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Yoga & Vision

Sherri Baptiste invites you to read:

Yoga and Vision: A Perfect Matchwith Featured Guest Dr. Eliot Kaplan

Most of us wear glasses to help us see better while driving, watching a movie or reading a book. Some of us have difficulty seeing clearly at a distance (nearsighted or astigmatic), while others need glasses to see close up (farsighted or presbyopia). In both instances, wearing glasses or contact lenses help us achieve 20/20 eyesight. Why do we develop poor eyesight in the first place? While genetics are considered a factor in vision development, various types of stress, our emotional health and the visual environment we work in, play a bigger role. Therefore, myopia and other more serious vision problems can be helped, prevented, reversed or controlled with proper vision hygiene and eye exercises.

One obvious stressor is looking at a computer screen or handheld computer device. Staring at something at close range for extended periods of time, even reading a book, can put a lot of strain on the intricate eye muscle system. The muscles of the eyes are no different than other muscles in the body. They respond to stress by over contracting, thereby losing their flexibility. We need to be conscious of the effects that this stress has on our breathing, posture and vision.

Vision and Learning

Vision is our most dominant sense. Twenty percent of the nerve fibers leaving the eyes go to our neck and inner ear (vestibular system). Our brain receives information from our eyes and integrates it with other senses such as hearing, touch and movement. Long before a child ever reaches school age, he has begun to learn. A proper Developmental Vision Evaluation will test visual acuity, screen for eye health problems such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration and evaluate one’s visual-motor skills. When we direct our eyes to read a book, we use a complex series of eye muscles that focus, track and align in a coordinated fashion in order to see clearly. Binocular vision is often taken for granted. When the eyes are not working properly, we experience eye fatigue, headaches or double vision. Learning takes place more easily when we use both eyes efficiently. The most common symptoms of a vision-related learning problem are: skipping words while reading, frequent rubbing of the eyes, not finishing work on time, poor reading comprehension or attention issues. Vision development is closely linked to posture and balance. It is routine for a developmental optometrist to detect vision problems by looking for any postural compensation that appear while a child is reading or in motion. This compensation may be in the form of a head tilt, poor posture and handwriting or lack of coordination in sports. From a developmental viewpoint, a child must first learn to team the two halves of his body together before he can team his two eyes. Also, from a developmental standpoint, a child must first learn to control his large muscle groups before he can control the fine muscles of his eyes. Consequently, when we find a problem in bilaterality, we find a problem in binocularity and visual perception.

Vision Therapy

If you or your child has a problem with your eyesight, you can improve it through proper vision exercises that incorporate activities that promote balance, such as yoga. Optometric Vision Training, a type of physical therapy for the eyes and brain, is a highly effective treatment for many common binocular vision problems. Both ‘strabismus’ (crossed or wandering eyes) and ‘amblyopia’ (lazy eye) enjoy a high success rate of remediation. Neuroscience currently proves that learning takes place faster when more than one modality is stimulated at the same time. Therefore, many Optometric Vision Therapy techniques routinely incorporate balance and motor activities along with the vision exercises, especially for children with reading and attention problems.

Stress-Relieving Eye Exercises

The following activities can help improve your vision, depending on your individual problem. For more information, see an optometrist who specializes in optometric vision therapy.

1. Abdominal Breathing. Remind yourself to not hold your breath throughout the day. Practice deep breathing. Let your diaphragm relax. Sometimes you need to put your hand on your waist and feel the expansion of your lower abdomen to help yourself know what deep breathing feels like.

2. Shoulder Rolls. Isolate your shoulders by pulling them up as high as they go and then releasing the tension. Breath in and out as you find the rhythm; repeat a half dozen times.

3. Palming. Warm your palms by rubbing them together. Then place your palms in a cupped fashion over the eyes, without putting any pressure on them. Keep your eyes closed and enjoy the darkness and warmth.

4. Acupressure. Gently touch the inside edges of your eyebrows with the tips of your index fingers. Let the pressure of your touch feel similar to the weight of a quarter resting on your arm. Begin to make a circular motion with your fingertips, remaining in that one spot. Maintain contact with your skin and continue to breathe diaphragmatically. Make sure that you do not lift your shoulders. Continue circling for 5 to 10 seconds. Then slide your fingers along the edge of the bone that encircles your eyes, maintaining contact with your eyebrows or skin and stop at the following points. At each point, make small, gentle circles for 5 to 10 seconds, always circling outward:

* the center points above your eyes

* the end of your eyebrows

* the outside corners of your eyes

* the center points below your eyes (feel for a little notch in the bone)

* the point where the bone begins to curve up

5. Yoga Eye Stretches. You have six extra-ocular muscles in each eye. They tend to tighten from lack of flexibility. To stretch them, start in a comfortable sitting position, while keeping the eyes open. By using a clock chart as a guide, move the eyes gently from three to nine o’clock, two to eight, one to seven, eleven to five and ten to four o’clock. This exercise may initially feel like an effort. However, you will find that the eyes begin to feel more fluid in their movements. Practice once a day for three to five minutes.

6. Peripheral Awareness and Convergence. Your peripheral vision tends to shut down under stress (tunnel vision). One simple activity to counteract this is to hold a colored pen or your finger about 5 inches directly in front of your nose. As you look past the pen into the distance toward a light, you should notice a second pen in your peripheral vision. Next shift your attention to the pen, making it single again, while being aware of a second image in the distance.

Bio: Dr. Eliot Kaplan is a Developmental Optometrist in Mill Valley, California. Practicing for over 30 years, he is a graduate of the New England College of Optometry. He specializes in optometric vision therapy, an approved treatment program for binocular vision and visual-perception problems. He has received extensive training in the diagnosis and treatment of vision-related learning disabilities and is an associate of the Optometric Extension Program (O.E.P.) and College of Optometrists in Vision Development. (C.O.V.D.)