When people hear the expression “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, they may think of the athletic prowess they had when they were younger and training hard, but now they have a desk job and are getting flabby. Or they may think of an ageing parent who was formerly aware and alert, yet now spends all her time watching mindless TV, and is becoming confused and muddle-headed. To me it also applies to distance vision. If you spend most of your days (and nights!) looking at a computer or phone screen a few inches away from your face, at some point your body and mind may decide seeing far is not a function you need. It will let your distance vision start to decline, allocating those resources to something else you use more.
Several years ago when I started trying to do without my glasses, after spending most of my life with a strong prescription in front of my eyes, I was surprised to find I was not looking in the distance. Since I didn’t expect to see well, I didn’t even look! I’d look “out the window” but actually be looking at the window pane, not through it, making do with the blurry images I saw “on it” as if the window was a TV screen! I could hardly see natural depth then at all.
When I began going for regular walks without my glasses, when I still needed a -8 correction to drive safely, I caught myself looking down a lot. The sidewalk was only a little more than 5 feet from my eyes, and I could see it pretty well, but looking straight ahead into the distance was scary! I was surprised to find myself getting nervous if there was a wide open space in front of me, with no tree or building to comfortably block my gaze.
Gradually I weaned myself away from this fear by practicing looking at far-away trees, or the clouds overhead, when I didn’t have a long panoramic view to play with. This is one big reason I like to get outside every day, even in poor weather — the chance to look far is more available than it is indoors.
One of my vision clients is slowly learning to do without his glasses for some activities, like walking outside or working out. He recently took a long coastal trip with a friend who did the driving, so my client could practice letting his gaze travel far outward. He told me his eyes “were doing something different”, the little muscles releasing and adjusting. His natural vision was re-learning how to see far away.
Meir Schneider is a well-known vision teacher who was considered blind from failed infant cataract operations, and grew up reading only Braille until he met a Bates teacher at age 17. He regularly did the Long Swing exercise at the edge of the sea, letting his gaze travel out and out over the waves. He trained his eyes to see in the distance, successfully, and now has a driver’s license with no requirement for eyeglasses. (Here is a link to a video of the Long Swing if you’re not familiar with it. This simple exercise is a core Bates Method technique.)
When I started to improve my vision, when I looked out my front window without my glasses I could hardly see the cars in the neighbor’s driveway 50 feet away. I can now see across the street and identify the people coming in or out of the house over there, which was unheard of (or unseen!) before. Now I’m sometimes annoyed that the house across the street is so “close”, because it blocks my view! But of course I can look up and see the clouds, or go outside and look down the street.
To retain or improve your distance vision, use it! Look at those details you can see, and imagine those you can’t see yet. Is there a bird on that small branch over there? Might there be a butterfly there too, or a big (or little) bug? Pretend you have Superman’s telescopic vision, and see what you can see.