Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eye Exercise Guide

Yesterday I read bits of this blog at the Artclash Collective's annual Fun-A-Day event in Philadelphia. I also had people trying out some if the eye exercises that I posted on this blog each day during the month of January. Several people (and if you're reading this, maybe you're one of them) asked me more about the blog because they or someone they know has difficulty seeing.

I realize that it can be intimidating to jump on into this corner of the Blogosphere and sift through 31 posts instructing you to do 31 weirdo rituals that may or may not help you see better. This Valentine's Day addendum is a way to sort that out. Below are all 31 exercises, categorized and described in brief. Look 'em over, pick one or two, try 'em out, and let me know what happens. You can also use the entry entitled "Your 5-Minute Regimen" as a launching point for exploring this stuff.

Eye Exercises:
  • Sunning: Uses light, warmth and movement to help the eyes adjust to different lighting conditions.
  • Palming: Uses darknes and warmth to help relax the eyes and brain.
  • A Better Blink: Works to relax the eyes and face.
  • Directionals: Eye movements to help strengthen the muscles around the eyes.
  • The 3-Finger Game: Strengthens the ability to quickly focus on objects at different distances.
  • The Phantom Finger: Uses optical illusions to work stereoscopic vision.
  • Swaying & Swinging: Using movement of the head and body to help the eyes adjust to a world of motion.
  • Sketching: Uses movement of the head to help define and sharpen images.
  • A New Vision For Old Flyers: Uses printed words to help bring things into focus.
  • Describing: Partner exercise that helps one see more detail.
  • Seeing The Invisible: Works with the other senses to increase visual perception.
  • Look Out: Relaxes the eyes by looking far away.
Breathing, Massaging and Stretching:
  • Breathing: Basic technique for taking deep breaths during all eye exercises.
  • Neck Stretches: Reduces tension in the body caused by eyestrain.
  • Orbital Massage: Relieves eyestrain and headaches.
  • Massaging Meridians: Explores pressure points around the body to help improve the eyesight.
  • Buzzing: Yogic breath technique that brings relaxation to the eyes and body.
Shifts in Habit, Perspective and Attitude:
  • Reading: Instructions on how to read and use computers in a way that reduces eyestrain.
  • Changing Views: Using an apple (the fruit, not the computer) to see the world in many ways.
  • Make Art: How art can help improve vision.
  • See What You Want: Describes how vision loss can be linked to bad experiences and ways to overcome this.
Playing Games:
  • Spooning Bubbles: Increases spatial awareness and improves depth perception by blowing bubbles.
  • Ping Pong: Works focal ability by playing ping pong, tennis, or soccer.
  • Skipping Rope: Strengthens peripheral vision with a jump rope.
  • Anagram Games: Improves the eye-brain connection with a variety of word games.
  • Herbs: Lists herbs linked to vision improvement and how to use them.
  • Listening to Color: Lists a few foods purported to be good for the eyes.
...and for specific topics and eye conditions, look at the "areas of interest" on the sidebar to the left.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

31. Tears & Resources

I've been playing catch-up, filling in the blanks on this blog that I'd vowed to do every day for a month, and getting a bit teary-eyed in the process. Tears are a great ally to the vision: they lubricate the eyes with water and minerals, as well as provide emotional release that might be blocking the brain from seeing certain things (see the "See What You Want" posting from a few entries back). Today's tears weren't spurned by any sort of sentimentality—blogs and the internet and my process relating to them don't do that for me. Rather, these tears were jostled by the people who have found victory through their own path of self-healing, often through struggles within their own personal health and the deterrent forces of America's busted capitalist healthcare system. I live in the richest country on Earth, and yet the quality of healthcare that a person receives here is proportional to the money that they have. Couple this with the stranglehold that certain kinds of medicine have usurped in the past century—pharmaceutical, surgical, and slap-the-glasses-on-the-kids-and-send-them-to-school optometrical—and it is a wonder that I've found anyone out there making a decent go at providing affordable acupuncture, massage, yoga and other such treatments at rates that folks can actually afford. Luckily I have found them, and this blog is an attempt to share their resources with you, as well as to add my own experiences in natural vision therapy to the wealth of resources in my community.

