Lawrence Batchelor, an Iyengar yoga instructor who lives and practises in Stellenbosch, believes the Bates Method is to eyesight what yoga is for mind, body and soul.
We are realising more and more the impacts of our daily habits on the state of our health: the solutions to mitigating, even reversing negative health impacts are now, more than ever, firmly within our reach, and eyesight deterioration is no different.
If you wear glasses or use other vision correction, you may already be resigned to the fate of having to rely on these crutches to see for the rest of your life. Not only that, but the strength of those glasses will need to regularly increase as your eye’s deteriorate.
For most people, it is an unquestioned “fact” that eyesight deteriorates over time, and that this process is irreversible. However, perhaps deeper examination reveals something quite different.
We need only look as far as our every day experience. On any given day, most people experience fluctuations in their vision, times when they see better, and times when they see less well.
So, when we move from seeing less well to seeing better again, that is an improvement in our eyesight. Most days, we experience some such improvement.
But, this is impossible, we are told. How can this be?
There are two reasons given for this inevitable decline in our eyesight: age and genetics. Let’s look at age.
Almost every person reading this article probably knows at least one person who still has perfect eyesight in their senior years.
Are these people simply to be dismissed as statistical outliers, or are they the people that hold the answer to retaining perfect sight?
What if the common thread that runs through their stories is that they have remained interested and active?
Now let’s look at genetics. A well-known study of Inuit Indians in 1975 showed a high prevalence of myopia in the children, but almost no myopia in the uneducated adults of the population.
The researchers concluded that this had to be due to environmental factors, and was not due to the genetic component.
These were the kind of questions that vexed Dr. William Bates, a trained ophthalmologist. While working as a doctor and teacher at the New York Eye Infirmary around 1900, he could not understand how patients sometimes showed improvement, when everything that he had learnt and studied said this was impossible.
German physician and physicist Dr Hermann von Helmholtz and others had established beyond doubt that functional eye problems were due to the eyeball distorting its natural spherical shape.
This in turn causes light-rays entering the eyeball to converge either in front of, or behind, the retina, resulting in blur.
Dr Bates wanted to know why. He embarked on years of in-depth research and agreed with emerging research that the tightening of the muscles surrounding the eyeball was the reason it loses its natural spherical shape.
Furthermore, he concluded that all functional problems of the eye are caused by stress, and this is what set him apart from other researchers. He discovered that these muscles were gripping the eyeball unnaturally due to visual or other forms of stress.
He saw that by returning to the vision habits we first learned as children, we could regain our perfect sight.
Children are naturally curious and continually move their interest from one point to another in a relaxed natural way, and he concluded that as adults, we needed to regain those childlike habits.
Since his discovery, Bates Method teachers have been helping people to improve their sight and do away with their spectacles for more than a century.
In my mid-40s, I started to experience presbyopia (age-related long-sightedness). As a qualified Iyengar yoga teacher who had been practicing yoga for eight years by that time; with my body feeling as healthy as a 20-year-old, I could not accept that my eyes were subject to different laws than the rest of the body.
Cuts and broken bones heal, people recover from illness and disease, why not the eyes?
I embarked on a journey of exploration and, over the years, came across numerous books and a couple of teachers of the Bates Method, all the while refusing to wear glasses to read.
Eventually, my journey took me to the Netherlands, and a teacher training course with Tom Quackenbush, full-time Bates teacher for over 30 years, avid Bates researcher, and author of the best-seller Relearning to See.
Here I learned the true Bates Method, which has nothing to do with daily eye exercise routines, but is based on three very simple habits to be applied 24 hours a day.
It is important to emphasise that these are relaxed habits to be integrated into ones’ day-to-day life, as opposed to exercises to be performed for a set period daily.
The first habit is what can best be described as brushing – this is to move ones attention or ones’ visual point of interest constantly from one point to another.
The human eye is only designed to see a very small point clearly at any given time, so we need to constantly move our attention to gather the visual information we need.
The next two habits seem so obvious, but they are equally as important.
Breathing – we need to employ a relaxed, deep abdominal breathing habit.
And thirdly, the human eye needs to blink every two to three seconds to stay cleansed and healthy. It can be a useful illustration to talk about what is not relaxed visual habits: straining and staring, shallow breathing, and not blinking. These are the strained visual habits that need to be broken.
Children and people with perfect sight do not do eye push-ups, they simply have good habits; in the same way, people with errors in their eyesight can apply the same habits and principles to return to perfect sight.
Initially, it is all about getting rid of the blur, but there are other qualities of sight that return: 3D vision, improved colour perception, increased contrast and textures.
There are additional benefits, like improved memory, brain function and releasing of that chronically stiff neck. The principles are very simple but the process is not necessarily easy – it takes years to develop the poor vision habits that interfere with our natural sight; it takes some commitment and time to return to good vision habits.
The rewards are well worth it.
This is an extract of the talk by Lawrence Batchelor to Helderberg U3A in Strand, which Bolander attended. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 082 764 4465