Close your eyes and repeat the exercise. Keep doing this and when the whole word looks more clearly defined than the other words, concentrate on smaller and smaller words – finally picking out individual letters for the exercise.

Bates argued that by wearing spectacles, people with bad eyes were merely making their sight worse and perpetuating their need for artificial aids. He pointed out that spectacles do nothing to help the existing problem, but are offered merely as an interventionist aid. They are intended to help the individual with a problem cope with that problem – not to help him overcome it. And there are several dangers.

The main danger, of course, is that by helping the patient who has defective vision to see with artificial aids, the optician is ensuring that any muscle imbalance is maintained. The eyes are being prevented from recovering. Like those volunteers walking around with prism spectacles, whose eyes adapted, the individual wearing corrective spectacles will find that his eyesight adapts to fit his lenses. Spectacles can only aggravate and intensify a problem.

There isn’t much chance of making a living out of teaching people how to cope with their visual problems by re-educating their muscles. And if all the people who wear spectacles were encouraged to give them up, many businesses would disappear overnight.

Nevertheless, there does seem to be evidence that some people who are prescribed spectacles can learn to manage without them. Naturally, people who already wear spectacles cannot simply give up their aids overnight. Their eyes will have grown accustomed to artificial support. What they can do is to try to give up their spectacles in easy stages – simply by not wearing them when they aren’t doing anything demanding. Do the exercises I’ve described. Gradually, as the weeks go by, spectacles may have to be discarded and replaced with older, weaker lenses. That’s a sign that progress is being made!

This article is taken from Vernon Coleman’s bestselling book Bodypower, which is available as an ebook on Amazon. Bodypower is packed with practical advice on ways to improve your body and mind without drugs or surgery.

Copyright Vernon Coleman

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