by Carol Gallup, M.A.
Meir Schneider can see. Some people would say this is a miracle, but Schneider doesnt think so. As a teenager, he worked hard to acquire the visual behaviors that allowed his badly damaged eyes to see for the first time. Since then, many others have used his methods to improve their eyesight, even with diseases of the eye.
Schneider was born blind, with cataracts clouding the lenses of his eyes. Other serious conditions compounded the problem farsightedness resulting from a too-small eye (microophthalmy); nystagmus, a continual fluttering movement of the eyes; and glaucoma, excessive pressure within the eye that threatens the optic nerve. In those days, surgeons tried to remove only the opaque parts of the lens; five such surgeries in early childhood left his lenses shattered. The child was issued a blindness certificate marked "Valid Permanently."
During Schneiders childhood in Tel Aviv, his only concession to blindness was reading Braille. He insisted on running, playing and riding a bicycle sometimes into walls. At age 16, he met two people who changed his life: a boy who had cleared up his own nearsightedness using the Bates eye exercises, which he had learned from a book, and a middle-aged woman who had created movement and self-massage techniques to overcome degenerative problems of her own and others.
Against the advice of family and friends, Schneider practiced the Bates exercises up to 13 hours a day, even during classes in school, much to the annoyance of his teachers. Through the eye exercises, self-massage and movement techniques, he explored the needs and rhythms of his body; "it was bliss," he says. After six months of enthusiastic work on his eyes and whole body, he could see shapes, light and darkness, and some movement without glasses; with them, even the details of his own face in the mirror. Within 18 months, he could see equally well without glasses, even reading normal-sized print. During this time, his explorations of body awareness led him to work with people with such serious conditions as muscular dystrophy, polio, and multiple sclerosis; this work evolved into his Self-Healing Method. A few years later, he passed his driving test and became a licensed driver.
Now, at around 20/70, his eyesight isnt perfect, but its beyond anything considered likely by medical science. Schneider sees through such badly damaged eyes that one eye (the stronger one) admits less than 1% light and the other less than 5%. He sees through pinholes in the scar tissue left by his childhood surgeries: "Its like looking through shattered glass, like the wine glass you stomp on at a Jewish wedding," he says.
It was William Bates, a turn-of-the-century New York ophthalmologist, who first pointed out that seeing is a behavior that can be done well or poorly. Bates studied visual behavior as no one else had ever done. Using a retinoscope, he checked hundreds of thousands of eyes human and animal, young and old. While his subjects slept, ate, got sick, did arithmetic, and otherwise conducted the business of their lives, he measured their vision. The results surprised him.
Normal (20/20) vision is not constant, he found. Normally sighted eyes drifted off into moments of farsightedness, nearsightedness, and astigmatism, then picked up again at 20/20. Bad vision got worse, got a little better, and had flashes of perfect vision. Telling a lie always resulted in a moment of nearsightedness. Bates found that he could make dogs temporarily nearsighted by frustrating them by chaining them up, showing them a distant piece of meat, and then concealing it.
In every case of refractive error, Bates found a psychological strain that was held in the body, the face, and especially the eyes. This habitual, chronic strain resulted in refractive errors like near- and farsightedness. His system of eye exercises mimics the successful visual behaviors he observed when his subjects were seeing 20/20 or better. Throughout his career, he cleared up refractive errors in thousands of his patients with these exercises.
Bates heirs have taken his work in many directions. Schneider has found that combining the eye exercises with massage, self-massage, movement, and breathing and visualization techniques results in improvement in serious conditions like glaucoma, retinopathies, macular degeneration, and cataracts as well as in refractive errors.
Vision improvement exercises, he says, arent mechanical this is body-mind work. The eye exercises will get you deeply in touch with your eyes, and address several basic needs. First, they'll help you relax. Most people have a lot of eyestrain they are shutting out. Looking around the world without strain and tension is the key to good eyesight.
The exercises will also help you to adjust easily to every intensity of light, from the strong sun of midday to starlight. They will help you develop a flexible gaze that can move effortlessly from one detail to another, and alternate easily between near and distant visual targets; people with poor vision exhibit a frozen stare.
Finally, they will enhance your eyes' ability to work together in a balanced way; central vision is balanced with peripheral, neither eye dominating the other.
Discovering your eyes: the eye exercises
Note: glasses and contact lenses should be removed for all of the eye exercises.
