by Dr. William Heller
The Bates Method for Improving Eyesight is a method discovered at the beginning of this century by Dr. W. H. Bates, M.D. (1865-1931), a prominent American ophthalmologist, and developed by him and his followers to improve sight and restore natural habits of seeing, which have been lost through strain, tension and the resulting misuse of the eyes. The aim of the method is to teach people with problems of vision the faculty of easy and attentive seeing where the eyes and mind work together harmoniously to give good sight.
Since the Bates Method is a means to improve sight and restore the natural use of the eyes by relearning the art and skill of seeing, it is not, therefore a medical treatment, but a method of reeducation, in the form of both active learning, such as learning a skill and also the receptive awareness of how to appreciate what we see, such as the appreciation of a painting, a beautiful garden or a cathedral. Good sight is the result of a relaxed state of mind and body, where the individual person feels a direct contact with the surrounding world through the five senses. Poor sight, on the other hand, is the result of tension, where the person is, to a greater or lesser extent, isolated from the outside world through being locked in a pattern of psycho-physical tensions, such as worry, anxiety, rigidity, daydreaming, boredom, confusion or impatience.
Relaxation will always precede exercise. It is necessary to realize that the eyes are completely passive. They have no volition of their own but, instead, follow the interests, and mirror the activity, of the mind. They are in principle willing servants, but in so many cases are unconsciously treated as unwilling slaves, starved of nourishment and constantly abused. Therefore, to periodically close the eyes, let them rest, listen to them, can be the first steps in healing them.
The circulation through the eyes is stimulated by encouraging blinking, and splashing the closed eyes with water, morning and evening. The eyes are also nourished and relaxed by the use of light, letting the head swing with closed eyes facing the sun or a lamp. Needless to say that the sun is never looked at directly. The eyes are always rested by
palming after taking the light.
The fundamental way of relaxing is by palming. Palming is the practice of covering the closed eyes with the palms of the hands while sitting upright, so that the eyes are rested in darkness, relaxed by the warmth and healing energies passing through the hands. The mind needs to be engaged in some useful or interesting activity like talking with a friend, listening to the radio, thinking or visualizing, so that it does not interfere with the eyes and stop them from relaxing.
Palming usually results in an immediate but temporary improvement in the sight. The continued practice of palming often leads to great changes for the better, and is the best single means for helping the eyes.
The sight is further helped by learning relaxation in movement through the use of various types of swinging movements, which also help to reestablish the natural vibratory movements of the eyes as well as expand the awareness of the visual field. First, the pupil stands with feet apart and rhythmically swings from side to side, allowing the relaxation to deepen. Next, the pupil turns the body right and left, letting the whole body, including the eyes move as one. Awareness of movement in the visual field is a sign that the swinging is being well done. A simpler but more versatile way is to swing the head and neck only. This is very helpful in releasing tensions in the neck, which are often associated with poor sight. Further observation of the pupil often reveals poor coordination in movement, of hand and eye, of both eyes together. These difficulties respond to deepening relaxation and the development of attention and awareness, and are further helped by providing a focus for the mind with such activities as juggling, drawing, dancing, ball games, etc.
As the pupil progresses, more specific approaches can be shown according to need, through working with charts, reading practices, techniques to encourage centralization of sight, such as counting, looking for, comparing, edging, tracing.
Therefore, through the practice of relaxation, movement and focusing of attention under the direction of interest and awareness, the pupil’s sight can be restored to it’s natural and normal state, although the time needed is a variable. Much depends on the understanding and quality of energy of the teacher, as well as the patience, persistence and interest on the part of the pupil.