Ocular Workout

Exercising your eyes can help soothe
those hardworking orbs.

By Danielle Winston

May 2008

    Blink, wink, read this article: None would be possible without the assistance of your baby blues or big browns. Why then is it so easy to take those soul-windows for granted, assuming they’ll always be in working order? Often it’s not until an optometrist says “you need glasses” that people pay a second thought to their vision.

Since working out promotes optimum bodily health, wouldn’t it make sense that exercising the eye muscles could promote healthy sight? The Indian yogis thought so, which is why they invented eye movements. In addition to calming and centering the mind, these exercises are designed to stretch the muscles that move the eyes. It is believed that these movements strengthen and tone the optic nerves, and with regular practice may even improve eyesight.

Eye yoga isn’t unknown in the West. Paul McCartney, who learned the practice in India, was so impressed that he hosted a video, now on the Internet, demonstrating it. Ophthalmologist William H. Bates, MD, was a pioneer in the field of natural vision correction. The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses (Henry Holt and Co.), first published in 1940, has an entire chapter dedicated to the benefits of palming, which is one of the basic principles of eye yoga.

The idea: When you’re tired, closing your eyes even momentarily makes you feel better because, by not struggling to form images, the eyes can relax. But even when your eyes are closed, miniscule flashes of light can escape through the lids. Palming, in which the hands are placed over the eyes, adds another blanket of coverage while spreading warmth to the entire face, which cultivates a nurturing feeling of self-care. Bates wrote that shutting the eyes in relaxation “lessens the strain to see, and is followed by a temporary or more lasting improvement in vision.”

Seeing Is Believing
     Chandra/Jo Sgammato, a yoga teacher and administrator at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York, has been using eye yoga for years. “After writing for hours on end, staring at a computer screen, the eye movements really help relieve my eye strain,” she says.

I’ve noticed eye yoga’s effects for myself. My distance vision had been starting to go fuzzy. As a yoga instructor I began practicing eye yoga. Eventually I noticed a subtle shift in my vision: I had begun to see sharper images. I also taught these techniques to my students. After meeting some resistance—they thought moving only the eyes a little too passive—the students became enthusiastic. They praised the eye movements in post-class discussions.

Here’s a series of three classic eye movements. Do them as often as once a day or as little as three times per week. (If you have a condition such as cataracts or glaucoma, consult your practitioner first.)

To prepare, sit cross-legged or in a chair. Lengthen your torso; let your breathing relax. Roll your shoulders back and down. Be mindful not to overdo it while working your eyes—listen to your body’s intuitive voice. If you experience strain or become tired, close your eyes. With each of the movements, maintain a steady pace, not too fast or slow. At the end of each exercise be sure to center, close and relax the eyes.

Circular Movements: Envision a clock, as large as your eyes can create. Starting at twelve o’clock make wide sweeping movements, tracing around all the numbers with your eyes. Keep your head and shoulders stationary, moving only the eyes. Repeat this process for ten circles. Shut your eyes; after a breath, open them and repeat in the opposite direction.

Vertical Movements: While inhaling, locate a point at the top of your vision as high as your eyes comfortably reach. As you exhale, sweep downward toward your chin, extending as far as possible without discomfort. Repeat ten times.

Horizontal Movements: Extend the eyes to the far right of your vision. After a moment, flow the eyes across as far left as comfortable. Continue the rhythm for ten breaths.

Palming: Bring your hands together at your chest. Begin rubbing the palms together quickly. You can even blow a pillow of air inside, working the movement until the hands start to generate heat. Gently cup your hands above your eyes with the fingertips pointing toward the forehead. Let the warmth and darkness soothe and relax the eyes and facial muscles. When you feel as though you’ve absorbed all you can, massage your temples, forehead and “third eye,” the spot right between your eyebrows. Palming can also be done on its own for brief periods throughout the day to help relieve eyestrain.

It’s worth the effort to nurture your sight. Perhaps as you process information through those amazing liquid marvels tucked inside your head, you’ll gaze inward and behold a new view: the magic of your eyes.

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