Bates Method

Bates method

The Bates Method is a self-help technique to help the eye and its surrounding muscles to relax and adjust naturally to vision without the need for surgery or lenses. Its principal is that by re-educating how we use our eyesight can help many vision defects and give an improvement to the vision. It is often used in conjunction with other techniques like the Alexander Technique, Homeopathy and Naturopathy.

Devised by Dr William H Bates, an American ophthalmologist, who believed that the use of glasses can imprison the eyes. He believed that natural use and relaxation of the eyes can enhance vision that has been affected by a pattern of misuse of the eyes.

A practitioner will assess your eyesight and will suggest the number of sessions needed. They will teach you a series of simple exercises which you should practise daily. There are four basic techniques used and a brief description follows: (please consult a practitioner for guidance on how to do these exercises)

palming: cupping the hands over closed eyes to shut out any light and relax the eye

Splashing: a morning routine of splashing hot and then cold water over the eyes 20 times; repeat in the evening using cold water first

Focusing : Hold an object (e.g. a pencil) in each hand. Hold one at arms length and the other 6 inches in front of your face. Focus on one, blink, then focus on the other. Repeat several times

Swinging: Sway gently from side to side with your eyes focused on a point in the distance. As you move to the left, blink your left eye, and as you move to the right, blink your right eye. Blinking helps to lubricate the eyes and helps to stop eye strain.


The Bates Method for Improving Eyesight is a method discovered at the beginning of this century by Dr. W. H. Bates, M.D. (1865-1931), a prominent American ophthalmologist, and developed by him and his followers to improve sight and restore natural habits of seeing, which have been lost through strain, tension and the resulting misuse of the eyes. Thus the aim of the method is to teach people with problems of vision the faculty of easy and attentive seeing whereby the eyes and mind work together harmoniously to give good sight.

Since the Bates Method is a means to improve sight and restore the natural use of the eyes by re-learning the art and skill of seeing, it is not, therefore a medical treatment, but a method of re-education, in the form of both active learning, such as learning a skill like drawing and painting or how to play tennis, and also the receptive awareness of how to appreciate what we see, such as the appreciation of a painting, a beautiful garden or a cathedral.

Good sight is thus the result of a relaxed state of mind and body, whereby the individual person feels a direct contact with the surrounding world through the five senses. poor sight, on the other hand, is the result of tension, where the person is, to a greater or lesser extent, isolated from the outside world through being locked in a pattern of psycho-physical tensions, such as worry, anxiety, rigidity, day-dreaming, boredom, confusion, impatience, etc.

The practical benefits of the Bates Method are imparted by means of a pupil-teacher relationship wherein the pupil is shown, first, relaxation of the eyes, then the body, and then the body and eyes, whilst seeing. As the relaxation progresses, the mind, the eyes and the body begin to focus together more harmoniously, allowing the sight to improve naturally, by itself, as does the health of the eyes, whilst already good sight can be preserved.

Dr. Bates was a graduate of Cornell University and of the College of physicians and Surgeons in New York. He worked at various times at Belleview, Harlem Hospitals, Manhatten Eye and Ear Hospital and New York Eye Infirmary. He also taught ophthalmology at the New York post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital.

It was as a result of this work, examining thousands of pairs of eyes a year and observing many cases where the sight either recovered spontaneously or changed it's form in inexplicable ways, that a burning desire was aroused to elucidate why the sight changed in these cases. It was from these researches that Dr. Bates discovered that the sight can be be intentionally improved by natural methods, without the use of glasses. In the succeeding years, he discovered and developed the principles and practices to realise this discovery and they became the basic foundation of the Bates Method as it is practised today throughout the world.

According to Dr. Bates researches, the focusing of the eye is accomplished by the action of the extrinsic muscles surrounding it. These muscles are comparatively finely balanced and are easily disturbed by conditions of nervous stress and emotional pressure so that errors of refraction are produced. However, the muscles of the eyes are not amenable to direct physical re-training since, according to Kinesiological research made in the U.S.A., stressed or fatigued muscles are made weaker by exercise. It is therefore not part of the Bates Method to 'strengthen' eye muscles by exercising them, despite recommendations given in popular books and articles on the subject. Relaxation will always precede exercise.

