Are you suffering from frequent tension headaches, maybe accompanied by blurred vision? Or just a sense of tension around your eyes? Good news: There is a simple way to get relief for your tension headaches that you can do in just a few minutes by taming your occipitofrontalis.
The occipitofrontalis muscle runs across the head. It is constructed of three components, the frontalis muscle, the occipitalis muscle, and the galea aponeurotica. The latter is a large tendon that connects the occipitalis in the back of your skull with the frontalis, running from the top of the head and inserting in the superficial fascia of the fascial muscles and the area above our eyebrows.
It’s basically the muscle that raises your eyebrows and wrinkles up your forehead and creates fascial expressions in the upper part of the head. And it is often very tense, contributing to tension headaches, migraines and blurred vision.
Follow the mini massage in the video below to release any muscle tension around your eyes. If you don’t have massage balls, you can simply use your fingers.
Close your eyes, and breathe into your belly to activate the relaxation response. Make sure your elbows are supported so you can relax your shoulders while you massage the frontalis muscle.
Massage along the ridge of eyebrows either with your middle finger, index finger or with several fingers together by making small circles, applying gentle pressure. If you have massage balls, place one ball at the inner edge of your eyebrow and then wind it up a bit in a spinning motion. This will gather up your myofascial tissues, creating a deep massage action and increasing blood flow to your eyes.
Move from the inner eyebrow toward the temples, by picking a new spot to massage.
When you reach the temples, spin the ball or press your finger into your temporalis muscle with a circular motion. You can open and close the jaw to create a deeper massage action.
Then spin the ball the other way, or circle your fingers in the other direction and move backwards along the ridge of the eyebrows.
We paradoxically often have a hard time relaxing. Not just when sitting or lying down to palm our eyes, but in daily life as well. We get wound up about about another driver cutting us off in traffic and stress about the small and big stuff that gets thrown at us every day. This is were belly breath can help you to get to deep relaxation instantly.
Without going too much into anatomy, here some basics to help you understand why we get so easily stressed out and how to avoid that trap.
Our autonomous nervous system had two main components, the sympathetic system also known as “fight or flight” and the parasympathetic system often referred to as “rest and digest”, aka relaxation.
Flight or flight is important when we face real danger. It stops the digestive tract, widens the pupils, increases the heart rate and blood pressure, flows oxygen into the muscles and tenses them up to get ready to run or fight off an offender. We automatically start to breathe more into the chest.
Unfortunately we tend to get stuck in that sympathetic nervous system response even when danger is over or when there was no danger in the first place, just daily stressful situations. This causes digestive problems, blurry vision, tension in neck, shoulders and head, increased blood pressure, shallow chest breathing and so on.
So how can we keep calm and carry on? The key is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The main nerve responsible for this activation is the vagus nerve, which has been getting more attention from the scientific community in recent years. It communicates with the thyroid, adrenal glands, intestines, pancreas, gall bladder, heart, and brain. It’s a very long nerve, connecting the base of the brain stem with the viscera, our “gut”. In fact, some scientists refer to the gut as the “second brain” because of this connection. We say “gut feeling” for a reason! My younger daughter rightfully proclaimed as a five-year-old that her secret power source is in her belly.
The vagus nerve gets stimulated in a number of ways, one of which is the movement of the diaphragm down into the abdominal cavity on a deep abdominal inhale. When you do this deep belly breath, it will automatically expand outwards and contracts back on the exhale, when the diaphragm moves back up into the ribcage. You can imagine the diaphragm like a dome tent where there is no breath after the exhale. It’s attached to the lower six ribs. On a deep inhale, the diaphragm tent flips upside down, creating a bowl shape. And therefore creating a big space for the lungs to expand into the flexible rib cage.
If your stomach and belly are tight from holding stress and tension, or maybe from overexercising the abs, having them always sucked in (as we were taught as kids, especially girls), your diaphragm has no space to go and you will automatically breathe more shallowly into the chest. And with that activating the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system. It’s a devils circle.
The following Yoga Tune Up® ball sequence will massage your belly, the internal organs, activate the vagus nerve and teach you belly breath. It will also remove any tension you might carry in your abdomen. You will need either a Yoga Tune Up® Coregeous ball, or a soft and grippy exercise ball that is not inflated too much.
1. Lie down on your mat or floor. Place the ball underneath your navel and gently lower yourself down. Check how the pressure of the ball feels. If it hurts or feels very uncomfortable, do this sequence at the wall. If on the floor, either support yourself on your forearms in a sphinx like yoga position, or come all the way down and let your forehead rest on the floor.
2. After a few initial breaths, do five contract and relax breaths. To do so, inhale deeply into your belly only, so that your lower body lifts off the ball. Hold this for a few seconds, then exhale sharply, letting the ball sink deeper in to your abdomen. If possible, create a small break between the bottom of your exhale and the next deep abdominal inhale. You might notice, that each exhale relaxes your abdomen more, letting you sink deeper into the ball after each breath.
3. Move the ball to another spot on your abdomen and repeat the five contract & relax breaths there. You might notice more tension in the stomach area or more in the lower abdomen, the digestive tract. Spend time where you feel the most tension.
3. Then start rolling on the ball from top to bottom using a push/pull motion in your hands and feet, stripping along the rectus abdominus (“six pack”) while continuing the deep abdominal breath. This big muscle runs parallel to the spine. Do some contract & relax breaths on any tight spot you can still find.
