Remember those times when you were a kid and your mom used to warn you staring at a screen all day would give you square eyes? Well, she was kind of onto something.
The presence of phones, tablets, and computer screens is incredibly recent in our history as humans, and – surprise, surprise – our eyes have not had sufficient time to adapt to this change. Put simply, our eyes are simply not evolved for staring at screens.
And screens aren’t the only villain threatening our eyes. Other culprits of eye strain and damage include poor lighting, cigarette smoke, stress, lack of sleep, driving, and reading for extended periods of time.
The effect of these daily activities is subtle but cumulative, and over time can have some serious consequences for the health of our eyes, leading to various issues including eye fatigue, migraines, astigmatism, and long-term nearsightedness.
But don’t fear! With a little conscientious daily eye yoga, the risks of developing problems with your sight can be greatly reduced.
To help you, in this article, we’ll be looking at:
- What is eye yoga & how does it work?
- Benefits of eye yoga
- 4 eye yoga exercises to try at home
What is eye yoga & how does it work?
So first things first – what exactly is eye yoga?
Put simply, eye yoga describes any practice designed to strengthen and condition the muscles in the eye structure, in order to safeguard and fortify your overall eye health and vision.
This can include exercises for relieving tension and strain in your eyes and exercises to train and strengthen the eyes.Also known as “vision training” or simply “eye exercises”, eye yoga involves consciously altering your eyes’ activity and focus (fx. between nearby and faraway objects), as well as moving the eyeballs and lids in various ways to tone the muscles in and around the eyes.
While scientific research is limited, a comprehensive study from 2016 exploring the effect of eye yoga on nursing students explained the science behind various eye yoga exercises to be down to a combination of:
- Stimulating the circulation of the aqueous humor, the liquid that runs between the cornea and the lens of the eye (responsible for providing nutrition to the eye and maintaining intraocular pressure)
- Relaxing the tension of eye muscles strained by constant reading and close work
- Balancing the strength and activity of upper and lower eye muscles
- Expanding the healthy range of motion of eye muscles and the eyeball itself
- Improving the coordination of medial and lateral muscles in the eye
Benefits of eye yoga
While there is no conclusive evidence that eye yoga can fix issues like astigmatism, nearsightedness, or farsightedness, eye yoga is by no means useless or without scientific support.
One study from 2013 found that eye exercises improved visual response time, enabling participants to identify what they were looking at more quickly.
Another study from 2020 found that participants in a 6-week eye yoga program reported a significant reduction in eye fatigue and function, despite daily activities and lifestyle consistency.
Studies also suggest that by encouraging visual focus, eye yoga may improve the brain-eye connection so as to improve the brain’s ability to identify visual stimuli quicker, with subjects reporting clearer vision even without any direct or measurable improvement in eyesight or eye condition.
The above research suggests that, while it may not be a cure for serious or long-term eye conditions, eye yoga can still offer some great soothing and preventative benefits for your eye health and vision.
Important note: While eye yoga is generally considered safe, it is important to consult with your eye doctor before starting any new exercise regimen, including eye exercises, especially if you have any pre-existing eye conditions.
4 eye yoga exercises to try at home
#1: Focus Shifting Using a Pen (Or other objects!)
This exercise is a form of near and distant viewing wherein we are practicing divergence and convergence in our vision.
Convergence refers to the inward turning of the eyes when focusing on a near object, while divergence is the outward turning of the eyes for distant objects. Coordination between these movements is crucial for smooth visual transitions and accurate focus at different distances.
- Begin by attaching a small picture to the end of a pen, ruler, or other similar object. I recommend using an image a little larger than a passport photo – I cut mine out of an old magazine!
- Once this is done, come to a comfortable seated or standing position with your back straight and your head in line with the spine. Hold the pen at eye level and at arm’s length in front of you. Focus your gaze on the image, making sure it’s clear.
- Then, keeping the image at eye level, slowly begin to move the pen towards your nose, ensuring the image remains clear the whole time.
- If the image becomes doubled or blurry during the movement, pause and continue gazing at the image. The aim here is to allow the muscles in your eyes to adjust and bring the blurred image into focus.
