Saturday, April 7, 2012

Improving Vision? Sharper Eyes? Is seeing really believing?

Near sighted? Far away text seems blurry? Sucks, eh? Been told you're broken? Eyes is eyes and what ya got ya got and better just lens up? That sucks too, ya? But this tale of static vision impaired ill may not be true. May not.

If i said - well i've got a recipe here to fix your eyes. Really. What would you pay? if it really worked? If you're tensing up at the thought of me selling something, it's ok to breath now - not gonna sell anything. Just curious. Worth something? How about time? Would you give yourself an hour? a morning? a few mornings? if that would give you back your visual acuity?
Snellen myopia diopters of blur

Oh wow, folks, here's the proposition.


Yes, that's about it. Relax.

That's the recipe i've been exploring with increasing intent for the past week, and for the past few days of this holiday weekend in particular for hours at a time The biggest part of this exercise for me - this experiment filed under "what do i have to lose?" - is being patient with myself, and just looking.

Of course your mileage may differ, but let me put it out there. And remember: patience means time. Patience at not efforting; at letting things emerge. Not what i expected "vision training" to be. But "vision, it's not an art, "w. Maccracken, inspired by W.Bates. " it's an endowment" - This process is about letting that endowment come back on line.

I say back - but my vision apparently hasn't changed since i first got it checked. It started shite; it's remained the same level of shite. I'm just very good at navigating the world without spectacles apparently. Sufficiently good to drive without specs. I remember of being terrified of the driving test at 16 - not the road test - the written one before that, where one's vision is checked. And the kind person saying "why not try that last one again...that's better...." Sweet soul. Apparently i have an astigmatism too. Whoopee. Just so you know where i'm at in this experiment of one.

Anyway, here we go.
There are a few bits to this article:
- the Recipe for Better Vision (if you just want to get the how to )
- Looking vs Staring (a bit about the experience)
- Whose Ideas Are These Anyway (on seeing better)
- Thoughts on Progress to Date

Better Vision Recipe 

Gear Needed 

Snellen Eye Chart
Snellen or Related charts. 
Here's links to a bunch over at
 - ones you can use at the full on twenty feet. If you have an ipad, there's some free charts you can use at 8, but i'm not sure i'd want to use them solely. There's something to be said for having rays shining on paper and bouncing off. Could be wrong, just saying.

Tape measure
it's very good to know exactly where one's head is at that ten mark point.

Blutac or similar to stick up printed charts - and be able to move them around - up or down.

Wall or similar 
Want to be able to stick up the charts nice and flat.

depending on which chart used, you'll need to get to 8, 10 or 20 feet back to check yourself out.  Me, i've started with a standard 20foot away chart but as the flat doesn't have a 20foot room, i'm sitting at 10feet away and just halfing the values. So if i get a line that says i'm at 20/20, i know it's really 20/40. But improvement is improvement. Alternately, and once i build up confidence, i can print the 20/20 chart at 50%. That's just mentally a hurdle cuz that's just SO SMALL right now for THAT FAR.

Bright Daylight or Simulacrum
Sunny days are better in my humble and limited experience than overcast. In the UK the former is rare: seize the opportunity. Morning light is grand. This may mean heading outside. As an alternative i've also used an LED ikea lamp, and a daylight type light on a chart bluetac'd up on the wall, but for me the best is a nice bright sunny morning.

Notebook/Pen - some kind of recording instrument
Have a log to take notes about the changes that will take place.
For those of us who work out and love to make ourselves go through all sorts of changes, we believe in logs, don't we? If we've been doing the change thing for awhile, we pull out a log because we believe that of course we'll change, and we want to know how to correlate what we do with what happens; the little science statisticians that we care and feed inside of us are all set to go. Same here: get out that log: believe that change is about to happen. If you're a geek (like me) you don't really take it seriously until the paper is out. There's going to be lots to measure here.

Set Up

Pretty simple set up: put up the chart at about eye level for the middle to start and back up so your eyes are X feet away from the chart (whatever your chart prescribes). Best: have lots of sun coming into the room.


Sit or stand - i started standing - and look at the chart.

Base Line: Look at the Chart. What can you see? Even if you can't see any letters clearly, what's the shape? can you distinguish lines? how many distinctly? You may want to write this down or you may not believe what happens shortly. This is your personal base line.