4. Change the direction now, going side to side, cross fibering (going against the grain) of the rectus abdominus. The transverse abdominals go the other way, they run deep below the six pack muscles in a 90 degree angle. And the obliques are oriented in a 45 degree angle for our full range of motion. Do about 5-10 rounds in each plane of the belly, giving any tense areas more attention.
5. The last technique is the most intense, yet it feels amazing. It’s a pin, spin & mobilize movement. Move your ball back into the center of your abdomen or the area where you felt the most tension. Press your body weight on to the ball, then walk your hands and feet to the right side to a roughly 45 degree angle to the mat. This spinning action will wind up your skin, fascia and muscles, creating heat and deep massage of the internal organs. If you want more, press yourself up on your forearms or hands, then lift one arm up toward the ceiling for a breath or two. Lower and and switch arms. Spin back to center and go the other way. Repeat on any other areas of your belly if needed.
Roll off the ball and come to a seated or standing position and notice the difference in your breath and your relaxation level. If time permits, sit down and palm your eyes for ten minutes or more. Use your (mental) foundation object or any positive thoughts, a mantra, a memory, word or image that gets you into a deep mental relaxation. You might notice more visual clarity and a calmer state of mind after this self massage sequence. Even when you have no time to palm your eyes afterwards.
Remember this feeling to bring you back into this state of calm quickly when stressed. Find a mental foundation object (memory, word, image, mantra, smell, sound etc) for a faster way to calm yourself down. Being able to easily move back into relaxation after the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) was triggered is called vagal flexibility. But that is a whole new post!
This post could have also been tilted “Why you should ditch the word try from your vocabulary”.
There are two issues with this pervasive and dangerous word. First, when we say we “try” to do something, we leave the backdoor open to not do it. After all, we said that we would only try, not actually do it. The only exception here is when you try something for the very first time, be it a new food or a new exercise. It’s ok to say I will try this but after you did, decide not to continue eating it or doing it, because you do not like it or it doesn’t work for you. We are talking about the other “try”. The one that is about the things you really want to do, but seem to have trouble sticking with.
When it comes to vision improvement (and pretty much everything else in life), trying is not getting you anywhere. Start making decisions instead. Maybe that decision is to stop doing something that hasn’t been good for you such eating too much processed food. Maybe it is a small goal such as “I will palm for five minutes every morning”, instead of “I will try to palm for 20 minutes every morning” and then never doing it.
Start with baby steps, it is much easier. According to research, it takes about 40 days to establish a new habit. Once you have the habit of palming every morning for five minutes, you might then say “I will palm for ten minutes every morning”.
It might work, or it might not. Failing is part of the process. When you fail, ask yourself “Why did I fail when I increased my palming time from five to ten minutes”? Write down all the reasons you failed and start with a new plan. Maybe you just need to set the alarm earlier or find a more comfortable position, or palm in the evening for ten minutes and stick with five in the morning. Whatever it is, analyze and experiment. But don’t try.
The second big issue i have with the word try is that it implies straining or making an effort. When it comes to eyesight, it’s the worst thing you can do. And the main reason your vision is not good (I am assuming you are reading this because your eyesight is not perfect).
Natural, healthy vision is effortless. Practicing the Bates Method to improve your vision is practicing relaxation with the help of specific techniques. In the beginning you will have to give your eyes rest (e.g. palming) to get a sense of what relaxation feels like in your eyes. After all, you are so used to strain that you might not even recognize relaxation. Once you experience how easy and effortless relaxed vision is, you will practice it all day long until it becomes a habit. Your vision will get better over time. This might go fast or very slow. There might be resistance and times when it gets worse again. Analyze why it’s getting worse and take action to change that.
Vision improvement is a process of practice to learn seeing, the natural and easy way. It’s the exact opposite of trying.
Last but not least, we also associate trying with hard, as in “I am trying really hard to get this done”. As if trying alone is not bad enough!
Stop trying. Especially trying hard. And put yourself up for success by making decisions. If you fail, analyze why, modify and start over. Never try. Ever. Again.
In part 1 of this post I demonstrated a neck and head self massage to improve posture and eyesight. In addition to directly working on these areas, it’s important to massage the upper back muscles as well, namely the upper trapezius, levator scapulae and the rhomboids. The first two are contributing to the movement of the neck, and the rhomboids and the levator scapulae are responsible for lifting the shoulders up. We do this all the time when sitting hunched over at the computer, holding a phone between shoulders and ear, and even when doing yoga.
This constant state of elevation in the shoulders combined with stiffness in the neck mover muscles due to bad posture, stress, shallow chest breathing, sitting at the computer with a fixed gaze, creates major tension in the upper back, neck and head. All of which effects our eyesight.
While you can roll the neck and head muscles at your desk, you will need a wall or floor space (more intense) to do the following upper back release sequence. Do this short sequence after work or in the morning after waking. Best to roll directly on the skin for maximum shear in the myofascial tissues (and clothes tend to get rolled into the balls).
The video shows the sequence at the wall. For more intensity, do it on the floor.
