Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Eyes Have It - How to Care for Eyes Naturally

This article is about the importance of our eyes to our overall health, my recent personal experience with my eyes, and some tips on improving eyesight naturally. The importance of our eyes is a point that is often overlooked, and many health books don't even mention eyes. Some people are unaware of how eyeglasses fit into the so-called health care program and I explain more about this program in my article called Our Vision is to Control Yours. (1) I hope that this article will be helpful in filling in the gap between natural eye care and the so-called conventional eye care.

I'm sure everyone has heard that once eyeglasses are obtained and used regularly, they don't work so well after say one year, at least according to the optometrist. In addition, optometrists may not be able to achieve "normal" vision with eyeglasses for the patient. In many cases, the patient ends up going blind in one eye or both. In addition, many people are diagnosed with astigmatism as am I, although not consistently in one eye or the other. Although the prevalence of astigmatism is  now said to increase with age, (2) I am skeptical about this because my left eye was perfect until I started wearing eyeglasses, even when I was young. So these are the underlying reasons I became interested in improving my eyesight with natural techniques.

I also experienced seeing perfectly without glasses and my premise is that if I can do this even for one second, I can do it for longer. This is the mode of operation for oculists too. Because if you can see better with prescription lenses during your test (in dim artificial light), your eyes can adjust to them. But, of course, this destroys the eyes natural behavior and weakens them. Whereas, practicing to see better without glasses restores and improves eyesight.

I have found that wearing glasses causes eyestrain and may contribute to a stiff neck and headaches, the opposite of what is usually said. Eyeglasses frequently cause pressure on the bridge of the nose although they are made lighter nowadays, They also may cause pressure on the temples and sinus cavities. In addition, they easily get dirty and steamy. All these factors may contribute to eyestrain which can become so ingrained that it is hard to notice and after becoming aware of it, may seem impossible to shift. But it is likely that it can be shifted because the body always works to return to its natural balance and relaxed state. It just needs a little help from the owner.

Better Sight Without Glasses

I started on my mission to improve my eyesight in earnest this summer (2015) after reading a book by Harry Benjamin, Better Sight Without Glasses. (3) It was pure chance that I had this book from a library that I used to run at a bio-dynamic organic farm. It is a slim book, but it ended up changing my life.

This book had excellent information about the eyes, how they work and how to help eyesight by relaxing, but also by diet and exercises.  I took up some of these techniques and I describe a little below.

Like having constant stress in the neck which is common, causes pain and restricts movement and circulation, stress in the eye muscles can be constant, restrict movement of the eyes and decrease circulation in this area which inhibits the natural ability to see. It just so happens that similar things that can improve the neck, can help to improve eyesight. Relaxing the neck muscles will help the eye muscles to relax as they are closely connected. Plus it is easier to notice when neck muscles are tight and this can give an indication of the condition of the eye muscles. All the techniques below can help with relaxation.

Fasting and Diet
In the summer of 2015, I did a 12-week program of fasting which I enjoyed so much I actually did it a few more times at the end of the summer. I simply did a water fast one day a week. For 12-weeks, I did this on the same day every week and I started to look forward to it. It was easier to fast on the warmer days and a few times when it was cooler, I did not stick to the water only, but did a restricted diet instead.  However, most times, I enjoyed the water only.

Fasting helps improve circulation and allows the body to clean up unfinished business including removing toxins, debris and unwelcome visitors. This is a general health measure, but the eyes benefit in particular.

A word of caution: too much fasting my cause the eyes to sink into the head. This also happens naturally as we age because of orbital fat reduction. (4)

On my non-fast days, I had a lot of cleansing fruit for my breakfasts. I also had lots of vegetables and ate them raw and cooked together with the usual nuts and seeds, meat, fish, eggs, and chicken. I love eating lots of carrots which are supposed to help with night vision. I already restrict my starch and chemical intake and do not have any refined sugar, alcohol or caffeine, all of which are helpful for this program.

