About eight years ago, one of my most thoughtful clients gave me a book called The Program for Better Vision, How to See Better in Minutes a Day without Glasses or Contacts! by Martin Sussman. At the time, I was about 30 years old, which made it the most appropriate gift since she had corrected her vision using this very book when she was around thirty. It did take her a year and a half (not the eight weeks mentioned in the book), but a year and a half of doing a few eye exercises each day seemed like a small sacrifice for perfect vision (I was a habitual contact lens wearer). That was until the book strongly suggested not wearing contacts or even eyeglasses for much of the day! My client warned me that she felt threatened initially, afraid she would get mugged while commuting everyday through NYC. The forewarning did not help my cause. I hardly gave the book a chance after my first evening walking down Fifth Ave after work (I worked in NYC at the time) when all of the dizzying Christmas lights in the trees started blurring together. It felt like I was drunk and I could not imagine a year and a half of this! My will failed me, but above all, I failed to appreciate the importance of the nonphysical exercises in the book: affirmations, visualizations, staying present and less daydreaming.
What we choose to believe about our bodies ability (or inability) is so powerful that most clinical trials use a placebo (sugar pill) to test the efficacy of different medical therapies because many times, medications only work because the patient believed it would! So by the same token, our inner dialogue has the power to affect all areas of our health and well being. If you think your’e going to get the Corona Virus….guess what? Just kidding.
But seriously, I’ve been using this quarantine to pick back up on my eye exercises that I had actually resolved to start again last spring. I had already committed to not wearing my contact lens because the book stresses the importance of getting at least 30 minutes of natural sunlight directly on your eyeballs everyday and I also received an under-corrected prescription from a behavioral optometrist last year so that I can wear my eyeglasses when needed (mostly in the evening) while I improved my vision through these exercises. However, my eye exercise routine fell off pretty quickly last summer, which suddenly turned into fall/winter and here we are a year later. But I still made progress this past year acclimating to life legally blind without worry (about getting lost, not recognizing people, etc) or getting dizzy. Now, I am committed to practicing the actual exercises, which not only include physical exercises (self massage techniques to increase blood flow to the eyes, eye rolls, a fusion string to strengthen eye convergence, eye charts, “palming” etc), but also affirmations and visualizations/meditations designed to strengthen my outlook and acceptance of my vision.
According to the book that influenced Sussman, The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses, Dr. William Bates writes “Some patients are so responsive to mental suggestion that you can relieve their discomfort or improve their sight with almost any glasses you like to put on them.” Not telling myself “I’m so blind” all the live long day and appreciating what I actually can see, which is surprisingly a lot especially in broad daylight is a powerful tool in relaxation. According to Dr. Bates, “the fact must be stressed that perfect sight can be obtained only by relaxation.”
I was only able to truly relax after visiting the behavioral optometrists because I was always a little worried that I could potentially worsen my vision if I was unintentionally straining versus accepting my vision. But when I visited the behavioral optometrist in NJ last year (and a second behavioral optometrist in NYC in the New Year because recommitting to bettering my vision naturally was supposed to be my 2020 New Years Resolution), I was shocked to see how well I could see through the under-corrected prescription (-1.75/-1.25). That prescription is almost as light as my very first prescription when I was about 14 years old! In fact, both doctors said they wouldn’t have prescribed the stronger prescription (-3.25) that I’d worn for years in the first place! It was so refreshing to work with optometrists that not only told me my eyesight wasn’t deteriorating, but performed a thorough eye exam involving exercises that demonstrate how well (or poorly) my eyes worked together and alone.
The Program for Better Vision debunks a lot of myths especially the widely accepted notion that eyes inevitably deteriorate with age. Sussman states, “The visual system – just like any other part of your body – can deteriorate with age. This is certainly true if nothing is done to retain its inherit youthfulness and flexibility, and if years of accumulated tension and rigidity are not released. But this decline is not inevitable and it is not irreversible. In fact, nothing is further from the truth.” Sussman explains throughout the book that we have programmed our eyes to unnaturally fixate on objects (television, book, computer, etc) without breaks, which changes the dynamic of our eye muscles. The comprehensive exercises in the book are designed to release both mental and physical tension from our overused eye muscles while increasing blood flow (nutrients, oxygen) to the eyes.
When I was little, my grandmother used to always try to get me to eat the cooked carrots in her cooking by telling me they are good for my eyes. I always thought that was a funny way to try and convince me to eat anything because what 10 year old gives a shit about their eyes? Now, of course, I look at nutrition differently especially with respect to my eyes. Sussman explains, “More than 25% of the nutrition your body absorbs goes to feed the visual system. The visual system consumes one third of all the oxygen that you take in. Metabolism in the eyes is faster than anywhere else in the body.” Many of the exercises in the book focus on relieving tension in the neck through self massage and neck rolls so that nutrition carried by the blood can flow without obstruction to the eyes. Sussman touches on the most important nutrients for the eyes such as Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant well known for its immune boosting properties, but did you know that it is critical for eye health and that our eyes have the heaviest concentration of vitamin C in the body? In fact, sufficient Vitamin C can help prevent cataracts (which “may require the intake of vitamin C at a level 15 times greater than the minimum daily requirement), strengthen the eyes and prevent pressure that results in visual fatigue. As long as you’re eating a balanced (mostly plant-based) diet complete with fruits and vegetables, you’re most likely getting your fill. And vitamin C is water soluble, so your body will shit out any excess as a bonus!
There are other vitamins and supplements recommended in the book as well, but in order for proper delivery to the eyes, there must be adequate blood flow. “Ginkgo biloba increases the blood flow to the brain. European studies demonstrate impressive results in the treatment of macular degeneration and this herb has also been shown to prevent free radical damage to the retina and macula.” In general, ginkgo biloba has been used for centuries especially in Asian countries for improved cognitive function, memory enhancement and performance. Metagenics carries a quality Ginkgo Biloba supplement I take regularly.
The hardest exercise for me to practice consistently is not daydreaming and staying present. I’ve been a daydreamer my entire life because I am a firm believer in creative visualization, essentially a manifestation technique where you just daydream the crap out of what you want your reality to look like. Sussman suggests doing that shit with your eyes closed rather than open because daydreaming creates a lot of stress on our visual system, essentially forcing it to focus on two realities at once.
To conclude this long ass thesis, I cannot recommend the The Program for Better Vision enough as just a means to alter your thinking and literally change your outlook. It is a little early for me to confirm whether or not the book has yielded any real improvement in my eyesight, but it has given me both a quarantine hobby and the confidence not to depend on visual crutches (contact lens or eyeglasses) for most of the day. I have, however, experienced one day recently where I forgot I wasn’t wearing my eyeglasses because I could read almost every sign and license plate in the near distance! That alone is enough validation for me since The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses explains that vision is constantly changing all day and night depending on physical, emotional, and external factors. “One cannot see through them [eyeglasses] unless one produces the degree of refractive error which they are designed to correct. But refractive errors, in the eye which is left to itself, are never constant. If one secures good vision by the aid of concave, convex, or astigmatic lenses, therefore, it means that one is maintaining constantly a degree of refractive error which otherwise would not be maintained constantly. It is only expected that this should make this condition worse, and it is a matter of common experience that it does.” So your vision will be better on some days than others and better at certain times of the day than others. And while this may seem like a lot of work for something that potentially doesn’t work or only works some of the time, I currently ain’t got shit to do…