- It’s important to avoid closing either eye, blinking, or looking away to refocus your gaze if the pen becomes blurry – this will disrupt the process. Instead, keep your eyes fixed on the pen at all times and engage your eye muscles to regain focus.
- If you successfully restore a clear image, continue moving the pen closer to your nose. If it becomes blurry again, repeat Step 3 to regain focus.
- If you are unable to achieve a clear focus on the image once it becomes blurred, try moving the pen slightly backward (around 2 to 3 centimeters) to help your eyes regain focus.
- The objective of this exercise is to bring the pen close to your nose while keeping the image clear. The closer the pen is to you, the more challenging it becomes to maintain clear focus.
#2: Eye Rolling & Rotational Viewing
This exercise is a form of rotational viewing, involving moving the eyes to gaze in a full 360 range of directions, with each direction having its own benefits for the eyes.
Sideways viewing, for example, serves as a relaxation technique for muscles that are strained by constant reading and close work, which helps also to prevent and correct squint.
Additionally, front and sideways viewing contribute to improved coordination of medial and lateral muscles in the eyes. In fact, rotational viewing exercises also aid in restoring general muscle balance and coordinated activity of both eyeballs.
- Begin by standing or sitting up straight in a comfortable position, gazing forward.
- Keeping your head still, slowly shift your gaze to the right side, focusing on a point in that direction for around 5 seconds.
- Next, slowly roll your eyes upward, directing your gaze towards the ceiling. Again, wait for 5 seconds, allowing your focus to adjust to this new viewpoint.
- Continue the eye movement by rolling your eyes downward, directing your gaze towards the left side, and holding for 5 seconds.
- Complete the exercise by rolling your eyes downward, shifting your gaze towards the floor, and holding for 5 seconds.
- Repeat these movements for a total of 10 repetitions in a clockwise direction.
- After completing the clockwise motion, switch to an anti-clockwise direction and repeat the same eye movement for an additional 10 repetitions.
#3: Distance Gazing
If you’ve ever been told off for staring into space, this is the exercise for you – turns out that staring at different objects in the distance can do our eyes a real service, believed to help strengthen the accommodating and focusing power of our eye muscles.
- Begin in a comfortable position in an open space where there are a number of objects that you can focus on in the distance (i.e. 6 meters away or more).
- Next, rest your gaze on one of those distant objects, ensuring that the object is in clear focus. (If you are indoors, look out of a window if possible.)
- Maintain relaxed in your eyes and face while keeping your attention on the distant object for 3 to 5 minutes. Try taking some deep breaths to further promote relaxation.
- Slowly shift your gaze to another distant object in your surroundings, again staying here for 3 minutes or so. Take time to notice any details of the object – perhaps its shape, color, size, and so on.
- Allow your eyes to continue drifting around the world in the distance, continually pausing at different objects located at various distances from you.
#4: Palming & Blinking
Palming and blinking are great little eye yoga additions to work into the end of your eye exercise routine.
These both act as a calming ‘reset’ for the mind and eyes, promoting relaxation of the eye muscles and stimulating the circulation of the aqueous humor liquid (sorry for the scientific jargon!) which aids the correction of defective vision.
- In a comfortable seated or standing position, begin by rubbing your hands together until they become warm.
- Then, gently place both hands over your eyes, so that your palms block out any light.
- Ensure that your fingertips are resting on your forehead and avoid touching or pressing on your eyes. Your palms should be slightly cupped away from your face, with the base of your palms resting on your orbital bone.
- Now, take a number of slow, deep breaths. Try to clear your mind, acknowledging thoughts but not becoming attached to them. Meditate here for a minute or so.
- When you’re ready, open your eyes softly and gaze a few meters ahead of you.
- Once your eyes have adjusted and focused, gently close them again for 3 seconds. Then, keeping your eyes closed, squeeze the lids together gently for 3 seconds.
- Open the eyes, and repeat the palming process between steps 1 and 5.
- Repeat this process of alternating between palming and blinking for several minutes, continuing to breathe deeply and consciously.
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