1. Place the balls right above your shoulder blades in the center of the shoulders (not to close to neck). Step away from the wall and use your body weight to let the balls sink into your upper trapezius and levator scapulae. When on the floor, lift your pelvis up (you can put a yoga block under your hips for a more restorative version). Breathe deeply into belly and chest
2. Start crossfibering the muscles by bending and straightening your knees (wall) or by chugging your hips forward and back (floor). The balls will move up and down the shoulders, about 2 inches.
3. Then change the direction of the movement by moving side to side. The balls will glide along the edge of the shoulder blades from left to right, covering the whole width of the shoulder blades. When doing this on the floor, it helps to move the arms side the side, bending one at the time to create that sideways motion of the upper body.
4. Move the balls together and down to just under C7, the last cervical vertebrae. They will be right and left of the spine, touching each other. Repeat the chugging motion, moving the balls up and down a few inches, crossfibering the upper trapezius and rhomboid minor. When doing this on the floor, cradle your head in your hands.
5. While chugging, put more weight onto the left side for a few strides, then to the right. Wherever you feel more tightness, do it a bit longer.
6. Add a pin & stretch by moving the arms up in circle shape on an inhale and lower them down on the inhale. The movement should resemble the snow angel arms we did as kids.
7. Last stop is at T5/T6, roughly in the middle of the shoulder blades. Do a bit of moving up and down, then hug yourself and twist the upper body from side to side, putting weight onto one side at the time. This massages the rhomboid major and the trapezius.
Notice the difference after you have rolled these upper back muscles. You will feel relaxed, refreshed and be able to breathe more deeply. Your body and eyes will thank you!
As a Bates Method and yoga teacher, I pay attention to the whole body, the posture and the breathing. For this post, we will only look at the upper body, specifically the neck, jaw and temples, since these areas are directly connected to tension and strain in our eyes. And with the help of the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls, you can conveniently self massage these hot spots directly at your desk, while closing your eyes and giving them the rest they deserve.
Many of us spend hours, if not the whole day, sitting at the computer. Spine rounded in flexion, shoulders in protraction, internal rotation and elevation, head extended backwards, craned forward, or tilted sideways holding the phone between shoulder and ear, with the neck bearing the weight of the head. And our heads are heavy, about 11 pounds or 5 kg without hair. That constitutes roughly 8% of our body weight. Quite a lot of weight that our neck and shoulder muscles have to hold up there, all day long!
All of this sitting and slouching looking at the screen is creating muscle tension and weakness throughout the body, witnessed as bad posture and resulting lower back pain, neck stiffness, limited shoulder mobility or pain, tension headaches, migraines, jaw pain, TMJ, the list goes on. This in turn leads to an imbalanced posture from head to toe.
When looking at this from an eyesight perspective, it becomes obvious that some of the head tilts initiate from poor vision, e.g. craning the head forward when myopic, or tilting it back when presbyopia starts and the near point gets blurrier. But this also goes the other way. That is a whole new post, but just know that our head posture is a main contributor to astigmatism, and the angle or tilt of the head can directly be measured in the angle of your astigmatism. And staring at a screen up close for hours will most likely end in myopia.
Glasses are also a major reason for bad head posture and the resulting strain and pain. Are you tilting your head backwards when sitting at the computer? If you do, you probably wear bifocal or varifocal glasses. These lenses assume you are looking down when you are using the plus prescription in the lower part of the lens for near work, and straight ahead when looking at the distance. But the computer is straight ahead and near. To compensate, you need to crane your head backwards to access the lower part of the lens. This not only creates extraordinary neck tension, but starts or worsens any existing astigmatism.
The following therapy ball self massage sequence gets into the nooks and crannies of your tense muscles and fascia, the connective tissue which runs throughout your body. Its superficial layers are right under the skin, the deep layers in and between our muscles. The stiffer and harder the fascia, the more tense and stiff the muscles surrounded by it.
Start by breathing deeply into the belly five times, feeling it expand and collapse. Then let the breath ripple from the belly up into the chest on the inhale, letting it leave the body on a long exhale. Keep inhales and exhales equal in length. Continue this abdominal thoracic breath throughout the whole self massage sequence. It improves flood of blood and oxygen into your tissues and cells.
1. Place one of the balls at the lateral side of the neck. Test the waters by pressing the ball against the sternocleidomastoid muscle (the one you’ll use to turn your head backwards when changing lanes, tilt your head to the side and when looking down). If you feel tension there, spin the ball, winding up skin as you do. This alone stimulates the superficial fascia around the neck muscles, creating slide and glide between fascia and muscle which is important for smooth and pain-free movement.
2. Add some motion for a deeper tissue massage. Nod your head “yes” a few times, then “no”, turning it side to side.
3. Move the ball to another area on your neck and repeat.
4. Cup the ball in your hand and place it on the side of your jaw. The muscle you feel there is the masseter, the strongest muscle in the body. Turn your head slowly sideways as if saying half of a “no”, letting the ball crossfiber the masseter. This might be quite intense, so adjust the pressure with your hand or by leaning more or less into the ball. If you find a particularly tense spot, keep the ball on that area with sustained compression for a couple of breaths, then add a stretch by opening and closing the jaw.
5. Place the ball at your temple and roll it forward and back. You can also use sustained compression by just pressing it against one area, or spin the ball on the skin, gathering up superficial fascia. Remember to breathe deeply.
6. Repeat this on the other side. One side might need more attention than the other, because none of us is symmetrical.
7. Finish this tension tamer by gently drumming your fingers along the bony ridges of your eye sockets (above the eyebrows and along your cheek bones) and your temples.
