If you’ve followed Dr. Bates’ teachings at all, you know he believed vision improvement is about relaxing the mind and the visual system, so it can function optimally. Straining is the enemy! And when you think of a gym workout, it’s all about lifting and sweating and pushing and pulling, iron plates and cables and your own body weight, which seems like strain. So do the gym and vision exercises have anything in common?
When you spend time in any gym, you may see the guy who never warms up, throws the weights around with poor form, and is always hurting himself. Every gym seems to have someone like this. I knew a man who was actually offered a free membership by the gym owner, if he’d work with a trainer and learn to use proper technique. The newer members were impressed with his bulk, following him around and copying his bad habits. He refused the offer, and eventually had a heart attack in his early 40s. (He took way too many pain-killers too, since he continued his heavy workouts even while he was injured.)
The folks I’ve seen in the gym who get steady gains over time are the ones who are paying attention to what they’re doing, not talking to a neighbor while they work out, their mind only partly on the exercise. The same could be said of vision exercises. During a session of palming, you want to sink into the blackness, allowing your visual system to relax, letting go of trying to see anything. You do not want to worry about all you have to do, impatiently wondering when the palming will be over so you can be productive!
The goal of gym exercises is increased strength, or flexibility, or endurance, basically overall body fitness. For vision exercises, the goal is an improvement in overall visual fitness, namely increased relaxation of the face around the eyes, more ease of eye movement (the Long Swing can help here), better focus on small details (practicing central fixation is useful for this), and using both eyes together as a team.
It’s a misconception that your eye muscles need to get stronger, which is why the picture of the eyeball lifting a barbell makes me laugh. If you don’t see clearly, your eyes are not weak and shirking. They are probably trying too hard! You want to let yourself see, not force yourself to see. Now that I think of it, intention is behind both a satisfying gym workout and a satisfying vision practice session. I intend to do this to the best of my ability, knowing I’m continually improving, refining my technique as I go.
Some people go to the gym to look beefier, or to impress the other members with how much they can lift. I think most folks go to the gym to be more fit, whether they’re in the gym or not. They want to climb stairs or lift heavy groceries without getting out of breath, or struggling. Similarly, vision exercises help you see better, and more easily, wherever you are, whenever your eyes are open.
Maybe the most satisfying benefit from exercise is the increase in self-esteem, the confidence which comes from knowing you have improved your capacity to function as a physical being. Wouldn’t you rather see your eyesight as a joy, a precious gift, than see it as a big problem? This is under your control.
Learn how to take care of your eyes and your visual system, giving them the nourishment and rest they need to stay healthy and functioning at their peak. Gently challenge your vision once in a while, like a game. Can you see details farther away, or closer, than you expect? Can you go for a walk after dark and see well enough just with the street lights? Can you see better than you thought without your glasses, or with an older weaker pair? You have more control over your visual fitness than you may realize. Your eyes are just waiting for you to take the reins.