Palming
I actually learned about palming when I took yoga classes a few years ago. I knew it is relaxing but hadn't realized how good it is for the eyes. It is done by putting the palms over the eyes (without pressing on the eyeballs) with the fingers crossing over the forehead so that all the light is blocked out from the eyes. I do this for long periods sometimes, but at least a little every day. This can be done sitting, standing or lying on one's back. For longer sessions, it helps to have the elbows supported.

A Quick Palming
Rub the hands together to generate a little heat (and energy) and place over the eyes for a minute or two. Breathe in deeply hold a second and breath out slowly and hold a second. Continue the deep breathing.

Swinging
Swinging entails moving the arms gently at the sides of the body from side to side. Stand with the feet hip-width apart. Stand tall and imagine a string pulling upwards from the top of the head to the ceiling or sky. Arms are relaxed at the sides with palms facing inwards. Gently swing the arms together from side to side along with the body in the upright position and alternately lift the heel of the foot opposite the arms. It helps to do this in front of a window or windows and look outside because this enhances the optical illusion of the window frame moving in the opposite direction, which is relaxing.

Cold Water Splashes
Splash the eyes while they are closed with cold water.  Cup the hands, fill with cold water from the tap or basin (or brook or spring) and bring close to the eyes and then gently splash onto them 20 to 25x. Then scrunch up the eyes. I usually do this in the morning and evening. I put oil on my face first and after splashing, I use a cotton cloth to blot and pat my face dry. This is good for increasing circulation to the eyes and benefits the skin too.

Steam Treatment
This is not in Benjamin's book, but a good tip as well. Put a handful of eyebright in a pot with a couple of liters of water and heat until steamy. Put a towel over the head with the face over the pot. Steam the face and eyes gently for about 10 minutes. Open and close the eyes for more benefit but ensure that the steam is not too hot while doing this.

Neck Exercises
I try to do the series of relaxation exercises for the neck as suggested in Benjamin's book plus one or two others once or twice every day. First thing in the morning is probably the best time but before going to bed is my favorite. These help to relax the neck muscles which in turn help eyesight. Together they take only 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Practice deep breathing while doing them.

1. Slowly bend the head down, chin moving to the chest and slowly bring it back up. 10x
2. Look up to the ceiling and return. 10x
(1. and 2. can be done together alternating looking down and looking up)
3. Look over one shoulder and then the other by moving the head only. 10x each way.
4. Tilt the head so that the ear moves closer to the shoulder and hold for a count of 5 to 10. Alternate 10x each way.
5. Rotate the head in a circle 10x one way and then 10x the other.
6. Rotate the shoulders front 10 to 25x and then the other way 10 to 25x

Benjamin referred to another book which intrigued me and I borrowed it from a mainstream public library. I liked it so much that I read it cover to cover twice and then purchased a copy in order to obtain a Snellen Chart and have the book as a reference. I also read the 1920 version in pdf format. That book is described next.

The Bates Method
"No effort is required to let go."

The Bates Method is a natural treatment program designed by an eminent American ophthalmologist, Dr William H Bates (5) which he described in his book Better Eyesight Without Glasses. (6)  Not only did Dr Bates practice treating patients to improve their eyesight naturally, he also did experiments with animals. He reached the conclusion from his work and explained how perfect eyesight is not even possible with glasses. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in improving or maintaining their eyesight, whether they wear glasses or not.

The underlying premise of the Bates Method is simply relaxation. Dr Bates proved during his career that mental strain which is the root of all other strains is the basis of imperfect eyesight. He experimented with and wrote about many mental and physical exercises directly associated with eyesight and had excellent results with many patients.

Snellen Chart
In his book, Dr Bates recommends practicing with a Snellen Chart such as the one in the photo above (7) (and the one that comes with the book). I can also think of a reason other than improving eyesight to support the suggestion of practicing with a Snellen Chart, and that is, if you know what your eyesight is like, you will less likely be duped by a person who has a strong interest in trying to sell you eyeglasses. I don't think the Snellen Chart was designed to help with improving eyesight; it just so happens that it can serve that function very well.


