Let’s start right out by looking at a popular exercise,
The Long Swing
The long swing is something Dr. Bates suggested.
This video is a great demonstration.
What’s really going on is the long swing is a cool way of stimulating saccadic eye movements, the small movements of your eyes. When your eyes are tense you’ve stopped those movements. When you turn your head/body back and forth easily at the pace in the video, and you keep your eyes pretty much looking straight out from your head, things are “swinging” through your visual field a little too quickly for you to lock your gaze onto anything and “freeze up” your eyes as you attempt to see. But with all the colors and details sliding past in a blur, your eyes are constantly stimulated, so they are coaxed into moving just a little bit, and you don’t get distracted by what you see because it remains fairly blurry while in motion. There’s nothing else quite like it, and it’s a useful exercise that has withstood the test of time.
Don’t feel bad about doing it quickly if you have to, but see if you can go slower while keeping the loose sensation of your eyes.
As you can see, the long swing is not about swinging your eyes around. Your eyes don’t need that kind of exercise. When we talk about exercises that you should do for your vision, we’re talking about mental exercises, or ways of practicing a principle, but not physically exercising as in going to a gym or going for a run. The closest it comes to that is the fact that your eyes do need to be “woken up” to get moving normally, but it’s delicate and is not about big, forceful, exaggerated eye movements.
Also see Nancy’s post on the long swing. (a link in her post is where I found the above video)
The saccadic eye movements that the long swing and other exercises help stimulate are fairly small movements. The eyes of a person with normal vision perform many quick, effortless saccades as a normal process of seeing. It’s so effortless that he doesn’t feel the movements. Microsaccades are even smaller movements that are done many times per second.
In contrast, a person with blurry vision tends to have severely reduced eye movements, and the movements he does do are larger, slower and full of tension.
But you can’t and shouldn’t try to force your eyes to increase the frequency of either of these movements, or you will just tense your eyes up and create another bad habit of willing your eyes around. You have to control what happens through the way you pay attention to what you’re looking at. Only through an application of attention do your eyes end up moving better as a consequence.
As you look at the eye chart, move your attention to one letter you can at least locate, if not see clearly. Don’t do anything to try to “bring out” the detail or try to find it. Just glance at the letter, or the blur that should be a letter. Any effort you put into focusing here is only going to strain your eyes. Instead, just notice what you immediately see, both in the center of your vision and periphery. Within a few seconds, shift your attention to another spot close by, again only glancing at it before moving on.
You can use the eye chart for this, but it gets old after a minute, so you would do better looking around the room, or better yet, sitting outside in a place where you feel relaxed and there is more to look at. This won’t be as effective for you while walking, and especially not riding a bike or driving, because you need to pay close attention to what you’re doing in this and feel totally at ease practicing it, and even just the act of walking can set your nerves on edge while you’re being careful about where you step and to not get dizzy. Later when you get the hang of it you can see how well you can do it while standing or walking.
Be delicate and gentle with your movements. Move your gaze around enough to keep your eyes from freezing, but don’t push yourself to go so fast that you put yourself on edge trying to keep up the pace. You have to stay relaxed, and you can only stay relaxed by finding a happy medium where the pace seems about right for you for now.
It is important that what you practice is directed by means of a mental movement of your attention. This isn’t a movement you will necessarily notice as movement. This may be something you do fine already, in which case you just need to combine it with the other principles. The danger is in thinking you need to take control of the movements of your eyes and move them in a tightly controlled manner to ensure that you are moving them at all. The reality is you have to give up the expectation that you will necessarily observe evidence of your own eye movement. Trust that it is happening when you move your attention even in very small increments to nearby details.
Dr. Bates placed a lot of emphasis on central vision in his writings. And he had a lot of good things to say. For the most part I think the most useful approach is if you think of central vision in terms of moving your attention around, as described above. Your whole visual field shifts and stimulates the light receptor cells in your eyes with each movement, and this is most effective when you are actually paying attention to what’s out there, both in the center and periphery. Your visual system learns to work efficiently and elegantly as a unit again. Your central vision is important in how you use it, in considering that the clearest vision will only come from there, and that the design of it mandates that you move your attention around to pick up more clear details.
With that in mind, be careful not to over-emphasize your central vision to the point that you try to “block out” your periphery as a distraction. You may very well succeed in blocking it out, creating one or another sort of tunnel vision, but this is abuse of your system and isn’t going to help you, at least not long-term.
Bring Yourself Up to Speed
As you practice moving your attention, try speeding up beyond your plodding, deliberate pace, to note one detail – or cluster of details – after another in quick succession. Be careful to speed up only as much as you are able to without sacrificing the comfort of your eyes and your mental calmness. You want to explore what speed is good for you for now. As you practice this, the purpose is not to be aware of where your eyes are pointed but to be aware of the details and take things piece by piece. If you go too slowly, it gets boring, and your attention will become disengaged. Go fast enough to keep yourself engaged with all the details you see, skipping over to an object far away if you get too bored with one.
This is something you can do all day long, especially when you have a moment to sit and want to practice circumspectly, or once you get the hang of it you can practice it while you are doing anything else at all. This is, after all, how a person with good vision sees. He does this automatically as part of his seeing process. The more you practice it, the more automatic it will become for you too.
What Normal Vision Is
You’re not doing anything weird here. I haven’t suggested any outrageous exercises that depend on questionable theories that you need to buy into. This is all pretty natural stuff and should make sense, or at least I hope it does as I have presented it.
You’re practicing how a person with normal, clear vision uses his eyes. Everything I have suggested is with that in mind. If you find yourself practicing an exercise that does not move you towards using your eyes in a way that a person with good vision does, reconsider whether there is a different way of doing it.
Dr. Bates observed these features of good vision a century ago in his clinical work, and we can observe them now by casually comparing how a person wearing glasses, particularly for myopia, uses his eyes compared to a person with clear vision. A person with myopia has his eyes “locked” most of the time, or you can sense a certain nervousness or a defining type of facial tension. He is less visually aware of random details around him and in his peripheral vision.
So perhaps you can see that eventually you don’t have to practice the long swing or other types of exercises at all if you can just relax your eyes by allowing lots of slight movements without having to move your gaze around in an exaggerated way. You can always go back to exercises like the long swing if they are helpful.
Sometimes any number of tricks you may come up with that seem to help you short-term are destructive long-term. It’s fairly easy to figure this out if you’re honest with yourself about it. Straining your eyes might yield a short-term benefit in slightly improving your focus for the moment, but it isn’t the way to see better, and with less strain, in the long-term. These types of tricks generally have to do with things like tensing your eyes, squeezing your eyes shut tightly in a hard blink, or generating tears to create a bubble effect over your cornea. Your goal should be to see clearly using the same methods as people with good vision use naturally, and it isn’t hard once you get used to it.
Below is a summary of practical suggestions for applying the above ideas. The ideas and reasoning are more fully fleshed out above. Each of the suggestions are separate (this is not step-by-step) but may be combined as you see fit. They are also included in the Practical Applications page at the end of this guide.
- Long Swing: – Spend a few minutes at it, doing 100 or so.
- Shifting – Pay attention to one detail or set of details at a time, moving as quickly as you are comfortably able.