Author Archives: Claudia

Computer vision = Tunnel vision?

Avoid staring at the computer by stimulating your peripheral vision.

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.

Children's headband providing peripheral vision stimulator
Anything moving stimulates the peripheral vision

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.

Simple streamers can provide peripheral vision stimulator
Streamers or mobiles can help stimulate the peripheral vision while working on the computer

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):

Shifting Attention

Baskets of dried fruit at Vienna's "Naschmarkt" Farmer's Market
Baskets of dried fruit at Vienna’s “Naschmarkt” Farmer’s Market

Healthy eyes are always moving, we just don’t notice. If your vision is blurry you are probably staring at the screen, trying to see as much as possible at once. That’s not how our eyes work though, they are not like a camera! Our eyes can only see a very small point perfectly clear at any given time, but move so fast that it feels as if we see the whole screen at once.

Activity:
Take your glasses off if you wear any, then click the picture above to enlarge it. Practice eye movement by letting your eyes wander over the different baskets of dried fruit. Close your eyes and remember what you saw. Repeat. Maybe you notice how the baskets seem to move in an opposite direction to your eye movement. Once you feel more relaxed you can let your eyes move from one fruit piece to the next within the same basket. Close you eyes and remember the pieces of fruit and the movement.

For myopia:

Look outside and move your eyes across trees, houses or windows, whatever you can see. It’s ok if it’s a blurry as long as you can make out shapes. Notice how your objects seem to move in a opposite direction. Close your eyes and remember the movement and what you saw. Repeat. When closing your eyes again, remember what you saw, then imagine it clear. Open your eyes. Different or same?

Finish:
End with a 5-10 min palm and relaxed breathing. Enjoy the darkness and rest. Remember to move your eyes across the screen next time you work on the computer, and look into the distance every 10 minutes!

Color of the Day

Leaves showing the beautiful colors of the seasons

Every fall I am in awe of all the colors leaves turn into. The closer to death the more beautiful they become. We on the other hand often feel getting old means getting ugly and full of wrinkles, or worse, sick and helpless. Maybe we should think of aging in the context of green leaves slowly turning into an intense glowing red.

I encourage my students to pick a color of the day and keep looking out for that color during the day, in a gentle, relaxed and interested way (ideally without glasses or contacts). Looking for that color keeps us in the here and now, instead of being carried away by our thoughts, worrying about this or that, composing a to-do list in our minds…

Instead of focusing on what we don’t see we can relax into noticing what we do see: our color! It’s suddenly everywhere! How strange… well, it’s not really that strange. We just asked our mind to notice and not to think or judge. That makes a big difference, we might be caught by surprise about how much detail suddenly appears. It’s this positive attitude to seeing that we need to “heal” our vision. My color today was the intense wine red of the right leaf. What is yours?