I hang my Snellen chart so that it is 10 feet away from my dining table and use it while I am eating. I read the lowest line I can see easily and move from one line to the other and practice focusing. Sometimes, I start out not seeing clearly and by the end, I can see much better, especially with my lazy eye.

Reading
As explained by Dr Bates, reading the finest print possible is like an exercise for the eyes. Read the smallest possible print without glasses. Read in dim light too. The eyes are actually more relaxed in dim light so it is not a strain on them to do this contrary to the 'old wives' tale of needing good light to read. However, do not strain if the light is too dim. Also, take breaks by closing the eyes and blinking them often. Reading with the print as close to the eyes as possible, especially if myopic (near sighted) is good for improving vision too.

Swinging
The swinging that Dr Bates describes in his book comes from yoga. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms hanging naturally by the sides and body erect. Gently swing the arms around the body and look over the shoulder. Lift the heel of the foot opposite the arms. Go from side to side and gradually swing the arms gently higher and then back lower again. Do this for a count of 10 each side and then longer if desired.

Sunshine
Dr Bates said that you can't get enough sunlight on the eyes and even used it as a tool in some of his treatments. I take every opportunity to get out whenever there is some sunshine to put my face towards the sun with my eyes closed for as long as possible, but even if it is only for a minute. Ten minutes is a good session and the longer the better as long as sunburn is not an issue and one builds up to it. In the summer, I put coconut oil on my skin to avoid burning, but one needs to be sensible about exposure to the sun and know their own limits.

I've also started sun gazing as a practice and Dr Bates discussed this in the 1920 edition of his book. This entails looking at the sun. What I do is actually more like sun glancing than gazing when the sun is weaker, such at sunset. I will see how it goes and build on this as long as I have no side effects. Where I live, this is easy to do in the autumn and winter when the sun is naturally weaker.

Sunlight is very relaxing generally, but especially for the eyes. Sunlight stimulates the pineal gland as well which is reputedly good for overall health.

Imagination and Memory
Dr Bates discussed how images are interpreted by the mind. He suggested a mind over matter approach to improving eyesight by using imagination and memory techniques. For example, he suggested trying to remember a perfect black period (full-stop) to improve eyesight as well as memory. He claims that eyesight, memory and imagination are coincident so that if one improves one's eyesight then memory and imagination will also be improved.

It is claimed in the academic arena nowadays that the intelligence level of humans as a species is decreasing. The bell curve has moved over and downwards they say. We have lots of data in books and on the computer, but along with our eyesight, we have lost the ability to think. Dr Bates mentions a little about indigenous peoples who had  extremely sharp minds and "eagle-like" eyesight. In a way, improving eyesight naturally is actually a necessity to stop the "brain drain" occurring before our very eyes.

Today many are familiar with the technique called visualization which is another way of describing the memory and imagination part of the Bates Method which can be extended. For example, when doing the eye exercises described below or the neck exercises described above, take deep breaths in and out and visualize the blood flowing to and from the area to repair it. Another one is to visualize the muscles relaxing and becoming more supple. The bottom line though is to put one's mind to what one is doing. Focus and concentration can be powerful tools.

When I try to imagine a perfect period (full-stop), my eyes feel like they are crossing. This brings me to other areas Dr Bates covered which is central fixation.

Central Fixation

Central fixation is a term devised by Dr Bates for the process of concentrating and focusing. It entails seeing best what one is looking at and making this area of best eyesight as small as possible until it is like a black full-stop (period) in a newspaper. He used exercises for honing in on what is seen by using a black image which resulted in sharpening vision centrally. This is how the eye works naturally because the most sensitive part of the eye is the fovea of the macula in the middle of the retina. When eyeglasses are worn, this area becomes less sensitive and flexible and the retina often becomes approximately equal in every part which Dr Bates explained is similar to how a camera operates.

If you think about it, the loss of central fixation from wearing glasses makes sense because looking through prescription lenses requires the eyes to see the area covered by them the same across that area. Bifocals, for instance, simply have two such areas, near and far. Contact lenses and implant lenses cause the same effect as well. In the short term, the magnification causes the illusion of improved eyesight, but the reality is that the vision has become distorted and weak. The lenses do the work for the eyes, but in an unnatural manner because they are designed like the lense in a camera.

