Before finding out how to relax your eyes, let’s explore why you need to relax your eyes in the first place. What difference does it make if your eyes are tense or relaxed? Let’s do a little experiment. Clench your hands. Do you think you would be able to paint a beautiful picture with a clenched hand? Clench your feet. Do you think you would be able to dance a beautiful waltz with clenched feet? Clench your jaw. Do you think you would be able to sing a beautiful song with a clenched jaw? What must be done to accomplish all the beautiful feats listed above? Relaxation. So, based on the questions above, do you think you will be able to see perfectly with clenched eyes? No. Not only will the vision become imperfect, but tension in and around the eyes, which are simply extensions of the brain, can wreak havoc on the rest of the nervous system and affect a lot more than just the vision. Most people do not realize that they are continuously and unconsciously clenching their eyes. It may not be as extreme as when you consciously clench them, but even the slightest amount of strain can cause problems. Sometimes the strain can be physical, as tension in one or more of the six muscles around each eye. This can hold the eyeball out of shape or prevent it from changing shape freely to focus. Other times the strain can be mental, as tension in the mind. This can affect how the brain processes and interprets the images taken in by the eyes. In either case of strain, most people resort to placing artificial lenses in front of their eyes while others even get their corneas cut to “fix” their sight, but continue to clench the eyes all day and all night long. Would you use a brace or get surgery on your hands, feet or jaw if they were simply clenched? No! You would just let them go by learning how to relax them. So how do you relax your eyes?
Well, it is different for everyone. Each pair of eyes is unique and each mind behind those eyes is even more unique, so we all have different ways to relax the eyes. The reason why there are so many relaxation drills in the Bates Method is because one may work for you while another one doesn’t. There is nothing wrong with that. Dr. Bates suggested trying each and every drill and if one drill does not immediately produce relaxation then stop doing it. Keep trying different relaxation methods until you find the ones that feel amazing for your eyes.
At first, I did not know how to relax my eyes because I wasn’t aware that they weren’t relaxed. It was only after I realized how much tension and strain I was holding in my eyes and facial muscles that I understood what it felt like to relax them.
The simplest way to relax your eyes is by smiling. Smiling, even fake smiling, releases neuropeptides that work to fight off stress. Endorphins, serotonin and dopamine are all also released when you smile, which not only relax your body and eyes, but also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Another effective way to relax your eyes is with an exercise called “Tense and Release”. Sometimes the only way to become aware of tension and truly release it is by consciously creating more tension. Just before going into the deep relaxation at the end of Yoga for the Eyes class, we all practice “Tense and Release” by squeezing and holding different parts of the body and then letting them go. By squeezing the entire body, especially the muscles in the face and around the eyes, we create more tension than there was before. When we release the squeezed muscles not only do we let go of the conscious tension, but almost always the unconscious tension disappears as well. We are training the body and mind to release any old holding or gripping patterns at the subconscious level. This practice is based off of Edmund Jacobson’s Progressive Relaxation technique, which was developed in the early 1900s. Jacobson’s technique consisted of asking patients to consciously tighten muscles in a chosen part of the body as much as possible and concentrate on the buildup of tension in that area for about 7 to 10 seconds. After 7 to 10 seconds, the patient totally relaxes the area that was tightened. You can try this with any part of your body, but for the purposes of vision improvement you can isolate it to the eyes. I like to take a big inhale, then squeeze my eyes shut for a few seconds, then release the muscles around my eyes with a big exhale sigh out of my mouth.
All of the above are physical approaches to relaxing your eyes, but what if you have mental strain? The eyes relax when the mind relaxes. The mind relaxes when the eyes look at or think about familiar or pleasing objects. Take a look around and see what your eyes like to look at and what your eyes don’t like to look at. The familiar and pleasing objects that your eyes like to look at will be clearer than the unfamiliar or unpleasant objects. Focus on objects that are easy to see instead of trying to focus on things you can’t see as well. By exploring what your eyes like and don’t like you learn about yourself and how your eyes and mind work together. I went through that process when I stopped wearing lenses. I was unable to read billboards because they were unfamiliar to me and they were mechanical and rigid in shape in form. However, when I looked out at the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance I could see them perfectly fine. They were more familiar to me and they were organic and more fluid in shape and form. So the fact that I couldn’t read the words on a billboard 50 feet away from me, yet I could make out individual trees on mountaintops 20 miles away gave me a hint of what my eyes and mind like and don’t like to look at. I learned my visual strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, in between practicing reading letters and words on signs, I spent lots of time gazing at mountains, trees, plants, animals and other organic objects. The more I looked at familiar and pleasing objects, the clearer I was able to see them. Once I obtained clarity of familiar objects, it became easier to see unfamiliar objects clearly. Just by remembering how my eyes felt when seeing familiar objects clearly I was able to keep that feeling while looking at unfamiliar objects, and before I knew it I could see billboards, road signs, and even license plates in a very relaxed way. The reason the eyes blur is because we make an effort to see something.
Relaxation begins with the eyes. Since the eyes are extensions of the brain, once the eyes learn how to relax, the entire rest of the nervous system follows. You can attempt to achieve relaxation from all other angles, from all other parts of the body, but if the eyes are not relaxed then you will not achieve total relaxation. A massage therapist once told me that she could get 100 massages and her eyes wouldn’t relax until the 101st. The truth is, most people don’t know how to relax their eyes. My job is to help people become more aware of the tension and strain they are holding in their eyes and to teach them how to let go of it.