For a quicker version (albeit without the spinning movement of the ball on the skin) you can massage jaw and temples at the same time by using the balls in the tote.
You can purchase The Yoga Tune Up® balls during a session at my practice, or by visiting yogatuneup.com Should you order online, make sure to get the smallest size for this exercise, or the starter kit with differently sized balls which come in handy when massaging your whole body.
Part Two of this stress relieving sequence will include the shoulders, upper back and chest for a complete release of “tech neck”. When working these areas, you will need floor or wall space.
Please remember that while self care through neck and head massage is really important in your journey to improve your eyesight, you need to address the origins and causes of your poor posture and eye strain at the computer as well. Be it by getting rid of varifocal lenses, an ergonomic makeover of your workstation, improving your proprioception through yoga or other movement practices, learning the Bates Method to recognize eye strain in the first place, practicing the Bates Method to improve your vision, blinking and breathing, daily exercise, relieving mental strain, or just taking frequent breaks.
In fact, as you have probably figured out by now, all of the above mentioned changes are important for good eyesight and a healthy body and mind. If you only address the tension but not the root causes, the tension will come back quickly and your eyesight will not improve. It might even get worse.
People often ask me why sunning your eyes is so beneficial? The short answer is that our cone cells need light to see colors and details, and sunlight is the healthiest source of light out there. If you want to know more about sunning your eyes, read on.
Have you ever been in a pitch black room without any light? Have you noticed that you don’t seem to see anything? However, if there’s even the slightest bit of light, your eyes will adjust and give you some vision, although it’s black and white and rather grainy.
The word “Photo” literally means “light,” and the cells in our retina are called photoreceptor cells because without light, they don’t function. Looking at this anatomically, there are two basic type of cells, the rods and the cones. The rods are the ones that give you the black and white, grainy, soft focus night vision, and they’re also the ones providing most of your peripheral vision. This is the reason that peripheral vision at the outer edges doesn’t produce color, but you do see movement, and without that, we probably wouldn’t have survived as a species.
The other photoreceptors, the cone cells, are responsible for color and detail (or sharp focus) vision. The center of the retina, the macula, is packed with cone cells only, and therefore produces clear, sharp vision. They only work when there’s light, and they work best in detecting accurate colors when the light is bright, as sunlight is. Without light, they would slowly deteriorate.
Yet we have been told by the media, the optical industry and most optometrists (who sells sunglasses too) that we will damage our eyes or, even worse, become blind if we don’t shield our eyes from the sun. Now I’m not talking about extreme conditions such as a polar expedition, climbing in the Himalayas or piloting a plane at 30,000 ft. I’m talking about our daily lives which are spent mostly indoors, working in some type of building with often tinted windows and artificial light sources. We then walk to our cars or the train station and sit inside again, shielded from the sun. Maybe we hike or bike on the weekends, or even drive to the beach or lake. But often we run errands that require being indoors again other than the part of getting there.
And how many now immediately put sunglasses on if there is even the slightest ray of sunshine coming from above? People often say they do this because they are so light sensitive. Is that any wonder if their eyes are never exposed to natural sunlight?
Do a simple test to see if you are truly light sensitive. Go outside into the sun. You might not be able to look straight ahead if it’s a bright day and want to put your sunglasses on. Instead put your hand parallel to the ground at the level of your eyebrows as if you wore a baseball cap or hat. Is it still too bright? Or did the shield do the trick? The reality is that it’s not so much the light itself that is too bright but the angle of the sunlight hitting the eye. Additionally, the overall brightness of the environment affects how strongly we perceive the light, due to the reflective properties of the environment. White reflects the most light, whereas black reflects the least.
Unless you have an eye disease such as macular degeneration, a second occurrence of cataracts, uveitis, conjunctivitis, corneal abrasion (e.g. through Lasik), a viral infection or another illness that makes you more light sensitive (e.g. migraine), or are taking medications that produce light sensitivity, you probably aren’t photophobic (light sensitive). If you do suffer from MD or secondary cataracts, do not do sunning.
Sensitivity to light is also common in most visual disorders, especially myopia and astigmatism. Wearing tinted glasses (the ones that get darker with more light) not only make the light sensitivity worse but often the refractive error as well, since the amount of light available has a big effect on clarity when vision is not perfect to begin with. So in addition to increasing light sensitivity, these tinted prescription glasses also decrease visual acuity in the long run and will often result in the need for stronger glasses. Just what the optometrist ordered.
If you are so light sensitive that you cannot gaze at the horizon line on even an overcast day, you will need to reverse the light sensitivity first before being able to improve your myopia or astigmatism.
Knowing that the cone cells are needed to produce the clear vision that we all want, it would make sense to do anything to keep them healthy. Light is like a vitamin for them. So shutting light exposure down by sitting in dark offices and wearing sunglasses outside is depriving those cells. Not only do we need sunlight to generate Vitamin D, but it’s also been shown that increasing exposure to this type of lightmake us happier. If you are still light sensitive, wear a hat or cap when you go out in the middle of day to prevent any strain which might cause you to squint your eyes.
