“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.
The Bates Method is named for William Horatio Bates (December 23, 1860 – July 10, 1931), who in the early 1900’s pioneered the field of Natural Vision Improvement. Dr. Bates was a prominent and maverick New York ophthalmologist who questioned the basic assumption that poor eyesight cannot improve. Dr. Bates observed that vision actually did improve in some of his colleagues and patients who neglected to wear their glasses, He sought to find out why and spent his career researching and developing an educational approach to improving eyesight known today as the Bates Method of Natural Vision Improvement, or commonly just Natural Vision Improvement.
During his practice and through years of extensive research, Dr. Bates found that strain was the cause of visual blur as well as many eye conditions. Dr. Bates found that mental and physical strain led to chronic tension in the muscles surrounding the eye. He theorized that these chronically tense eye muscles squeezed and distorted the shape of the eyeball causing errors of refraction. With refractive error, focused light rays land in front or behind the retina, rather than directly on it as they should resulting in blurry or distorted vision.
For example, in nearsightedness, where vision is clear close up and blurry at a distance, chronic muscle strain changes the shape of the eyeball, making it shorter from front to back, causing light rays to land in front of the retina. In farsightedness, where vision is clear at a distance and blurry close up, strain causes the eyeball to become longer from front to back, resulting in light rays to landing behind the retina.
“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.
Dr. Bates discovered that lowered vision could be improved by relearning to relax the eyes. He took an educational rather than medical approach to improving eyesight, teaching his patients to let go of their strain and improve their eyesight by breaking poor vision habits and relearning to use their eyes in a natural and relaxed way. Dr. Bates found that this natural way of seeing with ease could be relearned.
He taught simple activities to relax the eyes and reawaken natural relaxed vision habits. He found that for eyesight to be clear, not only must the eyes be relaxed, but the mind as well. In working with his patients, Dr. Bates utilized imagination and memory to relax the mind, the body and the eyes. He found that imagining and remembering visual clarity was helpful in the process of reestablishing this natural relaxed way of using the mind, the body and the eyes and regaining clear vision.
“The object of all the methods used in the treatment of imperfect sight without glasses is to secure rest or relaxation, first of the mind and then of the eyes. Rest always improves the vision. Effort always lowers it.”
– William H. Bates, MD
The Bates Method of Natural Vision Improvement as it is taught today still involves learning to let go of strain in the mind and eyes, relearning to use the eyes with ease, and incorporating and reestablishing this relaxed way of seeing into one’s daily life. It continues to be a gentle and effective educational approach with the focus on relaxation.
“The fact is that when the mind is at rest, nothing can tire the eyes, and when the mind is under a strain, nothing can rest them.”
– William H. Bates, M.D.
In his research and practice, Dr. William H. Bates discovered basic and fundamental Principles of Natural Vision – Relaxation, Movement, Central Fixation, Imagination and Memory.
- RELAXATION - The eyes must be at rest to see clearly. In order for the eyes to be at rest, the mind and body must be at rest as well. Tension in the eyes, the mind or anywhere in the body lowers vision. Learning to let go of tension and relax the eyes improves vision. This is the foundational principle of the Bates Method. According to Dr. Bates, "All methods of curing errors of refraction are simply different ways of obtaining rest."
- MOVEMENT - 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. They can see clearly with movement, with ease. The eyes depend on movement for normal function. Keeping the eyes from moving, for example by staring, is a strain on the eyes and lowers vision.
- CENTRAL FIXATION (OR CENTRAL CLARITY) - Central Fixation is seeing most clearly where one is looking - having more clarity in one's central field and less clarity in one's peripheral field. The eyes are anatomically designed to see most clearly at the center of the visual field, since the majority of cone receptor cells which are capable of seeing with with great clarity are found at the center of the retina. Dr. Bates said, "In central fixation, one sees best the point regarded, while all other points are seen less clearly." Central Fixation applies to the mind as well. Seeing clearly requires that one's attention and interest be primarily on the point where one is looking, Regaining clear Natural Vision requires regaining Central Fixation of the mind and the eyes.