Below is a list of resources that I've used to put this blog together. It's divided into two parts, the first being "media" resources that you can order by mail or maybe find in a bookshop, and the second being a collection of local resources from my own community. If you cannot access these resources directly you can at least be inspired by them:

Media Resources:
  • Meir Schneider has made a number of audiobooks and videos of eye exercises, some of which were the first to really get me inspired to pursue this stuff. my favorite is the Miracle Eyesight Method because Schneider gives such clear explanation of the exercises and why they work, as well as sharing incredible and inspiring stories from his own life. Scheider also had the smarts to do what many other authors on natural vision seemed to miss the boat on: his books are totally audio—no reading required for the visually impaired!
  • Marc Grossman regularly teaches workshops at Kripalu Yoga Center in Western Mass and run a functional optemetry/acupuncture practice in upstate New York. He's a nice guy, full of knowledge and creativity, some of which comes through in Greater Vision and other books.
  • Tom Quackenbush's textbook Relearning to See is a fascinating melange of basic biology with total devotion to Dr. William Bates and his methods. Quackenbush spends dozens and dozens of pages quoting entire passages from Bates' books and periodicals. I take issue with Quackenbush's fanboy fervor towards Bates' teachings-as-doctrine (and unlike the skeptics on Wikipedia, he does sweep some of Bates' mistakes under the rug), but this book is full of beautiful science and clear diagrams of how many of the exercises can be performed—a really great reference.
  • Aldous Huxley's The Art of Seeing has a great beginning where the author details his own journey in and out of blindness and then goes on to quote some guy who worked for General Electric's Lighting Research Laboratory: "Suppose that crippled eyes could be transformed into crippled legs. What a heart-rending parade we would witness on a busy street! Nearly every other person would go limping by. Many would be on crutches and some on wheel chairs." Beyond that, Huxley's book is disappointingly clinical coming from one the 20th century's great authors. The Art of Seeing mostly serves as a testimonial by someone that people have actually heard of.
  • This list cannot be written with the inclusion of better Eyesight Without Glasses by William H. Bates, M.D., a book for which Bates was barred from practice by the American Optometry Association, for if the nation took Bates' advice (got rid of their glasses and followed his regimen) every optometrist would be out of a job. An important piece of history and the inspiration for much of what you see on this blog.
Local Resources:
  • Philadelphia Community Acupuncture provides sliding scale acupuncture treatments from $15 to $35. They are part of a growing global network of similarly structured acupuncture clinics.
  • Studio 34 is a yoga, healing and arts space that I work at in West Philadelphia. Drop in class are no more than $10, and many are $5 or pay-what-you-can. Studio 34's mission is driven by community rather than profit.
  • Mill Creek Farm is a chemical free farm operating in the heart of the city. They strive to provide city dwellers with the autonomy to access healthy food that's grown right in their own neighborhoods.
I could make these lists continue indefinitely, though I'd rather just offer a few examples of the people and projects that inspire me to do this work. If there are others that you know of, leave them here.

Thanks for reading. See you soon.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

30. Massaging Meridians

The Idea: In Chinese Medicine, 11 out of the body's 12 major meridians run through the eyes. Attention to these meridians and their corresponding organs can help maintain and improve the health of the eyes.

How To: Ideally, go and find yourself a good acupuncturist. In my neighborhood there is affordable community acupuncture with sliding scale rates of $15 to $35 and I go there nearly every week. Beyond this, I've found acupressure—the massaging of the same meridians that acupuncturists use to maps the flow of energy around the body—to be helpful. My favorite meridian to massage is the gall bladder meridian just under the muscle on the outer edge on the leg, starting just below the knee joint (point GB34 on the diagram on the left) and curving down to just above the ankle (point GB 39). Running a thumb along this meridian line and applying pressure from the back of the muscle's edge has brought tremendous relief to my eyes, as well as other parts of my body that have experienced pain. This has been my own experience, and of course yours will be different. Doubtless acupressure and acupuncture can bring great relief to any body.

More Info:
The Community Acupuncture Network lists and maps sliding scale clinics on their website. Take a look and find some affordable acupuncture in your area!