Sunning is the important thing you can do to eliminate light sensitivity and allow you to improve your vision. Therefore it’s one of the core eye relaxation and improvement techniques of the Bates Method. You can do it anywhere, and anytime, but it’s best if you do it outside when the sun shines, and without the barrier of a glass window between the sun and your eyes. If you live in a part of the world where the sun tends to be elusive, especially during the winter months, you can do it inside, using a high wattage white infrared lamp, like the ones used in bathrooms and in the food catering industry, as they emit a nice amount of heat in addition to bright light. More on that further down.
How to do basic sunning
Go outside and face the sun. If you are just starting out and are used to wearing sunglasses whenever outside, do it in the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is lowest. Otherwise any time of day is fine.
Gently close your eyes and feel the warmth and light of the sun on your closed eyelids. Closing the eyes helps relax them, especially when there’s still some light sensitivity present. It also helps to turn the visual “faucet” off to let the mind truly relax. Think of this as a mini spa treatment for your eyes and brain. Let your mind drift to pleasant thoughts to further the relaxation.
Now slowly and deeply inhale and turn your head to the left side. Feel the gentle stretch in the neck and notice that your left eye is now shaded by your nose. Be aware of the difference in light strength. Exhale and turn your head to the right, noticing your right eye now being in the shade and your left eye receiving more light and warmth. Also be aware of the center when both eyes get an equal amount of light. Your head movement will look as if you are saying “no”. Do it slowly and gently, breathing deeply. Let the breath initiate the turns of the head.
Keep going back and forth, turning your head sideways as far as your neck allows you. If your chin doesn’t go all the way to the shoulder for a 180 degree head turn, do not force it. With daily sunning, your tight neck and shoulder muscles will also relax and release tension, which will in turn improve blood flow to the brain and help you to improve your vision. Tight neck and shoulder muscles are a big contributor to tension in the eyes and vision problems.
If you notice a lot of tension in the neck, you can also do a few “yes” movements with your head, tilting the head slightly back as you inhale and moving the chin toward your chest as you exhale. Keep the shoulder blades relaxed and the trapezius muscle away from the ears as you move your head. Let your eyes come along for the ride, and they should feel as relaxed as a kid on a swing that is being pushed by a parent. The eyes do not initiate any movement when sunning.
Sun for five to ten minutes or however long you can. You can stand or sit. If in public, you can turn your head even slower and take full breaths between sides, so it’s more inconspicuous and nobody will notice that your eyes are at the spa!
If you are at work and see the sun breaking through the clouds, do it at your office window right then and there, even if just for a minute or two. Anything is better than nothing. And if the sun is shy and barely shows itself, don’t wait for a specific time, since the sun might be gone for the rest of the day.
Sunning should always be followed by palming, ideally twice as long as you did the sunning. If that is not an option, palm at least until any potential after images or colors have faded and your visual field with eyes closed is dark again.
Additional benefits of sunning
In addition to reducing any light sensitivity and supporting relaxation of eyes and mind, sunning has these benefits:
The shift from shadow to light when turning the head will slightly open and close the pupils which strengthens the pupillary reflex
The pupillary reaction will gently massage the lens capsule and stimulate the photoreceptor cells in the retina without the need for sharp focus
The warmth of the sunlight and the movement of the head will release tension and it improves blood flow to the neck and shoulder muscles which consequently relaxes the facial muscles (all these muscles are connected and tension in the neck and shoulders often carries over to the face including the eyes)
The deep breathing improves flow of oxygen to the brain which the eyes are a part of. The brain uses 25% of all oxygen while only weighing about 2% of your body weight, and 1.5 pints of blood circulate through the brain every single minute! Consider this and breathe deeply.
Sunning is so enjoyable and restful that you are more likely to take little breaks from the computer that don’t habitually involve smoking or eating unhealthy snacks. It might also help to take your tea or coffee break outside and combine it with some sunning and palming.
Sun exposure is the only natural way for the body to get enough vitamin D, which is needed to absorb calcium to keep bones strong and healthy. A lack of vitamin D has also been linked with cognitive impairment.
Sunning reactions or discomforts
Sunning should feel really nice on your eyes, neck and shoulders. If you feel any discomfort, it’s most likely due to tension in those areas. If the neck hurts when turning your head, turn it less in the beginning and do not tilt the head back as much. Maybe you could even get a massage to release any deeper muscle tension.
Should your eyes get watery, itchy or start to twitch, it’s usually a symptom of the intense strain you’re carrying in your eyes. Continue to do the sunning in a relaxed way, and it will slowly melt that tension away. Maybe do it for shorter periods or only with the morning or evening sun until the worst strain is released.
If facing the sun with closed eyes is too strong even in the morning or late afternoon hours, start practicing on an overcast day or stand with your back to the sun, and work from there (once that feels comfortable you can proceed by facing the sun).
Remember, always palm after sunning for double the amount of time, or until any afterimages have dissolved.
Making your own sun
If the real sun is not shining, you can fake it by using a 250W heat light, also called white infrared bulb. They are sold at hardware stores or online, and are usually used in bathrooms or for food catering to light the food and keep it warm.
You’ll need to use a lamp that can handle those high wattage light bulbs though, so check your lamp beforehand. The cheapest option is to buy a metal clamp lamp like the one pictured. It’s very inexpensive and available at hardware stores in the construction aisles.
