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Do you remember how much fun you had playing on swing sets as a child? Think about how relaxing it is swing gently in a hammock or to sway back and forth in a rocking chair. These activities are not only fun and relaxing, but they can benefit your eyes as well. You don’t need a swing or hammock to practicing swinging though.
One of the first Bates Method practices I teach my students is called the Long Swing. The Long Swing is taught first because it combines so many different aspects of the Bates Method into one drill. At first it may seem like a simple and repetitive movement, but there is actually a lot happening. The Long Swing increases circulation of the blood throughout the entire body, which nourishes the eye muscles, choroid and retina. In addition to blood flow, the Long Swing also increases lymph flow. The lymphatic system is like the “clean-up crew” of the body, helping to eliminate toxins and other unwanted waste products. Did you know the human body has twice as much lymphatic fluid than blood? Whereas the circulatory system has a heart to push blood throughout the body, the lymphatic system has no such organ. Instead, lymph fluid circulates through the body via movement and gravity. Since your eyes are nourished by and contain lymphatic fluid, it makes sense that if there is a lack of movement then lymphatic fluid can stagnate within the body and the eyes, which can slow down the visual process.
Swinging 180° not only flushes lymph fluid, but it also encourages more subtle movements of the eyes. Normal eyes vibrate 60 to 70 times per second. When we slow down or stop that natural movement by staring, the vision declines. Swinging regularly starts to break the deeply ingrained habit of staring by helping to loosen up any tight muscles in and around the eyes.
Our bodies have voluntary processes and involuntary processes. Voluntary processes include conscious movements like walking, running, or lifting objects. Involuntary processes include your heartbeat, blood pressure, breath pattern, digestion, and your eye’s focusing ability. At first the Long Swing is addressing the voluntary system through conscious movement of the entire body. After a few swings your voluntary muscles and processes will begin to release and relax. After a few more swings your involuntary muscles and processes will pick up on the relaxation in the voluntary system and follow suit. The six muscles around each eye are unique because they are both voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary striated portion of the muscles, which allow you to look in different directions, can be consciously controlled just like the muscles in your arms or legs. The involuntary smooth portion of the muscles, which adjust the shape of your eye to focus near and far, cannot be consciously controlled… just like you cannot consciously control your heart rate or digestion. It happens on its own and functions better in a stress-free environment. Accommodation, or the eye’s ability to focus, is one of those involuntary process that happens automatically. If there is stress, strain or tension present in your visual system then your eyes will not be able to focus automatically and blur will occur. Clear focus cannot be forced through effort. It can only be coaxed through relaxation. The Long Swing is one way to coax the eye muscles to relax and allow for effortless clarity.
Another purpose of the Long Swing is that it activates your central vision. The fovea centralis, or central pit in the back of the retina, is your center of sight that allows you to see fine details and colors. The fovea centralis is filled with cones, which are stimulated and activated by movement. When you stare, your center of sight does not get stimulated and you may experience more blur. The Long Swing helps “switch on” your vision and after a few days of regular swinging you may begin to notice flashes of clarity as you swing.
Like many of the Bates Method drills, the Long Swing is performed both with eyes open and with eyes closed. The purpose of continuing the drill with the eyes closed is because vision is much more mental than physical. The closed-eye portion of the drill allows you to begin strengthening your memory, imagination, visualization and even balance. In order to stay present with the practice and to avoid any dizziness while swinging with your eyes closed, try to remember and visualize what you saw while swinging with your eyes open. Notice that everything appears to move in the opposite direction that your body moves. This illusion is called oppositional movement and can be noticed virtually any time you are moving in any direction. You can experience oppositional movement by noticing that when you walk forward in one direction, the ground appears to be moving backwards in the opposite direction. If you are nearsighted and objects appear blurry with your eyes open, imagine them being perfectly clear with your eyes closed. There is no limit to what you can imagine. In order to see clearly with your eyes open, you must first be able to see clearly with your eyes closed by using your imagination, memory and visualization.
Continue the long swing for 5 to 6 minutes, rotating through 10 swings eyes open and 10 swings eyes closed. 6 minutes is the magic number because after swinging for 6 minutes all the muscles in the body and eyes relax, several cycles of blood circulation occur, and the entire nervous system relaxes by switching from the sympathetic nervous system, which is geared for fight or flight response, to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is geared for rest and relaxation response. To complete the Long Swing, close your eyes and begin slowing down and making your swings shorter and shorter until you return to stillness in your center. For best results, practice the long swing 2 to 3 times a day for 5 to 6 minutes each time. If you can’t squeeze a few swings into your day, then 10 or 15 minutes swinging in a hammock will suffice. Who knew improving your eyesight could be so relaxing?
Below is an instructional video demonstrating how to perform the Long Swing: