Last month I gave a series of talks at the Sunshine Coast libraries. It was wonderful to be working with people in person again after several years of working at a distance due to being home with Zinnia (my little girl who is now 2 ½). I noticed a number of interesting things while discovering more about each group of attendees. They came from all walks of life, but had so much in common in regards to eyesight.
Unlike giving talks in previous decades, a significant number of people had already heard of the concept that eyesight can improve. Yet only one person had ever heard of important eyesight functions such as saccadic movement, and he heard about it from attending a seminar with Janet Goodrich years ago.
At the talks I spoke about the history of Natural Vision Improvement, from the origins in Dr Bates’ clinic in New York nearly 100 years ago, through the years of Margaret Corbett and her group of instructors in Los Angeles. Then on to Janet Goodrich who studied with the youngest of the Corbett teachers, and used Reichian therapy and the Bates method for her own vision. Janet worked for many years in international practice and then trained me 16 years ago, bringing us to our modern practice of vision improvement.
Discussing what the numbers on a prescription mean is a very important start for those learning about their eyesight. We need to know what our eyesight is doing right now in order to know where to go, so I always cover what it means when there are numbers in the sphere, cylinder, axis and add sections of a prescription and what this means for an individual’s eyesight.
Anatomy is also important so I illustrated the six large exterior muscles of the eye and their positions. These muscles work in pairs and one muscle in each eye passes through the trochlea, a cartilage structure connected to the skull bones. This configuration means that skull bone alignment can play a role in turning eyes.
The eye has seven muscles in total so we also looked at the seventh muscle, the interior ciliary muscle, which surrounds the lens in a circular ring (seen in cross-section below) and is responsible for changing the shape of the lens for focusing up close.
I covered a basic overview of the common refractive errors, emphasizing this particular label. I find the phrase ‘refractive error’ very important. When we describe eyesight, what we are describing is a process of the refraction of light. Light enters the pupil, passes through the lens, and must be perfectly refracted onto the fovea centralis (a tiny area of the retina packed with detail and colour receiving cone cells).
Good refraction equals good eyesight. With the blur of the common eyesight problems, we have the same physical structures – no damage, no deformity, no disease…but the lens and eyeball are not making the correct shape to refract the light perfectly onto the fovea, and so we get refractive error – short-sightedness, long-sightedness, astigmatism and over-40’s reading blur. So in general these are an error of function, not a condition of disease or damage. This is the concept that led Bates to want to discover the underlying causes and correct the functional error, rather than just offer a physical crutch (such as prescription lenses) to compensate. I will touch on refractive error more later in this article.
I am always surprised that we are not taught these interesting features of the visual system in school
When explaining how vision improvement activities can change the way we use our eyes, I have to explain a few interesting facts about how eyesight works. I find saccadic motion endlessly fascinating. It’s the most important thing your eyes do in order to see anything at all, yet it is something that we never learn about in the course of our daily lives.
We know that light needs to get inside the eyeball in order for us to see, but we don’t think about the implications of the fact that the pupil is a very, very small opening. Saccadic motion is the tiny vibrational movement that the eyes make to ‘scoop’ light into the pupil and inside the eyeball onto the retina.
Alfred Yarbus, a Russian biophysicist, demonstrated that if saccadic motion were to stop, an ‘empty field’ would be created within one to three seconds. No saccadic motion means no light into the eyes, meaning no sight at all. Conversely, the faster the saccadic movement, the more light enters the eye and the better eyesight can be. Tension in the visual system and eye muscles slows down saccadic motion, thereby playing an important role in visual blur. This is why we say ‘the eyes must move to see’.
This principle is the opposite of the tense and still ‘staring’ habit that comes with refractive error.
Central vision and everybody has a night blind spot
Another interesting fact has to do with the cells of the retina. We have two types of retinal cells, rod cells and cone cells. Rod cells give us vision in low light, monochrome and not very sharp or detailed. The rod cells cover the peripheral areas of the retina, and reduce in number towards the back of the eyeball, especially in the important areas directly behind the pupil.
Here is where we find the macula lutea, with a higher concentration of cone cells, those that give us sharp, detailed, colour eyesight. At a point at the centre of the macula lutea is the fovea centralis, a small area packed only with cone cells in their millions. This leads to a couple of visual effects that you may not have previously been aware of.
Firstly, it means that our only area of actual clear, sharp eyesight is the tiny circle provided by the fovea centralis area of the retina. This tiny circle moves so smoothly and effortlessly along with wherever your attention and gaze goes that we generally never notice that everything outside this small circle, (everything else being our peripheral vision), is actually blurry.