- IMAGINATION AND MEMORY - Imagination and memory improves vision. Since we see more with the mind than with the eyes, a perfectly relaxed mind, with a perfect imagination and perfect memory means perfectly clear vision.
- IMAGINATION - Regarding Imagination, Dr. Bates said, "When the imagination is perfect, the mind is always perfectly relaxed, and as it is impossible to relax and imagine a letter perfectly, and at the same time strain and see it imperfectly, it follows that when one imagines that one sees a letter perfectly one actually does see it." In other words, imagining seeing clearly, with the eyes closed, relaxes the mind and relaxes the eyes to a similar degree as using clear Natural Vision with the eyes open. Since we see primarily with the mind, when the mind is relaxed, the eyes are relaxed and believe they are seeing clearly. Even if the eyes are closed, they physically let go of strain and respond as if they were open and truly seeing clearly.
- MEMORY - Regarding memory, Dr. Bates said, "When the sight is perfect, the memory is perfect, because the mind is perfectly relaxed. Therefore, the sight may be improved by any method that improves the memory." Remembering something in the past perfectly clear relaxes the mind and the eyes. Again, even with the eyes closed, they respond by letting go of tension as they would if they were truly seeing clearly.
“Note that when the letters are read easily and clearly, they are always seen by central fixation, and relaxation is felt. Central fixation is a rest to the nerves and when practiced continuously, it relieves strain and improves the vision to normal.”
– William H. Bates, M.D.
Dr. Bates developed a means of applying these Principles of Natural Vision to Natural Vision Improvement education by teaching the following Habits of Natural Vision. These are the supporting habits of ease that occur naturally in the person with normal eyesight. Reestablishing these habits incorporates the Principles of Natural Vision, gently coaxing and encouraging the eyes to relax, allowing for clear vision: to return.
- BREATHING - The habit of breathing naturally and effortlessly supports clear eyesight. When seeing clearly, breathing remains free and easy. Dr. Bates taught breathing techniques to encourage not only the eyes to relax and let go of tension, but also the mind and body, especially the muscles of the face, throat, neck and shoulders.
- BLINKING - Dr. Bates states, "The normal eye when it has normal sight rests very frequently by closing the eyes for longer or shorter periods, and when practiced quickly it is called BLINKING. When the normal eye has normal sight and refrains from blinking for some seconds or part of a minute, the vision always becomes imperfect." Blinking gently, effortlessly and regularly is a normal and healthy habit. It is part of clear Natural 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 momentarily and continuously rest and refocus.
- SHIFTING - Shifting is continually alternating one's focus and attention from one point to another. Effortlessly shifting, sketching, brushing, moving the eyes, head and neck together, following one's attention across the visual field, is a normal habit of clear Natural Vision. It incorporates well all three of the natural vision principles of relaxation, movement and centralization. It helps to break the habit of staring and with each shift of one's gaze allows the eyes to rest and refocus. Dr. Bates taught many variations on Shifting, including the Long Swing, Short Swing and Sway. Through these movement practices, Natural Vision Principles can be realized and Natural Vision Habits can be reestablished. Shifting encourages total relaxation and produces signs that Natural Vision is being awakened - an awareness of central clarity, where the center of one's visual field is clearer than the periphery and an imagined sense of opositional movement, where objects in the visual field appear to be moving in the opposite direction.
“When the normal eye has normal sight it is at rest, and when it is at rest it is always moving or shifting.”
– William H. Bates, M.D
“When the sight is normal, all objects regarded have an apparent motion.”
-William H. Bates, MD
Dr. William H. Bates taught thousands of students to learn these principles, relearn and 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 mind, the body and the eye muscles, decreasing blur and improving eyesight. These are still the core principles and habits that are taught in Natural Vision Improvement today.