Friday, January 29, 2010

29. Contradictions

This is the heftiest entry in here, both lengthwise and in its subject matter. If you're just tuning in, I recommend looking at this other post as a launching point for doing some eye exercises.

In all of my research that has led me to writing this blog, I've read writings by and visited people who all claimed to be "experts" in the field of something related to the eyes and their health. Some of these people have the clout of the Western Optometrical Complex to back them up, many others ousted themselves from that institution because they felt that prescribing stronger and stronger leses for people was hurting, not helping their eyesight. Others still were never professional optometrists, but people who entered into this work through a route of holistic and natural healing. With so many "experts" coming from so many philosophies, traditions and experiences, it is inevitable that their statements contradict one another.

Below are some of the contradictions that I've come across in my own experience with natural vision therapy, as well as how it relates to the Western Optometrical Complex. Nothing here is conclusive because I can only put myself out there as an expert regarding my own experiences with vision—not yours or the billions of others who live and have lived on this planet. Also, healing practices must be in constant dialogue, never set in stone, for there were many certainties that doctors had for centuries that we now know to be false. Who's to say that certainties of today's doctors, pharmacists, scientists, and drug company executives are any more true than those who believed that the common cold was caused by evil spirits? Read on, try things out, question everything and let me know what you come up with:
  1. "Corrective" Lenses vs. "Opposite" Lenses: Mainstream western optometry works like this: you go to the eye doctor and get a prescription for lenses. Over the course of the year, your eyes adjust to the lenses and then you need a stronger prescription. In functional optometry (though it's difficult to find documentation of this in any book) doctors will have patients wear "opposite glasses"—lenses that actually make the vision "worse." This means that a farsighted person would be given a negative or nearsighted pair of glasses, and a near sighted person would be given a pair of positive or farsighted glasses. The glasses are only worn for about 20 minutes at a time, maybe once or twice a day, the vision is only worsened for this short time. But when the glasses are removed, the vision might actually be better. The theory is that if a pair of "corrective" lenses pull a nearsighted person deeper into nearsightedness and a farsighted person deeper into farsightedness, than "opposite" glasses can do the opposite.
  2. Staring vs. Shifting: In Ayurvedic, yogic, and many martial arts practices, there is this idea of gazing at a fixed point or a flickering flame to relax the mind and improve the vision. Dr. William H. Bates and his protégés protest against this, saying that the eyes should be in constant movement. this is one of Bates' key principles, just as finding one's drishti is a key principle in many schools of yoga.
  3. Centralization vs. Peripheralization: With the tradition of Batas and post-Bates natural vision therapy, I've come across a couple of different recommendation regarding the role of peripheral vision. According to Thomas R. Quackenbush, much of our culture's eyestrain comes from trying to see everything at once—the "Big Picture" with everything in equal focus.
    Quackenbush posits that only the central vision—where the cone cells are concentrated in the fovea—should be clear, and that the peripheral vision—where there only a smattering of rods to indicate base might, shadow and movement—should be blurry. He goes on to state that it is this trying to get the rods to pull in a sharper image that puts strain on the eyes and makes the whole vision go blurry. Meir Schneider, on the other hand, promotes exercises that strengthen the peripheral vision. Both men are followers of the Bates Method and both have succeeded in improving their vision through its practice, though their individual experiences are different and perhaps this is why they differ on this particular aspect of Bates' teaching.
  4. Lutein vs. Beta Carotene: The irony of this one is that both of these nutrients have been shown to support the vision, yet each blocks the other's absorption! Dr. Marc Grossman, with his experience both in functional optometry and Chinese Medicine, says that beta carotene is best absorbed in the middle of the day (11 AM to 3 PM) and lutein in the middle of the night (11 PM to 3 AM). IT's a pretty weird regimen to follow, but really not any weirder than any of the exercises I've posted on this blog, right?
I am very interested in healthy debate in the interest of actually making people healthier rather than the "I'm right, they're wrong, and I've got all these books and fancy degrees to back me up" sort of thinking that gets thrown at me by almost anyone wearing a lab coat. I've have several conversations with doctors about eye exercises like Sunning, and practices such as wearing pinhole glasses, that went absolutely nowhere. If you've had any experience with this stuff, or have questions about anything here, leave your comments here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

28: Eating for the Eyes, Part 2: Listening to Color

The Idea: Our bodies know what they need and we send ourselves signals in interesting ways. One is through color: the colors that we are drawn to may indicate what foods we should be eating. Foods of certain colors contain certain nutrients linked to their pigmentation. The most well known example of this is with carrots and the beta carotene indicated by their orange hue.