The sunning itself is done exactly like outdoors. Depending on where you mount or place your heat lamp, you will either stand or sit when doing the sunning indoors. Distance should be about 3 ft / 1 m, but this depends on your personal comfort. You’ll want to feel the warmth and the light but not end up with red skin from the heat.
Make sure to keep your head level when turning side to side. The head should only tilt back when you do the up and down motion instead of moving from side to side.
When traveling you can also use a strong flashlight and just move it back and forth over one eye, then the other. Hold it as close to your eye lids as feels good. Do three sets with palming in between. Flashlights won’t emit that much heat, but the light in and of itself is very beneficial, especially in the darker winter months.
Advanced sunning techniques
Once your eyes get used to sunning, you can deepen the technique in following ways:
Open your eyes when your head is turned to the sides, blinking rapidly when eyes are open (start this in an environment that doesn’t have extremely bright objects such as white houses on your sides).
Hold your hands in front of your eyes with your fingers spread and rapidly move them in opposite directions, while turning your head side to side with your eyes open, and blink rapidly. The fingers provide a filter that will allow some sun to enter our eyes without being too strong (see picture).
There are further techniques beyond this, but this has to be taught in a lesson where the teacher can observe the student and make sure there is no strain involved. If you are interested in a session, please contact me at 310.462.2462 or email me at claudia (at) batesvision.com (and this can be done via Skype, FaceTime, Google hangouts or other modern video technologies if you are not able to come in person).
Blinking is one of 3 simple things you can do during your day to make your eyes happy by manifesting relaxation:
1. Blinking: Healthy eyes blink every 2-3 seconds. Observe yourself and count the seconds between blinks. Or better yet, ask a friend or family member to observe you, especially when working on the computer. We often don’t blink more than every 20-30 seconds when looking at a screen. Try to do that on purpose and you’ll have a hard time not blinking for so long.
Recently I was observing a friend who does a lot of online gaming. I was able to count to 40 between his blinks. When I asked him if he was aware of this, he said he had actually trained himself to blink so little since every nano second counts when you play those intense games. I advised him to reconsider since blinking is one of the best ways to avoid staring, which causes strain and blurry vision. So better “train” yourself to blink frequently, in an effortless way.
Blinking is not only necessary to lubricate our eyes, but it’s like a micro nap which interrupts any staring or straining we were doing before. Like a computer restart, it clears out the old and brings a fresh view. If you suffer from dry eyes, practice blinking several times a day by doing quick, light “butterfly” blinks for a minute each time.
2. Breathing: Our eyes are part of our brain which consumes 25% of the total required oxygen for a normal functioning of the body. The capillaries in our eyes are among the smallest in the body and since they are located above the heart, only deep relaxed breathing will get the required oxygen all the way up there. So remember to breathe, especially when concentrating.
When you are anxious or stressed, place a hand on your abdomen and take a few deep breaths into your belly, feeling it rise on the inhale. Count your inhales and exhales and practice making the exhales a little longer. If, on the other hand, you need more energy, put more emphasis on the inhales.
Tip: Place a sticker on your computer to remind yourself to blink and breathe!
3. Yawning: Whenever you feel like yawning, go for it! Let those often super tense jaw muscles—the strongest in the body—stretch and the eyes rest for a while. Yawning also lubricates the eyes. You might even notice your vision being clearer after a few rounds of yawning.
New clients often ask me if it’s not more important to do eye exercises than to palm the eyes. After all, aren’t the eyes getting enough rest when sleeping? Shouldn’t the eye muscles be trained instead of relaxed?
The answer is, of course No. The eyes are not really resting while we sleep, especially in the REM phases of dreaming. Scientists have proven that the eyes accommodate to the objects we are “looking at” in our dreams. 90% of our sensory input comes through the visual system! Moreover, palming gives our eyes not only much needed rest from computer and other eye straining work, but it is the best and easiest tool to relearn to relax the eyes.
Relaxation vs. Rest
Just to make this clear: Rest and relaxation are not the same thing. Palming is rest for the eyes, through which relaxation can be achieved most easily for most people. A feeling many cannot even remember in their muscle memory, so learning what relaxation feels like is the most important first step in improving your eyesight. Once you can achieve that state of relaxation with eyes closed, you can apply that feeling when your eyes are open for clear, relaxed, effortless vision. The more relaxed your vision gets and the less you strain while using your eyes, the less palming you’ll need.
Bates practitioners know that relaxation is the only way to have clear vision. This is not easy to learn after years of strain and tension being carried in the eyes, facial and body muscles. Palming (and sunning) offer the beginner and the advanced practitioner the opportunity to slip into the rejuvenating pool of relaxation, letting go of tension, stress, worries…. The darkness, energy and warmth of the hands covering the eyes lets muscles and the mind relax. Without a relaxed mind, we literally cannot focus, visually and mentally.
“Seeing” deep black while palming is the mind’s feedback that we are relaxed. This is the ultimate confirmation of relaxation but it cannot be achieved with force or will power — only letting go and fully immersing yourself into the experience can get you there. This means accepting that your visual field in front of your closed eyes might be gray, grainy, cloudy, wavey or shows glimpses of color today. But maybe tomorrow it will be black. Accepting something does not mean you don’t want to change it. It just means that you have learned to be patient with your progress, the only way to get you to your goal of total relaxation and clear vision.