Palming This important exercise rests the optic nerve, the muscles of the eye, the face, and the entire nervous system. Darken the room and play soft music if you like. Position yourself for maximal comfort, sitting at a table with elbows supported. Warm your hands by rubbing them together and drop your shoulders. Close your eyes. Gently cover them with your cupped hands, heels of hands resting on cheekbones. Breathe deeply and slowly.
Now start to imagine ever-deepening blackness. You may choose to picture a black object on a moving or still black background, or a black world in which even your breath is black. You'll see a lot of colored phenomena; when you see blackness, it means that your optic nerve has quieted down. Don't try hard; relax and notice how your eyes feel. If you experience some of the pain you've been shutting out, stay with it until it clears up.
Regular 15- to twenty-minute sessions are recommended, along with occasional marathon palming sessions. When palming with friends, exchanging neck and shoulder massages can be wonderful. Limit sessions to five minutes if you have glaucoma.
Sunning People with poor eyesight tend to react to strong sunlight with avoidance and squinting. Sunning teaches the eye a relaxed acceptance of strong light; it is almost as important to healthy function as is palming. When you can, perform your sunning sessions at the beach or in a park, but above all, work them into your schedule as often as possible every day, even if you can only step outside for a few minutes between tasks.
Lightly close your eyes, raise your face to the sun, and rotate the head fully from side to side as if slowly signaling "no." Lightly massage around the eyes to prevent frowning and squinting; the muscles around the eye need to be very relaxed. Alternate sunning with palming. When time permits, bring along a card with small print and read it before and after sunning; youll be surprised at how much better your near vision gets.
A few safety rules: Do not sun through glass; take off glasses and contact lenses. Avoid the strong sun of midday. The head stays in even, continual motion. Sunning is done only with the eyes closed. If a stiff neck limits head rotation, move your upper body from side to side as needed.
Blinking This exercise bathes and massages the eye, relieves tension around it, and breaks up staring. Most people with bad eyesight have lost the ability to blink easily and often; when you see someone wearing thick glasses, you'll notice that they are staring unblinkingly. Blink effortlessly, while breathing deeply and relaxing your upper body, about three hundred times. Stop and visualize it, then do it again.
Extending the periphery Since, like most people, you probably have lost some peripheral vision simply because your brain has acquired the habit of ignoring the periphery, this exercise usually results in an immediate improvement. Tape a piece of black construction paper two inches high and four inches wide between your eyes and, sitting, gazing straight ahead, waggle your fingers on each side of your head, then above and below your face, until you have found the edges of your visual field. Now place your hands just beyond that edge. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and visualize that you see your wiggling hands easily and well in the new position; then open your eyes and try to see them. This exercise can also be done with small flashlights or dripless candles in a darkened room.
Use the same piece of paper when you are a passenger in a car. Your brain will begin to find the moving scenery at the sides more interesting than the paper and will register more of the periphery.
Take a walk on a beach or in a park without your glasses and notice how much of the world on your left or right tends to exist for you. One side may look darker; this is the part of the periphery that your brain tends to disregard. You may find that not only is it an effort to keep up an awareness of the darker side, but that you have the slightly weird feeling of fighting with your own brain, which wants to distract your attention and shut down that part of the periphery. As with many eye exercises, you may begin to experience how much of your personality is invested in the way you use your eyes. As you recover the lost periphery, it will look brighter.
Shifting This exercise creates fluidity and flexibility in the gaze and refreshes the eye greatly. It imitates anatomically appropriate use of the eyes.
Look off into the distance, as far away as you can, and start moving your attention from one small detail to another. It should feel light and effortless; allow the details to appear. Pick a slightly closer distance and do the same, enjoying the smallest details you can see. Interrupt your scan from time to time to visualize what you have just seen, enjoying the details. Continue until you are scanning very nearby.
The Long Swing This exercise breaks up the habit of straining to see and develops peripheral vision.
Standing with your legs about two feet apart, holding a finger in front of your face about two feet away, begin to sway the upper body to the left and right far enough that the back heel lifts. Keep looking at your finger and let the rest of the world the periphery appear, moving in the opposite direction.
For more information, contact the Center for Self-Healing, 1718 Taraval St., San Francisco CA 94116, (415) 665-9574; fax (415) 665-1318; e-mail <email@example.com>.