Carrots are always put forth as the quintessential eye food. True they are good for the eyes and the rest of the body, and they are not alone. Here's a list of other foods that I've ben told are good for the eyes:
  1. Collards and Kale: These dark leafy greens from the brassica family are rich and vitamin A and lutein. Cook them any way you like, or chop them finely to eat raw as a salad or mixed with other stuff.
  2. Dandelion: The bitter greens of this common weed are the highest in vitamin A, as well as calcium and iron. Baby dandelion greens are good in salads, bigger greens are best sauteed with a little salt to draw out the bitterness. Dandelion also strengthens the liver, which strengthens the eyes. See my post about herbs for more info.
  3. Apricots: Their orange pigment alludes to bioflavonoids that support retinal function. Dried apricots are more potent for their ability to do this.
  4. Yellow Pigmented Vegetables: Yellow and orange bell peppers, winter squashes, orange sweet potatoes and yams are all up there with carrots for their high concentration of vitamin A in the form of beta carotene.
  5. Blueberries: Actually yellow under their skin, they've been touted as "superfoods" in recent years. They contain certain bioflavonoids that adhere to the cone cells in the retina to at least temporarily improve vision. I wrote about both blueberries and bilberries in my post about herbs.
Testimonial: Orange has always been my favorite color and I believe that this is my body's way of letting me known what I need to be eating. Growing up around processed foods meant that I responded by eating a lot of artificially colored cheese products, but as I listened to my body further and moved toward a diet based more on fresh vegetables, it meant eating the foods listed above. My taste in color also changed—in recent years I've been more drawn to green than orange, perhaps indicating the need for more lutein than beta carotene to support my eyes as well as the other systems in my body.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

27. Eating for the Eyes, Part 1: Herbs

Over the years many natural vision practitioners have advised me to take various herbs to improve my vision. All of these herbs are listed here in the order which they were prescribed to me, along with the reason for and source of their recommendation.
  1. Turmeric: In Chinese medicine there is a strong connection between the liver and the eyes. Bitter herbs which boost liver function are touted as being good for the vision. The Cambridge acupuncturist who recommended this to me had a strong Ayurvedic background, and turmeric root is a key herb in Ayurveda. It's also a yellow pigment and yellow pigmented foods are good for the eyes. Turmeric also has the advantage of being easy to use in cooking and is a powerful antioxidant.
  2. Dandelion: Any liver booster first recommended by the same acupuncturist noted above. The leaves are perhaps the most nutritious greens on the market, being far richer in iron, calcium and vitamin A than even real champs like collards, kale and watercress. In an herbal context, it is dandelion root that is used as the plant's most potent form. The bitter root has an underlying sweetness that really pops out when taken as a glycerine-based tincture or roasted and then consumed as a tea.
  3. Milk Thistle: Prescribed to me by the same acupuncturist that first recommended dandelion and turmeric for their liver-boosting powers, milk thistle seed was hard for me at the time and I never used it.
  4. Eyebright: As the name suggests, eyebright leaves are purported to better one's eyesight. Eyebright can also help to alleviate allergies and has done wonders for my itchy eyes during hay fever season. Natural vision therapist Rosemary Gordon first told me about eyebright along with many other herbs and foods for vision.
  5. Bilberry: During World War II, British pilots reported improved night vision after eating bilberry jam on toast. The stuff hit the market in the U.S. 50 years later, first as bilberry leaf powdered in capsules or tinctured in bottles and priced pretty high. A few years after that the Italian company BioNaturae began marketing bilberry jam and juice in the States and I consumed a lot of it as it was affordable and damn tasty. I also ordered a sack of dried bilberries, which are about the size of peppercorns and a slightly sweet. Rosemary Gordon first brought this European superherb to my attention.
  6. Blueberry: Years after I first bought into the bilberry craze of the 1990s an acupuncturist in New York told me that the bilberry's American sibling—the blueberry—did the exact same thing, and I began using blueberries instead because they are cheaper, bigger, sweeter, more local and easier to find. Have you ever peeled a blueberry? They're actually bright yellow inside and thus fall under the category of yellow-pigmented foods in the eway that they support vision. Eat the fruit in any form and take the leaf as a tea.
  7. Ginseng and Astragalus: Marc Grossman, who is both an acupuncturist and a functional optometrist, prescribed these two roots be taken together in tincture form as a support for the kidneys and, by extension, the eyes. I insist on taking them in a glycerine base because I don;t do alcohol and glycerine tincture taste better, but alcohol tinctures are cheaper, easier to find and are also more potent. Ginseng and astragalus are two of the most common herbs in Chinese medicine and I'd be smart to just go to Chinatown and pick some up. Astagalus can also be eaten in a vegetable soups. and I've had a vegetarian ginseng and "chicken" soup at Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant in Philly.
  8. Calendula: Marc Grossman was also the first person to tell me about the vision-healing powers of lutein. I went out and bought a bottle of 50 lutein vegicaps for a whopping $20. Then I looked at the ingredients and saw that each pricey little capsule contained just one thing: calendula flowers. Calendula is so common as a garden flower and also as an herb used to maintain healthy skin. It doesn't taste so good, but can be dried, ground up and mixed with something else (a smoothie for example) for easier consumption. Lutein can also be found in dark leafy greens. See my posts on food and on diagnostic contradictions for more info.
There are other herbs that I'm forgetting. The acupuncturist in Cambridge touted a 4th liver-booster and the acupuncturist from New York had me go to a Chinese herbalist and get a patent medicine in pill form. I chewed a handful of these pills at a time and they followed them with water. There are countless other herbs and the one listed above how many more details about their function. Leave a comment if you have something to add!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

