Peripheral Awareness

As someone who used to be very nearsighted, rarely looking far ahead and to my sides hardly at all, the “wide open spaces” of my enhanced peripheral awareness now are a joy. I’m no longer trapped by that tight restrictive cage which eyeglasses trained me to stay within. Don’t look outside the frames! Don’t color outside the lines!

When I was wearing -10 contact lenses, a co-worker regularly teased me about seeing me driving and waving to me, yet I never noticed him in the next car! I did not have good visual habits back then, with my attention only focused on the small bubble around me. Even though I had no eyeglasses frames on my face to artificially restrict my vision, the way I used my eyes was restricted. Now when I drive, I can see farther to the sides naturally, without straining. This is a delight, as there’s so much to see. I’m sure I’m a safer driver than when I was only focused on the car immediately ahead of me.

Glasses train us to overuse our central vision, and to ignore our periphery. In healthy natural vision, the clearest point of sight is in the pinpoint center of the visual field, from light falling on the macula of the eye in the center of the retina. The healthy eye is in constant motion, re-directing the sharpest vision to a different area. Wearing glasses teaches our visual system to artificially expand the center, trying to see everything clearly at once, without moving the gaze from point to point to point. I’ve wondered if this bad habit is behind macular degeneration, where the central vision is so overused it starts to wear out.

One of my vision teachers said that 5% of healthy vision should be from the central macular area, and 95% from the periphery. This 95% is clearer near the center (though not as crystal clear as macular vision) and less clear farther away from the center. He said many people with poor vision have this reversed, over-using their central vision and shutting out their periphery entirely, giving themselves “tunnel vision”. This was certainly my case until about 10 years ago.

If your gaze and your head are not slightly moving all the time to look at something new, my guess is you have a stiff neck. This is classic for people with poor vision. Healthy human vision is supposed to work by the clearest image falling in the center of the retina (the macula), then the gaze easily moving to something interesting in the periphery, to let the sharpest vision examine that next. Even if it’s nearby, a slight gentle movement of the head will accompany the eye movement.

As I continue to improve my own sight, peripheral awareness has become a barometer to me of how good my vision is. Good vision is not only about how well I can see the eye chart! I’ve noticed my periphery contracts when I get anxious, and I go into that tunnel vision mode. I guess this intense focus is a good thing if I’m in a fight for my survival, when I want no distractions. In my daily life, it’s not necessary.

I’ve said many times that for me, limited vision comes from high anxiety and not feeling safe. I can feed this pattern by ignoring my periphery and trying and straining to see everything clearly, so nothing will “get me”. Or I can take a few deep breaths, feel my feet on the ground, and let my peripheral awareness open up. The expansive view is more relaxing to me, with more possibilities. And this feels so much better!


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Nancy
I wore strong glasses, then contact lenses, for most of my life, starting at age 5. While making many mistakes, eventually l learned how to improve the way I use my eyes and to see in a more relaxed, healthy manner. It is my pleasure to coach others to do the same. Visit me at https://NancyLNeff.com.
Nancy

Latest posts by Nancy (see all)

Nancy

Author: Nancy

I wore strong glasses, then contact lenses, for most of my life, starting at age 5. While making many mistakes, eventually l learned how to improve the way I use my eyes and to see in a more relaxed, healthy manner. It is my pleasure to coach others to do the same. Visit me at https://NancyLNeff.com.

2 thoughts on “Peripheral Awareness”

  1. Hi, Nancy ==
    I just finished reading three of your related posts: Thoughts on Overfocusing, How Do I Practice Central Fixation and this one, entitled Peripheral Awareness. I chose to reply to this one only because it’s the only one without reader comments yet. =]

    I very much appreciate the way you’re grouping your articles, with links to related posts below the current post. Based on your writings of several weeks ago I’ve been more and more aware of Central Focus and how I’m not making best use of it and the periphery. Reading ALL THREE of these articles provides a very solid understanding of the concept.

    UPPERCASE is for emphasis only, not yelling. =]
    I’ve been experiencing WIDE swings in my visual acuity lately. It can be alarming, but I’ve been paying attention long enough to realize that vision is in a state of flux. I exhibit some (undiagnosed) symptoms of a thyroid disorder (maybe) and my research suggests that the polyopia with which I struggle could be the “Vertical Diplopia” sometimes associated with Graves Disease, which causes problems the muscles of the eye.

    I mention this for your edification, Nancy: When I began to realize that vision improvement is possible I found “eye exercises” online and implemented them. Some involve looking UP/DOWN, LEFT/RIGHT and across the DIAGONALS with as much force as possible. Also rolling the eyes in a CIRCLE, as large and extreme as possible. When I started I was shocked at how much it hurt and how my eyes were not able to roll in a true circle. The right eye in particular could not travel in a circle. With time those issues disappeared and I’m sure the exercises were to thank, but then I read online that “eye exercises” are NOT the key to vision improvement, SO I STOPPED DOING THEM.

    Reading about the potential connection between thyroid issues, their impact on eye muscles, and the resulting potential for multiple images, I RECENTLY RETURNED TO THE EYE EXERCISES in addition to the many very helpful practices you promote. This and DIY measures taken to improve thyroid function seem like the right course of action.

    It’s an interesting accumulation of knowledge and I feel “kinda lucky” as if the aggregate, the combination of these concepts and techniques will indeed clear my vision. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thank you, Nancy, s for making these these things available to people like me.

    Tom

    1. Tom, hi and thanks for your thoughts. First, WordPress gets the credit for the blog articles listed below the main one, not me. 🙂 I think they look for similar words to those in the main article title, or some algorithm like that. In any case, I’m so glad it’s helpful!

      Second, the caution against eye exercises needs some clarification. Everyone is different, and some folks can strain *more* when doing eye exercises, and of course this won’t help at all! Also, people can do them “blindly” (ouch!), just going through the motions while their mind is somewhere else, which will give them limited benefit. This article may shed a bit more light: https://www.iblindness.org/3672/why-dont-vision-exercises-work-for-me/. And this one too: https://www.iblindness.org/4391/vision-practice-all-day-long-2/.

      If the eye stretches highlighted some soreness for you, good! This is something which needed to be addressed. Here’s an older article on astigmatism which might help too, if you haven’t seen it (in case you don’t have enough to read already 🙂 ): https://www.iblindness.org/1051/yes-but-i-have-astigmatism/.

      Keep up the good work, Tom. I’m cheering you on!

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