Mindful and Meditative
Practicing the Bates Method has therefore more to do with a mindful, meditative practice than an exercise regimen. What I mean by that is the activities let our minds relax as much as the eyes, a necessary prerequisite for perfect vision. Our vision is 90% mind and only 10% eyes. Doing pure eye muscle training as in traditional vision therapy is helpful for vision problems related to muscle & fusion imbalance, but there comes a point where that alone is not enough. And the reason is that vision therapy ignores the mind and focuses on the eye muscles only. Vision therapy would benefit from including the Bates relaxation approach, and hopefully one day that will happen!
When to Palm
Palming is useful as a remedy for tired, strained, dry eyes, when your vision gets blurry after a long day, or when getting a headache. If you have recurring symptoms like the ones described, you would ideally prevent them from occurring by palming beforehand. Or as a regular routine, e.g. in the morning and evening, to start and end each day with the memory of relaxed eyes. Think of it as maintenance like stretching your muscles after exercise to stay flexible and nimble.
How to Palm
There are so many descriptions of palming online that I don’t want to reiterate them here, but instead give useful tips based on the issues I hear most often (I am happy to introduce you to palming in more detail during a session if you have questions that go beyond the information here). Palming is beneficial on it’s own, and should always be done after any other vision activity to rest the eyes and “capture” the release of tension. If you are very restless and antsy, do a movement activity like the sway or long swing before palming. Oftentimes the inner visual field is blacker when palming after stimulating the eyes with movement.
The key to successful palming is a comfortable position. Find a place in your home where you are happy to be at. This might be a comfy armchair in a light corner, a bench in the garden or your couch. There are many positions that can work, see images and descriptions below. Most important if you want to palm for more than a few minutes is elbow support. Without it, your arms will tire quickly, tensing up the shoulders and neck. There are several ways to support the elbows, depending on your position: pillows, blankets, table top, knees, back of the chair, or a palming stick, invented by James Laker and now produced by Stephen Poytner in the UK (more on how to get one later).
The position can vary throughout the day, you might palm laying in the bed in the morning with pillows propped under your upper arms, using your office table with a stack of books during the lunch break, straddling a chair with the back serving as an elbow rest at home, and sit in your favorite comfy chair in the evening, supporting your elbows with cushions or the palming stick. Relax the shoulders and neck. The head and neck should be more or less upright, you don’t want the head to tilt back or forward, the hands should not support the weight of the head, but just cover the eyes.
Keep your legs relaxed, with feet flat on the floor (except when laying down). You want to feel grounded and connected, not twisted up like a pretzel. That also helps blood circulation. So make sure you are not crossing over the legs or ankles but keep the legs parallel. Lean back in the chair if that is comfortable.
The hands should be cupped slightly, the edges of the palms resting on the bony part around the eyes. No pressure should be felt on the eyes themselves. Cross your hands over the nose and move your fingers so no light comes in anywhere, without pressing on the nose (you still want to breathe easily). Then close your eyes, relax facial muscles, especially the jaw, and let shoulders get heavy. You want to relax the body completely.
Should you have trouble positioning the hands so all the light is excluded without straining the hands, find a comfortable place in the dark area of your home, or invest in dark curtains so you can darken the room. This is preferable to using eye masks for palming, since you are losing the beneficial energy and warmth only the hands can provide.
Methods of Relaxation
If you find it hard to relax your mind while palming and feel like a million thoughts are racing through your mind, don’t fight them — they will win. Instead, use one of the following techniques. But remember not to “think” with your eyes as this will prevent deep relaxation. Since the visual cortex is at the back of the brain and the hippocampus (where we “reassemble” memories) in the center of the brain, bring up thoughts or visual memories from the back of the head versus the eyes.
Feel your eyes get heavy and sleepy, resting in their plush sockets. Think of the them tilting slightly downward
Think of a favorite moment, person, event, location, smell, object. Remember the relaxation and happiness you felt. If you are a visual thinker and feel that you are using your eyes to conjure up the memory, use another way to relax such as observing your breath or listening to music.
Find a “Foundation Object” to induce relaxation. A foundation object is something you remember so easily and perfectly that the memory of it requires no effort.
Observe your breath, feel your out breaths get longer and longer. You can also count the breath
Listen to music that relaxes you and/or makes it easier to remember favorite moments
Repeat a mantra in your mind (meditation technique)
“Write” a love letter to your eyes in your mind, describe how fresh they look, how beautiful they are and how clearly they can see. Scientists have proven that imagining something creates a 70% higher chance of it actually happening. So imagine your eyes with perfect vision!
How long to Palm
It really depends on your situation. In general older people benefit from longer palming sessions whereas children are often relaxed after a minute or two. Experiment and see what gets you the best results. In general, palming twice a day for a longer period (15-30 minutes, e.g. morning and evening) and then as needed during the day is a great way to start when you want to improve your vision. If you suffer from an eye disease, longer palming is necessary to give your eyes the much needed rest. Keep a daily log of your palming and write down how you felt afterwards. You might quickly notice a pattern, and then custom tailor your palming frequency and length to what works best for you.
The pictured palming sticks come with two different base sticks: A shorter one for children or for placement on top of legs (e.g. when wearing a skirt), and a longer one for adults.
Details: The poles are aluminum, the fittings are magnesium, the top and bottom is made from birch plywood, the stiffeners are canadian maple, the top is closed cell foam (can be wiped clean with a damp cloth). They cost £35 each, shipping varies (£11 to the US).