Check this out for yourself by looking at one object and noticing that while that object is clear, everything peripheral is blurry. Move your gaze and the clear circle moves with it, bringing the light bouncing off the new object to fall onto your fovea and give clarity there.
The other effect of this physiology of the retina is that in conditions of very dim light, where the cone cells are not responsive, we must use our peripheral vision to function. And where there are no rod cells to provide this low light vision, we have a blank spot. So in the area where there are only cone cells, at the centre of our vision, we can actually have a blank space in our vision in low light conditions. The light may be low enough that we don’t actually notice this unless we are looking for it.
You can check this effect for yourself by going outside at night time, and finding a dim light in the distance. If you look directly at it, it will disappear. Only by looking slightly to one side of the light will you get those light beams falling onto rod cells to one side of the fovea, and get a response such that you can see the dim light once again.
Fun tools for eyesight
Another benefit of working in person with people is that they get to try out the pinhole glasses. The amazing effect of these in making eyesight clear without any prescription can really only be appreciated by experiencing it. Pass a pair of pinholes around the room and the same lenses will amaze all refractive error types with the clarity they achieve whether up close or in the distance.
If you have blur and haven’t yet tried a pair of pinholes, you can get a similar effect by taking a piece of black card or paper and poking a clean hole in it with a pin. Looking through this hole will demonstrate the effect. Play with the size of the whole depending on if you want it to work better for close or distant vision.
Pinholes work by cutting out the scattered beams of light, allowing only straight beams into the pupil, through the lens and onto the retina, in effect eliminating the need for refraction. This is why they work for all refractive error types.
We love students to use pinholes wherever possible in their daily life as a substitute for prescription lenses, even transition glasses(see definition below), to keep the stress in the eyes down while still giving clarity for reading, TV and other daily tasks (but not driving.)
Refractive Error Overview -
Those with over 40’s reading blur (presbyopia) are a bit off the hook when it comes to the emotional stress side of refractive error, as it does relate most strongly to physical aspects of aging. Attendees at the talks found it makes a great deal of sense to acknowledge that the lens and muscles of the eye can stiffen with age, just like other parts of the body, and just like other parts of the body, they can also be maintained in good health and flexibility with the right input.
In standard myopia, the eyeballs have the same structures as normal eyeballs, and they have the capability to obtain clarity as evidenced by clear flashes in those doing vision improvement activities. In myopia, physically the eyeball is maintaining a shape that is too long, and the light is refracted to a point in front of the retina rather than on it.
Visually this makes objects in the distance blurry. Physical usage of the eyes can play an important role in developing myopia, most usually in combination with other factors including tension in the visual system relating to underlying emotional stress. The emotion of fear is strongly relevant here, as illustrated by some of the common emotional traits of myopes; anxiety, worry, perfectionism and so on.
I love to discuss that while myopes may consider these traits to be an inherent part of their personality, in fact they are greatly to do with the condition of myopia when looked at holistically, and therefore can be changed when the condition is worked with holistically. This means myopes can become more relaxed and easy-going in their daily lives.
For hyperopia the principles are the same except the eyes are holding a shape where the eyeball is too short, and the focal point falls behind the retina rather than on it. This makes close objects blurry. The underlying emotional stress here is usually related to anger; some common traits include temper, trouble with intimacy and similar. The same applies in terms of working holistically, meaning hyperopes can become generally more peaceful and relaxed about closeness.
Astigmatism can be described in similar terms, but this warp across the cornea giving blur at specific angles is very changeable – which is why we ask that correction for it come out of transition glasses as soon as possible. (Transition glasses being reduced lenses that give vision improvement student’s eyes room to improve) Astigmatism has been found to relate to pain and anger combined.
Learning and practicing vision improvement activities is the best way to experience how vision can change for the better, and to personally understand how our daily habits and underlying stresses affect our eyesight. So for those at the talks I taught the Magic Nose Pencil activity to assist with regaining faster saccadic movement and improving vision habit awareness. You can revisit this activity by watching our video lesson here:
I also guided the groups through the Tromboning activity, good for everyone but also one of the four most important activities for preventing and reversing over-40’s reading blur. This activity is outlined in our book and kits and I hope to create a free video version very soon. We will keep you posted on that.
I hope you have enjoyed this overview of my latest lectures, and perhaps even gained a fact or two about eyesight that you hadn’t been aware of before. Remember there are still a small number of places available to work with me in person next month on the Sunshine Coast or by distance education. (See our website products page for the May 2012 Weekend Seminar and International Teleclass details).