It is necessary to realise that the eyes are completely passive. They have no volition of their own but, instead, follow the interests, and mirror the activity, of the mind. They are in principle willing servants, but in so many cases are unconsciously treated as unwilling slaves, starved of nourishment and constantly abused. Therefore, to periodically close the eyes, let them rest, listen to them and ask them what they need, can be the first step in re-establishing a normal equilibrium in their use.

The eye sees best what it looks at directly whilst at the same time there is a continuing awareness of the whole field of vision. This can be summed up as a state of attentive awareness, which is reflected in the extraordinary structure of the light receptive cells of the retina, consisting of two separate but complementary functions: the minute depression in the centre of the retina, called the fovea, which is the point of maximum clarity; and the surrounding area of peripheral vision, by far the greater part of the retinal area. The fovea in the normally seeing eye picks up the finest detail and is constantly shifting, vibrating in tune with the attentive interest of the mind on what it wants to see. This can be called the active part of seeing, responsive to touch, contractive. It is supported by the receptivity of all the rest of the rods and cones, the vast majority in number, which receive the whole field of vision and can be called the passive part of seeing, which is responsive to movement, space, and is expansive. These two processes are mutually complementary and are analogous to the Chinese idea of Yin and Yang, whole field and point of focus. Together, they constitute the world as we see it. When the eye is under stress, the centralised seeing loses it's point of focus and enlarges, the vibratory shifting slows down and becomes a rigid stare, whilst the visual field contracts. The eye ceases to be a channel for the energy of attentive awareness.

Since in most cases of faulty sight interest in seeing has been replaced by straining, trying to see, or boredom, self-criticism, etc., the first step in improving the sight is to stimulate interest by suggesting the pupil replaces the attitude of trying to see by that of looking for something, for example different colours, trees, birds, flowers - whatever is suitable and is accessible to the particular state of sight without glasses or lenses. From this point, the pupil is beginning to learn how to do without glasses, wholly or partly, depending on need, since it is axiomatic that the sight cannot improve whilst glasses are worn.

The circulation through the eyes is stimulated by encouraging blinking, and splashing the closed eyes with water, morning and evening. The eyes are also nourished and relaxed by the use of light, letting the head swing with closed eyes facing the sun or a lamp. Needless to say that the sun is never looked at directly. The eyes are always rested by palming after taking the light.

The fundamental way of relaxing is by palming. palming is the practice of covering the closed eyes with the palms of the hands whilst sitting upright, so that the eyes are rested in darkness, relaxed by the warmth and healing energies passing through the hands. The mind needs to be engaged in some useful or interesting activity like talking with a friend, listening to the radio, thinking or visualising, so that it does not interfere with the eyes and stop them from relaxing. palming usually results in an immediate but temporary improvement in the sight. The continued practice of palming often leads to great changes for the better, and is the best single means for helping the eyes.

The sight is further helped by learning relaxation in movement through the use of various types of swinging movements, which also help to re-establish the natural vibratory movements of the eyes as well as expand the awareness of the visual field. First, the pupil stands with feet apart and rhythmically swings from side to side, allowing the relaxation to deepen. Next, the pupil turns the body right and left, letting the whole body, including the eyes move as one. Awareness of movement in the visual field is a sign that the swinging is being well done. A simpler but more versatile way is to swing the head and neck only. This is very helpful in releasing tensions in the neck, which are often associated with poor sight. Further observation of the pupil often reveals poor co-ordination in movement, of hand and eye, of both eyes together. These difficulties respond to deepening relaxation and the development of attention and awareness, and are further helped by providing a focus for the mind with such activities as juggling, drawing, dancing, ball games, etc. As the pupil progresses, more specific approaches can be shown according to need, through working with charts, reading practices, techniques to encourage centralisation of sight, such as counting, looking for, comparing, edging, tracing. But it must be emphasised that no good will come from trying to see, the all too common reaction of the pupil when being presented with the challenge of identification of letters or reading. It is always necessary to avoid useless struggle and to do the best one can, accepting whatever is seen, no matter whether it is clear or blurred.

Meanwhile, other relevant aspects of the pupil's life can be considered such as health, diet, exercise, interests, anxieties and worries, and appropriate suggestions made where necessary, as, for example, the importance of sleeping well, of eating wholesome foods, of taking enough exercise.

Thus, through the practice of relaxation, movement and focusing of attention under the direction of interest and awareness, the pupil's sight can be restored to it's natural and normal state, although the time needed is very variable. Much depends on the understanding and quality of energy of the teacher, as well as the patience, persistence and interest on the part of the pupil.

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