Convergence

Dr Bates briefly mentions crossing the eyes as a mode of improving eyesight when there is squint which is a common cause of amblyopia (lazy eye), but another optician uses this technique more fully especially to help overcome presbyopia (old age difficulty with near vision). This type of crossing the eyes is also called convergence. It is not crossing the eyes any old way though. It is crossing them slightly and this is facilitated with a chart and instructions which can be printed from Dr Ray Gottlieb's website.  (8)  It includes dots for holding the eyes in a certain position which can help improve central fixation.

Lowering the eyelids halfway while converging and consciously relaxing the eyes can improve eyesight immediately. To strengthen the eyelids, lower them to the halfway point, hold a few seconds and then close them slowly in a controlled manner. This is relaxing and a helpful thing to do to induce sleep (conscious dropping off).


Another exercise to improve convergence comes from yoga and is an asana called the Eagle Pose. As shown in the photo, (9) it entails crossing the legs, arms, and hands. But it is also about crossing the eyes. Look straight ahead (in a mirror is helpful) at the thumbs and the eyes naturally cross so that, if using a mirror, you will see your reflection doubled. It is a very relaxing feeling when this is done with good balance. I like to hold the posture for at about a count of 30 each side.



Pupil Dilation

The ability of the pupils to dilate and let in light (which affects vision) is said to decrease as we age so that the world seems a bit grayer. However, I came across information that this can be controlled by the mind quite easily. I think the trick is to have control of the mind and not move in the direction of dementia.

One mental technique that can be used to make the pupils dilate to improve vision is to think kind, loving thoughts. It is well known that if you look at someone who has amorous feelings for you, you can see that their pupils have become enlarged. On the other hand, if someone is angry, full of hatred and even just nervous, their pupils will become constricted.

Another tip is to use less artificial light so that the eyes have more experience of seeing in dim light.

Muscle Memory

Our eyes use muscles to see. When a movement is repeated enough times, it is registered in the subconscious. Exercising can retrain muscles as well as make them stronger. By relaxing with various methods, one can facilitate the muscle memory reprogramming. So, there is a two-prong approach here:

1. Undoing the muscle memory pathways for the motor neurons which have become ingrained and unconscious, such as with wearing eyeglasses that force the eyes to perform in fixed parameters; and

2. Consciously learning to see better by building up new pathways as well as strengthening the muscles. This takes practice before the execution of the motor task, in this case seeing, becomes smoother with a decrease in stiffness and muscle activity.  In time, there will naturally be less stiffness and muscle activity and seeing better will then be done without conscious effort. But that is the trick - to keep up the practice of seeing better by doing exercises and consciously making efforts to improve.

Practice makes perfect is the well-known saying. I came across a reference to Malcolm Gladwell's claim in his book Outliers, that 10,000 hours is the magic number to make someone an expert. Repetition is certainly key. This is probably one reason why eye care professionals want people to wear glasses all the time. I've been asked to do this since I first got glasses (even though one eye was perfect as was my eyesight with both eyes together, just because of a minor shortcoming in the other eye!), Luckily I always resisted this. At any rate, to undo all the time that eyeglasses have been worn may be quite a challenge, not only to decode the artificial sight parameters imposed by eyeglasses, but to undo the damage caused by them. For example, I can see better on occasion such as with bright sunlight, while converging or after stretching my eyes a certain way, but it is the consistency that is lacking and what I am working towards. To this end, I do eye exercises every day.

Eye Exercises

Some good eye exercises also come from yoga. These movements are all done with the eyes only while the head is held still.

1. Look from side to side. 10x
2. Look at one corner and the opposite corner and then other corners, 10x each.
3. Look up and then around as if looking at the numbers on a clock and then the reverse. 6x.
4.  Look up as if to a spot in the middle of the forehead and hold a few seconds.
5. Look at the tip of the nose and hold a few seconds.
6. Look down and inwards (the navel gaze, although not with the negative connotation). Hold for a few seconds.
7. Move back and forth between the central views with small and large movements.
8. Move the eyes in a figure eight pattern.
8. Blink the eyes rapidly.  Look in different directions and blink while stretching the eyes.

