“Perfect sight comes easily, without any effort or strain, while, imperfect sight is always produced by a strain or an effort to see”.
– William H. Bates, M.D.
William Horatio Bates, M.D. (1860 – 1931) was a prominent New York ophthalmologist who took a new and unusual approach to the problems of vision. He became dissatisfied with the fitting of eyeglasses after observeing that with them, eyes seldom improved and often got worse. Dr. Bates began experimenting with other methods and found that certain training techniques appeared to be effective in improving nearsightedness. He went on to improve other vision problems including curing his own presbyopia. In the early 1900’s, he developed an educational system of Natural Vision Improvement now known as the Bates Method. It is often referred to today as just Natural Vision Improvement.
In his practice and research Dr. Bates found that mental and physical strain caused visual blur as well as most eye conditions. According to Dr. Bates, this strain leads to chronic contraction or tension in the extrinsic, or external muscles of the eyes, distorting the shape of the eyeball and causing errors of refraction; Focused light rays do not land exactly on the retina as they should causing the vision to be blurry.
Dr. Bates discovered that lowered vision caused by strain could be improved by relearning to relax mind and the eyes. He taught his patients to improve their eyesight by relearning to use their eyes in a natural and relaxed way. This natural way of seeing with ease could be relearned by various relaxation techniques including practicing the habits of relaxed breathing, gentle blinking and effortless shifting of the eyes and head together across the visual field. He also found that for eyesight to be clear, the mind had to be relaxed as well. He utilized imagination and memory in his work to help his patients relax and reestablish this natural way of seeing clearly. He found that imagining and remembering visual clarity helped in the process of regaining clear vision.
The Bates Method of Natural Vision Improvement as it is taught today still involves learning to let go of eyestrain, relearning to use the eyes with ease, and incorporating and reestablishing this relaxed way of seeing into one’s daily life.
“This strain, when it is habitual, leads to all sorts of abnormal conditions and is, in fact, at the bottom of most eye troubles, both functional and organic”.
– William H. Bates, M.D.
In his research and practice, Dr. Bates discovered the Principles of Natural Clear Eyesight.
The eyes must be at rest to see clearly. The mind and body must be at rest as well. Tension in the eyes and mind lowers vision. Learning to let go of tension and relax the eyes improves vision.
The eyes are at rest only when they are moving. And, when the eyes are moving they are at rest. The eyes are anatomically designed to require movement in order to see clearly with ease. Keeping the eyes from moving, for example by staring, is a strain on the eyes and lowers vision.
Central Fixation or Centralization
Dr. Bates said, “In central fixation, one sees best the point regarded, while all other points are seen less clearly”. This is not readily apparent but is true never the less. The eyes are anatomically designed to see clearly only at the center of the visual field. The peripheral field is always less clear. To see clearly, one must put the majority of one’s attention at the center of the visual field rather than the periphery.
Dr. Bates developed the means of applying these Principles of Natural Clear Eyesight by teaching the Habits of Natural Clear Eyesight. These are the supporting habits of ease that occur naturally with normal and clear vision. Reestablishing these habits incorporates all three principles, but ultimately induces the eyes to relax and allow for clear vision: to return.
The unconscious habit of breathing naturally and effortlessly is natural with clear eyesight. When seeing clearly, breathing is free and easy. Dr. Bates taught breathing techniques to encourage not only the eyes to relax, but also the mind and the entire body to let go of tension, especially the muscles of the face, throat, neck and shoulders.
Blinking gently, effortlessly and regularly is a normal habit. It is part of normal clear vision and is very relaxing for the eyes when done with ease. It lubricates the eyes, increases circulation to the eyes, helps the eyes to adjust to bright light and allows them to continuously rest and refocus.
Sketching, Shifting or Brushing
Effortlessly moving the eyes, head and neck together, along with one’s attention across the visual field, is a normal habit of natural clear vision. It incorporates well all three natural vision principles: relaxation, movement and centralization. It helps to break the habit of staring and allows the eyes to rest and refocus. Dr. Bates taught many variations on Sketching, including the Long Swing, Short Swing and Sway. Through these movement practices, natural vision principles are realized and natural vision habits are reestablished. Sketching encourages total relaxation, an awareness of central clarity and an imagined sense of oppositional movement.
Dr. Bates taught students to relearn these principles, re-establish these habits and let go of their acquired habits of mental and physical strain. Letting go of the effort to see resulted in reduced tension in the eye muscles, decreased blur and improved eyesight. These are still the core principles and habits that are taught in Natural Vision Improvement today.
“Many people ask me what I call my treatment… I really have no name to give it unless I can say that my methods are the methods employed by the normal eye.”
– William H. Bates, M.D.