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April, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 04 >> Patient Education

Improve Your Eyesight: The Natural Way

By Judith DeLany, LMT

A quick glance around us at the number of people who require glasses, contact lenses, and eye surgeries reflects a widespread need to prevent visual deterioration and to use natural means to improve vision. This short discussion offers steps you can take to gain better health of the muscles of the eyes.

The eye is similar to a fluid-filled balloon, with movements controlled by six extrinsic muscles (superior, inferior, medial, and lateral rectus muscles, and the superior and inferior oblique muscles). Tension in these muscles can influence the direction of tracking, and might also influence the shape of the eye, alter eye health and perhaps have some bearing on eyesight. The intricate details of eye design and sight are quite complex and more fully discussed within anatomy texts.

Each eyeball is directed anteriorly. The pull of tension of some of the muscles produces a single movement, while others have multiple effects. Additionally, the two eyes must work in coordination. Common dysfunction can result in:

  • Strabismus (crossed eyes) – lack of coordination of the two eyes
  • Estropia – the eye turns in
  • Extropia – the eye turns out
  • Hypertropia – the eye turns up
  • Hypotropia – the eye turns down
  • Amblyopia – one eye is ignored by the brain, resulting in a "lazy eye"

Strabismus most often develops in infants and young children and usually requires treatment. Eyeglasses, vision therapy or eye muscle surgery may be suggested; cranial osteopathic or craniosacral treatment may especially be useful.

The Bates Method

In the early 19th century, Dr. W. H. Bates1 expressed ideas that were outside of mainstream ophthalmology. He aimed to improve faulty eyesight by incorporating natural visual habits and reducing mental strain. He first described the Bates method in Perfect Sight Without Glasses, theorizing that mental strain played a role in refractive error (presbyopia, astigmatism, hyperopia and myopia) as well as other eye conditions, such as strabismus, amblyopia, cataracts, and glaucoma. His original text is now available free (digitally) at

While the application of the Bates method exercises is commonly used for certain eye conditions in children, it may be helpful to the mature eye as well. These eye movements - left and right, up and down, and in large circular patterns - are intended to elongate shortened muscles, thereby decreasing pressure on the eye that changes its shape and alters the focal plane of the lens. A number of other steps, such as acquiring proper rest, alternating the focal plane, palming, sunning, and swinging were also suggested. (The Bates Association for Vision Education -

There are no harmful side effects from the exercises if performed appropriately; however, one must have determination to stick with the program. Although finding a qualified practitioner can be challenging, behavioral optometrists or vision therapists generally teach natural vision improvement techniques such as these, while also incorporating other visual therapy methods. Appropriate medical examination and treatment is strongly recommended, particularly for conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and other serious eye pathologies.

Simple Exercises

Leviton2 a student of Bates, discusses a simple exercise fashioned from a 10-foot string or thin rope and 15 brightly colored beads (varying colors are best). Tie the beads onto the string at eight-inch intervals and the end of the string to a doorknob or distant object. Sit comfortably in a chair at a distance, pull the string taut and hold it near the tip of the nose so that the eyes gaze across its length. While breathing deeply, look at the first bead nearest the nose for a few seconds and attempt to bring it into focus. Then move to the next bead and so forth until the distant end is reached, then reverse to move back toward the face until all have been addressed as second time. Additionally, you can look at the closest bead and then the farthest bead, back to the second, then the farthest again, then the third and so forth, up and down the string, pausing on each to attempt to focus.

Benefit may also be gained from exercises that stretch the recti muscles. It is best to perform these while seated, in case the movements result in lightheadedness or vertigo. Stretch out your right arm (palm down) in front you. Extend the wrist and curl the fingers and thumb toward the palm except for the extended index finger, which is pointing toward the ceiling to produce a single digit on which to focus. Stay focused on the tip of the index finger while moving the arm slowly in horizontal abduction (out to the side) as far as the eye can follow it without moving the head. Continue to focus on it while slowly returning it to the original position. Continue the same while moving it overhead and lowering it toward the thigh. Perform these movements several times. Use the left arm to repeat the entire set of movements to the left side. It is not uncommon for the eyes to feel fatigued or to ache for a brief time after the session due to the "exercising" nature of the movements.


  1. Bates WH. The Cure of Imperfect Sight by Treatment Without Glasses. New York: Central Fixation Publishing Co., 1920.
  2. Leviton R. Seven Steps to Better Vision. Brookline, Mass.: East West/Natural Health Books, 1992.

Judith DeLany serves as director of NMT Center, writes textbooks for Elsevier Health Sciences, and lectures internationally in the field of neuromuscular therapy. For more information regarding her work, visit or call toll-free at (866) 571-7942.


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