They can be ordered directly from Stephen Poynter in the UK:
That is a question that I have started to ask my clients because clarity is not felt the same by everybody and that the level of clarity somebody needs is very individual. Some people have 20/20 or close to 20/20 vision and still wear glasses because they feel they need the 20/10 clarity of an eagle or fighter pilot. Even when I tell them that all you need for driving is 20/40 vision (in most states), they want the best clarity the optometrists chart has to offer, even if it had felt clear before it was measured.
I wonder if that has to do with control and competition. And if letting go of the concepts of control/power over others (and your life in general) and having to be better than others is the prerequisite of letting go of strain which is the only way vision and therefore clarity can improve? Which means accepting that a little less clarity is the only gateway to more?
It’s possible to achieve 20/10 vision naturally. But before you start doing some useless mechanical eye exercises, ask yourself: which level of clarity is fine for me to start this process? Am I OK to see less clear, at least for sometime during the day? Would I actually prefer not to wear glasses because they restrict my field of vision, distort colors and proportions and weaken my visual acuity eventually?
If you answer YES, the next question is: Am I ok with 20/40 or 20/70 or even less vision in most circumstances in the beginning? Can I let go of the need to control everything and just trust that my vision will be good enough to carry me through whatever I am doing (obviously not driving or operating heavy machinery when vision is very poor)? If you can answer this with YES, you can improve your vision naturally.
There are other people who only wear their glasses when absolutely necessary. Not because they want to improve their vision, but because they intuitively know that glasses are not good for them, and create a barrier between them and others.
Most people I meet that feel this way are nearsighted and work with other people, be it in a therapeutic or other situation such as a retail experience. They don’t like the way glasses feel and the disconnection it creates. But, they have also gotten very comfortable with the lack of clarity and like to almost hide in that blurriness that “protects” from seeing all the things that are out there. They literally don’t want that clarity. And there is the reason why they became myopic in the first place.
If you feel this describes you, you need to get peel off the layers of this “love of blurriness” before any major vision improvement will happen for most of you. Good vision habits will help to improve your vision initially like they do for everybody, but for major change you need to investigate why you don’t feel you should have clarity.
Exactly like the control lovers who want pilot fighter clarity no matter how need to figure out why they are so afraid of a loss of clarity (=control). And when you get down to that level, clarity will come naturally, especially when you learn how to relax your eyes with the Bates Method. Because the relaxation of the mind AND the eyes is needed to let go of the things that keep you from the clarity you want.
The media is full of stories about how bad computer use is for our vision. But that’s not really true. Using a computer in general is not bad for the eyes. The problem that we do it wrong. Just watch a colleague or friend work on the computer and you will notice how most people stare at the screen.
As if the screen is big hole that sucks us in. Eye movement and blinking are very reduced in an effort to see the whole screen equally clear at once. Which is tiresome not just for the eyes but the mind as well. Headaches, dry eyes, blurry vision, fatigue are the common responses of the body. To avoid this, move your attention across the screen while blinking effortlessly every few seconds. Remember that you can only see one tiny spot perfectly clear at any given time, so move your peepers around.
The second bad habit most people have that they stare at the screen for hours a time without a break. The eyes are locked into a fixed accommodative state, meaning they are fixed onto a specific point in a specific distance. That’s the equivalent of sitting cross-legged for hours at a time. Of course your legs will be numb and need a while to walk again properly. Yet we expect our eyes to do this in split seconds, and get frustrated when we look up after a long time and everything’s blurry. So, it’s important to look up from the screen every 10-15 minutes, let your gaze wander around the room or look outside the window for a minute or so.
But that’s not everything. Equally important to keep your vision in perfect shape is the peripheral vision, which is basically shut down when we concentrate too hard on the screen in front of us.
Our visual field has a radius of about 180º horizontally and 90º vertically with both eyes together. With one eye the horizontal field of vision is about 140º, the overlap of both eyes about 120º. Why does it matter when working on a computer? Isn’t peripheral vision only important when outside to see dangers looming around us?
Simply put, no. Peripheral vision is our “rod” vision, the receptor cells that detect motion and provide us with black and white night vision. In contrast, our central “cone” vision is not larger than 2-4º and created by the cone cells that provide us with detail and color in daylight.
When focusing on the central vision alone we create an artificial tunnel vision which is rigid with a lot of strain. This tunnel vision promotes the unhealthy staring habit and suppresses the natural frequent blinking, necessary to lubricate the eyes and keep the attention soft. Peripheral vision encourages eye movement since our attention can freely move to the next thing we ‘catch’. It’s a continuous, soft flow of moving attention.
How can we stimulate our peripheral vision when working? We need to put something interesting into our peripheral field, and it needs to move. Streamers that gently swing in the breeze or bouncy objects such as mobiles or chimes are perfect to keep our attention soft and avoid tiring tunnel vision. The children’s party head piece is probably not proper office attire, but can be used for peripheral stimulation as needed, especially if mobiles and other fixed installations are not possible at the office.
Remember to switch sides of the desk to stimulate the other side of your visual field. Or install the mobile in a flexible way, so it can be moved to the other side. Best is to have stimulators on both sides of course, even if it’s just a dangling toy hanging from the desk lamp. Be creative!
Some pretty choices available for purchase (click image for store link):