To finish, rub the eyes with the heels of the hands moving from the centre outwards.

Eye Patch

Quite a few people have a weaker eye as I do. This condition is called amblyopia and it is also called a lazy eye.

I made a luxurious eye patch with bits and bobs I had for free with black silk, stuffed with natural lamb's wool and lavender and with two cotton ties. I use it to cover one eye at a time but especially my better eye (without glasses of course) to build up the lazy one. I do this for as long as I can in the house and reading sessions. Using an eye patch was suggested to me by an optometrist when I was young, but I never did it much then. It is difficult sometimes not to see very well with my good eye covered, but I am optimistic and this keeps me doing it.

Sleep

I need to briefly add a bit about sleep. Bright-eyed and bushy tailed is a good description for someone who has had a good sleep. Tired people often develop dark circles under their eyes and put a strain on their eyesight by being tired which will decrease visual acuity. Sleep is also a time for repairing any damage in the eyes.

Concluding Remarks

Dr Bates gave evidence that eyesight is better without eyeglasses. However, it is disconcerting not to be able to see, especially when one thinks they should be able to see better. I would first ask anyone considering this issue whether the magnification in their prescription glasses is really beneficial or something that has become a habit. Of course one can see better with a magnifying glass, but that doesn't mean it is a good idea to walk around with binoculars or a microscope on the eyes! (Funnily enough, I saw this in a picture in a booklet from Specsavers for parents: a child with big binoculars on his eyes.  In addition, magnifying glasses are straightforward magnification, whereas eyeglasses (even plain reading ones) affect refraction and may cause astigmatism in the unaided eyes.

Next I would ask whether that person has patience, perseverance and time to practice.  A little faith thrown in is helpful too.  Even with normal eyesight, it is beneficial to engage in a program to strengthen the eyes just the same as any other exercise program, especially because of all the unnatural conditions we impose on our eyes (e.g., computers, artificial light, etc).  But if the eyesight is defective, TLC (tender loving care) and a dietary, lifestyle and exercise program to cater for eye health would soon improve the situation if not remedy it entirely. Wearing glasses will only make it worse.

There are plenty of stories out there of people ditching their eyeglasses and improving their eyesight enough to get along without them. Well, here is another one.  "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."!!!  If you think you can, you can. (Positive Affirmations are helpful too!)  For more inspiration, please read my article called Our Vision is to Control Yours. (10)


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Footnotes

(1)       Our Vision is to Control Your Vision on my B'org Food Chain blog

2)        Wiki on Astigmatism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astigmatism; and  Ageing changes in the eye, by S M Salvi, S Akhtar, and Z Currie: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2585730/

(3)       Better Sight Without Glasses by Harry Benjamin (a Naturopath) (1929): http://www.scribd.com/doc/264931163/Better-Sight-Without-Glasses-Harry-Benjamin#scribd

(4)      Ageing changes in the eye, by S M Salvi, S Akhtar, and Z Currie: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2585730/

(5)       Information about Dr WH Bates on Visions of Joy: http://www.visionsofjoy.org/AboutBates.htm and Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Bates_(physician)

(6)      Bates' book, Better Eyesight without Glasses in pdf, original 1920 version available to download free: http://cleareyesight-batesmethod.info/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/thecureofimperfectsight.pdf

(7)       Snellen Chart downloaded with thanks: http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/uploads/snelleneyechart.jpg

(8)      Presbyopia Reduction by Ray Gottlieb, O.D., Ph.D.: http://www.i-see.org/gottlieb/presbyopia_chart.pdf 

(9)      Eagle Pose: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5008a3c6c4aa6450352d2303/t/5315e565e4b01d80b7be46f3/1393943911278/how-to-do-eagle-pose.jpg
(10)     Our Vision is to Control Yours, Borg Food Chain blog.