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:
steve (at) stephenpoynter.plus.com
+44 (0) 1708764512
Los Angeles area residents can also purchase them from Batesvision (pick up only). Cost is $75.