Yoga For The Eyes
Many of us grow up believing that one day, perhaps around aged 40; we will simply need to start using glasses because eyesight deterioration is just a natural consequence of aging. What they don’t know however, is that just like any other muscle in the body, our eyes need to be exercised and stretched.
Now the Opticians are not going to like this article one little bit, but I would like to share that if the majority of people did eye exercises on a daily basis, there would be very few people wearing glasses in this world.
Of course there are the exceptions of people with congenital conditions or damage due to other factors and we do need to be grateful to opticians for helping improve the quality of life of these people. However those using glasses due to wear and tear of eyesight are doing themselves more harm than good.
Believe it or not, using prescription glasses or contact lenses will actually weaken the eyes over time and so a bit like other kinds of medication when used long term, each prescription will need to be increased in strength to continue to have an affect. Ask anyone you know who wears glasses and they will probably tell you that their eyesight has gradually become worse over time.
Netra Vyayamam – Eye Movements
It seems the ancient yogis knew about this way before opticians came on the scene and various eye movement exercises, known as Netra Vyayamam were devised to keep the eye muscles toned and to relieve chronic tension caused by mental and emotional stress.
When teaching these practices, I have witnessed students experiencing surprising emotional responses. And over time we discovered together that it was often a certain movement that initiated the response, which also slowly diminished over time with repetitive practice. I grew interested to discover if there was any research on the cause for this and what I found was that psychologists in the early 1970s were discovering that automatic unconscious eye movements accompany thought processes.
Interestingly, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), have built an entire system to show how eye movements are often indicators of specific cognitive processes. What all these means is that we move our eyes in certain directions, related to the part of the brain associated with that kind of thought, memory or feeling. And so, I wonder if the reverse can also be true? Can moving our eyes in certain directions access certain memories and feelings which can be released through the practice of Netra Vyayamam. What I do know and have experienced is that yoga is a powerful healer which goes beyond the physical benefits of merely toning and stretching muscle tissue.
Practicing these exercises regularly for a few months can dramatically improve the functioning of our eyes. They are especially helpful for people who work long hours at the computer, who read and write a lot and those want to improve their eyesight. Unlike other yoga postures, eye exercises can be practiced any time, even after a heavy meal.
When you first begin these exercises, it is best to practice every day. Aim for roughly 20 to 30 minutes of eye exercise daily. When you notice any vision improvement, you can begin to space the practice out, until eventually you will simply maintain the vision by practicing a few times a week.
Always make sure your hands are clean whenever you are planning to touch your eyes. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to keep from contaminating your eyes.
Blinking is incredibly important yet is so simply that it is easy to overlook. It helps to lubricate and hydrate the eyes, cleans out toxins with tears and protects the eyes through spreading a film of tears across the eyeball.
- Sit comfortably with your eyes open.
- Blink around 10 times very quickly.
- Close your eyes and relax for 20 seconds. Slowly take your attention to your breath.
- Repeat this exercise about 5 times.
Preliminary nose tip gazing
- Sit in a cross-legged pose.
- Lift the right arm straight in front of the nose.
- Make a fist and keep the thumb pointing upward.
- Focus both eyes on the tip of the thumb.
- Now bend the arm and gradually bring the thumb to the tip of the nose, all the while having the eyes focused on the tip of the thumb.
- Remain in this position for a while with the thumb held at the tip of the nose with the eyes focused there.
- Continuing to gaze at the tip of the thumb, gradually straighten the arm.
- Repeat this process at least 5 times.
Advanced option: Once you master the exercise you can integrate the breath by breathing in while the thumb is pulled to the tip of the nose, retain inside while holding the thumb at the tip of the nose and then breathe out as the arm is straightened.
Up and down viewing
- Sit with legs straight in front of your body.
- With both the thumbs pointing upwards, place both the fists on the knees.
- Slowly raise the right thumb keeping the arms straight. Follow the motion of the thumb upwards with the eyes.
- When the thumb is raised to the maximum, gradually bring it down to the starting position and continue to keep the eyes focused on the thumb all the while keeping the head still.
- Repeat the same process with the left thumb.
- Practice this 5 times with each thumb.
- The head and the spine should be kept straight throughout.
- Close the eyes and relax.
- Observe the following breathing pattern as you perform the above exercise
Breathing: Inhale while raising the eyes and exhale while lowering the eyes.
- Sit with legs straight in front of the body. Now reach the arms out in front of you, making fists with the thumbs pointing upward.
- Look at a point straight in front of you at eye level.
- Without moving the head, focus the eyes on the thumb all the while keeping the head still.
- following one after the other:
- Space between the eyebrows
- Left thumb
- Space between the eyebrows
- Right thumb
- Space between the eyebrows
- Left thumb
- Repeat this exercise 10 to 20 times.
- After completing this exercise close your eyes and rest.
Advanced option: Once you master the exercise you can integrate the breathing by exhaling each time you look to the side and inhaling as you come to the centre.
Front and sideways viewing
- Sit with legs outstretched in front of you.
- Place the closed fists on the knees with both thumbs pointing upwards.
- Look at a point straight in front and in level with your eyes.
- Keeping the head still and parallel to the floor.
- Breathing out, focus your eyes on the left thumb.
- Breathing in, focus your eyes at a point in front and in level with your eyes.
- Breathing out, focus your eyes on the right thumb.
- Repeat this action at least 10 times to each side.
- Then close your eyes and rest.
- Close the eyes and breathe deeply.
- Gently open the eyes and bring the gaze to the top of the vision.
- Begin circling the eyes clockwise, exploring the edge of the eye socket, stretching without straining.
- Inhale as the eyes circle from bottom to top; exhale from top to bottom.
- After three slow, fluid repetitions return to the top of the vision.
- Close the eyes, centre them and relax.
- Repeat circling counter-clockwise.
- After completing three repetitions in each direction, close the eyes and rub the palms together to generate heat from the friction.
- Cup the palms over the eyes and soak up the darkness and warmth.
- As the heat begins to dissipate, gently sweep the fingertips across the eyelids.
- Softly open the eyes and rest breathing deeply a few times.
Near and distant viewing
- Stand or sit by an open window, or outside with a clear view of the horizon. Keep the arms by your side.
- Focus on the tip of the nose for 5-10 seconds.
- Repeat this for about 10 to 20 times.
- Close and relax the eyes.
Breathing: Inhale during close viewing and exhale during distant viewing.
Massage is a common treatment to relieve tension or stress because it helps stimulate increased blood flow. Begin by massaging your upper eye lids in small circular motions for 10 seconds. Massage your lower eyelids next.
When massaging the lower lids, make sure to massage across the lacrimal bone, which is located near the inner eye.
After completing all the above exercises, lie in down on your back for a few minutes and relax yourself completely. Breathe gently and normally, and do not resist any thoughts or sensations during the exercise.
In order to receive long lasting benefit a regular practice is encouraged.
We offer eye exercises on our 200 hour yoga teacher training programs in both India or Bali. If you want to heal your eyes this is a great set of foundational exercises.