For me i saw lines and could make out that there were letters, at least in the first couple, and could see a few if i squinted REALLY HARD. F! is it really that bad?? Even letters i could make out had a fuzzy aura. Like looking at the moon. Always a moon. And then some.  You know? And if you have superior distance vision - well good for you. The rest of us are having a moment here.

Relax: Palming. Here's a big technique in the natural vision community to help relax between looking moments. Effectively, cup your hands, put them over your eyes such that no part of the hand is touching or squishing the eyes, but it's black in there when you open your eyes - now just stare into the blackness and wait for it to go black. Indeed, think about and remember what deep black is like. Count backwards from five if that helps. Just let your eyes relax in there. If the rest of you relaxes well that's really good too. Seeing is not efforting. It's un-efforting.

Relook at the chart. Move your hands away and staying super relaxed just let your eyes go to the chart - do not try to see anything and just notice what's different this time. Stay relaxed - no squinting; no straining. What's different? Sometimes, apparently it's common for folks to have a flash of something really clear and that's so surprising the view goes right back to fuzzy. Did that happen? If something like that happens, palm again; relax again; look again; rinse and repeat.
Notice what changes each time. And just BE with the chart. Seriously - the oddest thing to say is just rest your eyes on that chart. And let whatever happens happens.

But look; don't stare; don't squint; don't effort. Just look.
Rinse and repeat.

That's about it. A few notes on "it"ness below.

Waving not Drowning; Looking not Staring

A biggie for me in this process has been to get the difference between staring - trying to unsquint with my eyes wide open - wrong - and just looking. Letting the light come in, relaxing. Apparently the eye has to move to see things, so a fixed stare is not a good thing. It's efforting. Seeing is UnEfforting.

The amazing thing: the first morning i tried this, mid workout (yes i keep the charts up where i work out so during recovery i can look at them as part of recovery. Very cool effect), i did freak out because after just kinda standing letters did seem to swim into view for a moment and then fuzz out again.

What a breakthrough position for me has been: eyes almost semi-closed it seems they're so frickin' relaxed, and then letting my head tilt back while staying looking at the chart, and opening my mouth. I don't know why about the head tilting back.

This breakthrough likely would not have happened without time to look and wait and see what happens. The other day i spent more or less the whole day engaged in this practicing looking (somewhat to my partner's chagrin "it's a little weird seeing you standing all day looking at the wall with your head back and your mouth hanging open").

Maybe so but in a day and a half, i got from the second line on the chart to the sixth.  In this past day i'm on the 7th heading into the 8th. That's just bloody weird.

Time.  The first four lines i can now consistently see pretty much right away. The next few lines, i need to wait, look and see. but i can do this sitting down, and without the head tilting as much now. I'm lucky with this: it's a long weekend and i'm caught up on work so rather than read a book (and get caught up on my reading) i reckon giving fixing up my vision a go would be time well spent. But that's the big deal, at least for me. If i'd only had ten or fifteen minutes a go, i don't know if i'd have made this kind of progress. Or even seen anything of note in that period.

It's been like a workshop where we spend a solid half day or day on a focused activity to get some real work done.  And on that perspective, changes seem to be happening rapidly.

Slow Speed. It's still a slow process right now (still, ha! it's been three days - not even). I have to wait for the letters on the smaller lines to come into focus. I can't force them. And this is something i could kick optometrists about. Unlike that kind person at motor vehicles who suggested i just take it easy and try to get that letter again, optometrists will see me squirm and squint in a chair - the very opposite apparently of what is useful for our vision - and not say it's ok, breath, take your time. Let's see what emerges. Relax.

Have you ever had an eye doctor say Relax? Wait for It?I guess they don't have time: they have to get to that next appointment. Dang.

Whose Ideas are These, Anyway.

One name that comes up a lot in what i think may be called the Natural Vision area is  William H. Bates who wrote Perfect Sight without Glasses.

I didn't come to Bates directly, but rather via several other sources. I'm just going to list a couple that have made sense to me - and i don' t mean the science per se - just the approaches.

I started with something called  Rebuild Your Vision without Glasses Contacts or Surgery by Orlin G. Sorensen (website for approach) that had a lot of vision drills in it that i had already learned from Z-Health that are themselves taken from behavioural optometry and sports vision work. These drills are most often used and taught for things like target acquisition, convergence, coordination and speed thereof, and being able to process visual information quickly enough in a cognitively demanding situation to perform better.