26. Changing Views

The Idea: Vision is more than physical eyesight: Our experiences inform our vision. By tapping into our experiences, we can heighten our sense of vision. By widening our experiences, we can increase visually ability exponentially.

Set Up: For this exercise you'll need an apple or some other object. The example given here uses an apple.

How To:
1. Imagine that you are hungry and look at the apple. Look at it with feelings of desire you sink your teeth into it and biting off a chunk of its sweet flesh. As you look at the apple, think about its taste and its power to nourish you and satisfy your craving. Look at the apple through this lens of desire. Now close your eyes and let that go—you are no longer a hungry person.
2. Open your eyes and look at the apple through the perspective of a painter. Your desire for this apple is no longer about flavor or nourishment, but about line, color, contour, texture, light an shadow, and how these aspects can be translated into an image with oils and a brush. Though your desire for this apple is purely aesthetic, feel it just as strongly as you did when your were hungry. Now close your eyes and let that go—you are no longer a painter.
3. Put your hands behind your back and open your eyes. You are now 7 years old and at a Halloween party and this apple is floating, with others, in a barrel of cold water. Your desire for this apple is now strategic: How can you clamp your little mouth around this big round fruit and pull it ou of the water before your face freezes off? That is the objective in a game of Bobbing for Apples and therefore your strongest desire in this moment. Now close your eyes and let that go—you are no longer a little kid.
4. Open your eyes and look at the apple and imagine that it is huge—looming up in front of you. Now you are a tiny worm, preparing to burrow into the side of this apple. Look at it from this perspective: Where would be the best place to tunnel in?
5. Continue closing the eyes, shifting perspectives, and looking at the apple through the lens of different desires.

What's Going On: Each time we look at something with varying intentions, we inevitably pick up different details about that thing. The same automobile will look different to a mechanic, a chauffeur, a meter maid, and a car thief, but someone who's been more than one of things will notice more aspects of the auto. This exercise uses the brain, as well as the eyes, to improve the vision.

Testimonial: I've led this exercise with friends and students, bringing apples into my classes (yoga and theater) and giving one to everybody. It's a great meditation to begin a lesson with, and then to return at the end with people possibly choosing to eat their apples.

More Info:
• I took this exercise from Marc Grossman's book Greater Vision.