This is cool stuff, and very effective for a host of sensory-motor issues, but they are not about getting better distance vision, per se. And there were a lot of drills. The only new one was what turned out to be Bates's palming. But there was no applied context for the palming. So what. But i thought ok, when i get around to it, i'll give some of these exercises a more diligent go.

I'd seen other things on line that talked about exercises and i thought ya, when i get around to it.

Then i read a print out from Paul Anderson's site - Paul's Pathway to Normal Vision. The only exercise here was to relax one's eyes. That's it. Many many many suggestions for how to accomplish this feat of relaxation. Palming came back into the frame.

Just relax? that's all i have to do to see better? One of the things i really liked about Anderson's document was that he identified two things: coping strategies and common effects of eyes relaxing.
The main coping type? squinting (that's me). Side effects of relaxing vision - sometimes pain within the eyes; most often, tearing.  Interesting. Made me think of trying to do a new skill and the muscles are all shakey. there are muscles in the eye, getting into a new pattern. That could smart.  Ok. Interesting. Likewise that after relaxing one might have a flash of clear seeing. Wow, really? and then that's what happened.

And there was Bates again. So i got a copy of Bate's actual Perfect Vision Without Glasses and started reading it. What struck me there is how much of a deal he made of using a Snellen eye chart in classrooms, and what a big difference this made to students who not only started using it, but in  a few cases, started using it on each other to help each other see better. That's the one that did it for me. Suffer the children?

I found a full 20 foot away Snellen chart with the big E on top going right down to the stuff that makes folks like me happy, a tiny print chart too, and started putting the Paul's relaxing stuff together with Bates's chart work.  I also got a copy of an early Bates inspired person, W. Maccracken who wrote Normal Sight without Glasses in 1945, and got into more detail about the workings of the eye. Interesting again.

Now, Bates and his acolytes have other approaches than what i did, like sitting as close as ya need to to get a couple lines nicely in focus and then moving back a line at a time to build up focus. There are other eye exercises for imagination and recall that make much sense. I'm just telling you how i'm doing it:
I am standing or sitting 10 feet away (effectively half the standard distance away) from a full chart (explained) - something called the ETDRS which is supposed to be a better measure of acuity than Snellen (so what? it's less blurry standing here at this line than yesterday).  It gets used in research a lot; i like it cuz it fits on a sheet.
ETDRS visual acuity chart
When i get better than the 10ft line on that one (equivalent to the 20ft line if i were 20 feet away), i'll go to the 50% chart and keep my ten foot distance. I'm just about there but i'd like a more consistent lock on those letters in that line. 

Thoughts on Progress to Date

Ok i admit a horrible disappointment when i learned a sheet i thought must be for 10 feet away turned out to be one for 20 feet away. Oh no! what does that mean? Fail fail fail. Fail? Well, let's put that in perspective, shall we?

If someone had said Wednesday that i'd be seeing a better than 20/20 line of text by Saturday i think i may have given them the Look of Dubiosity. I'm still absolutely skeptical and keep thinking this can't be real; after all i've read a LOT of posts by "professionals" saying that all this natural vision stuff is snake oil , and that astigmatisms and whatever else are fixed things, and vision is a fixed thing because of the shape of the eyeball etc etc eg this quotation:
Contrary to scientific fact, Bates taught that errors of refraction are due, not to the basic shape of the eyeball or the structure of the lens, but to a functional and therefore curable derangement in the action of the muscles on the outside of the eyeball. All defects in vision, he said, were caused by eyestrain and nervous tension; and perfect vision could be achieved by relaxing the eyes completely. Bates warned that eyeglasses cause the vision to deteriorate; he also deplored the use of sunglasses. Bates claimed his exercises could correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia (the inability of older people to focus their eyes on nearby objects). They could also cure such diseases as cataracts, eye infections, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. His exercises included palming (covering the eyes and attempting to see blackness) and shifting or swinging the gaze from object to object.
It should be obvious that these exercises cannot influence eyesight disorders as Bates claimed. Nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia result from inborn and acquired characteristics of the lens and the eyeball—which no exercise can change. [sic, and emphasis mine -mc] As for eye diseases, the only thing the exercises can do is delay proper medical or surgical treatment and result in permanent impairment of vision. 
Really? Like, really?  I am for sure a vision can be improved skeptic - just because it's likely best protection against failure "see - i knew it wouldn't work; not cuz i didn't do it right but because, well, it's just because." But work in neurology amply teaches us we're plastic people and so adapt all the time, and that vision is cognitive.  There's a lot happening and being coordinated between the moment light hits the lens and that light is perceived as something in the mind. A lot of opportunities to improve clarity.

When i look at these charts and just see a line get almost frighteningly black for a moment and then go grey - well something is happening. When over a couple hours or a night/day transition i am readily able to see lines i could not see before, what can i say? That's evidence of a sort is it not? I keep telling myself, well, those were just the easy lines, this next one, that's the killer; that's really gonna show you your limitations; you can't cross that one. Uh huh.

We are constantly reshaping ourselves and our bodies to adapt to what we do and how we do it. In z-health the SAID principle is revised from Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand to the body is always adapting to exactly what we're doing. And so maybe the abnormal vision i've had is just the vision i've been practicing, and expecting.

For whatever reason i didn't see well at a distance, and no one was around to coach me on how to get that visual/cognitive connection to inform the muscular operations on the eye that let the muscles get light properly onto the retina that if i just slowed down, waited, and let the light in, vision could happen. I have never stopped to try to see if i could see better. Well that's not exactly true. I have squinted to beat the band to try to see something further away than i could get myself close enough to see better. And as anyone who's tried it knows, squinting is difficult to maintain full on for long.

Now i dunno about everybody's eyes out there, and anyone reading saying "ya but i have this kinda vision and that kinda affliction so this will never work for me" - Maybe - i don't know. But what do we have to lose? If one has seen the doctor and is preparing for either getting lenses or contacts or surgery, what does one have to lose in the interim by spending a few hours looking at a chart on a sunny day?

I would only encourage you to t a k e  y o u r  t i m e.
Let an hour pass. or more. Take a leap of faith. Relax

Application: Visually Doing Scales

Right now, this work of unEfforting Vision using these charts reminds me of practicing scales. Scales are exercises; they're not performances.  They're used to help get the hands used to reaching for notes accurately if unmusically at various speeds and styles. That kind of technique work is then combined with practicing pieces - so applied technique to more real scenarios - until one is performing.

Sadly this analogy sounds like work - like rather joyless efforting - rather than what practice at its best is: intent (discussion of intent on b2d here).

So far i've been doing scales: looking not staring with intent to experience visual accuity at different letter sizes at the same distance away. My closest real world practice has been to look out the window to a street sign that has been fuzzy only to find that on waiting for it - and head cocking and jaw slackening - that that sign has bloody numbers on the bottom of it, and i could at first make them out and then just see them, clearly. Each time i have to reacquire that clarity, but it's happening. That sounds pretty cognitive.

A more real world test: walking in real time  towards parked cars to read license plates to see when the plate comes into focus - compared with someone walking with me who sees distances well - is still a bit too fast. Well, way too fast. But it's only been 2 and a half days. Will it last? will it get better? will it stick? Will it get faster? These are the questions i'm asking at the minute. Exciting, scary, weird, wonderful. ANd so frickin' easy. Compared to pressing a heavy kettlebell, this is just showing up and staying up.
uk plates are in code
i just looked across the street to see i can make out individual bricks and tiles. That's cool. There's a sign i cannot see yet, though.  Maybe tomorrow. Heck, maybe later today.

I plan on staying this course for awhile longer. I haven't gotten to the bottom of the ETDRS chart (pdf) yet :) at either 10 feet or 20 feet, though i may be hitting S L O W L Y 20/20. And that has to be a measured first.

If you decide to give it a go, i'd be delighted to hear how you get on. is a great site for charts, articles (like Bates in a nutshell) and related resources.

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Indrek Stern said...

Hey, mc, have you looked into plus lens therapy at all? The basic concept is to use plus lenses when you are nearsighted (minus lenses on glasses) to force an opposite adaptation. I haven't tried it yet, although I bought cheap plus lenses already. Seems highly promising!

Here is a link on Getting Stronger -

Rock on!

dr. m.c. said...

Hi Indrek,
Thanks for the ref.

yes i've been reading about plus lenses via daniel ormid's recommendation of klaus schmid's overview here:

In his pdf, Schmid says that one can achieve the same effect, apparently, simply by holding a book/screen further away from oneself (same as the increased diapoter).



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