The Bates System of Better Eyesight without Glasses

This is a wonderful technique for improving your eyesight. Do you want to improve your eyesight, maybe put your glasses away. Read this article and check out few books about this system. It can improve your vision. It is important for you to become self-aware of the ways in which you over tense your eyes in order to try to see. It is important that you free your body — your potential mechanism. The places to look for tension mostly include: the back of the upper neck; the upper back; between the shoulders; the hands and feet; the shoulders; the pelvis; the chest; and the stomach.

Yoga, meditation, massage, Feldenkreis, Alexander, Rolfing, polarity, dancing, running, breathing, swimming, etc. are all excellent adjuncts to Bates’ system. It is important to learn to take your glasses off, especially in non-demanding, non-threatening situations.



The simple idea of resting the eyes by closing them is basic to the Bates method. Dr. Bates coined for it the term ‘palming’. The eyes are gently closed and covered with the palms in such a way that all light is excluded and no pressure is applied to the eyeballs. The heels of the hands rest lightly on the cheekbones and the fingers on the forehead.

Palming is usually done while seated. The elbows should be supported, either on a table in front of you or on a thick cushion or two in your lap. While palming you should feel entirely comfortable, safe and warm. Choose if you can a quiet time and a place where you are not likely to be disturbed. Become conscious of and do your best to relax any undue tension in the muscles of your face, neck, shoulders, and the rest of your body. Listen to the radio if you wish, or just allow the mind to wander, keeping it away from anything unpleasant. If stressful thoughts intrude, push them aside to be dealt with later.

Remain with the eyes shut for several minutes. The exact period that suits you best has to be found by trial and error; five minutes is about right, and four should be regarded as a minimum. It can be difficult to judge the passage of time, and some such device as a non-ticking cook’s timer, or one of those electronic watches or pocket calculator which incorporate an alarm, is very useful.

Palming like this should be repeated from three to five times in succession and forms the basis of your daily practice period. Once or twice in the period you might like, rather than merely allowing the mind to wander, to try some visualization. (Pages 45-46)”

Book: Barnes, Jonathan. Improve Your Eyesight: A Guide to the Bates Method for Better Eyesight without Glasses. Souvenir Press, 1999.

Eyes covered by palms (no pressure on the eyes);

Fingertips at hairline;

Fingers overlapped to allow breathing room for your nose. Elbows resting on table, chair back, pillow, etc.

Relax, feel your eyes give up the tension of trying to see. Let yourself go as much as you can. Let go into what you may be seeing; keep breathing. Memorize the feeling of palming. To be done especially before doing a visual task such as reading. EYES CLOSED.”

Palming vs. Sleeping

“It might be wondered why an ordinary night’s sleep does not have the same effect as palming and visualization. They eyes are closed, and during dreams there is plenty of imagery to work on. If the sleep is sound, the eyes are indeed rested and the eyesight tends to be better on rising, but for many people sleep produces a degree of eyestrain. While dreaming the eyes perform rapid and random movements, there is no control of the memory or imagination, and very often the dreams themselves are in some measure disturbing. In all, dreaming would seem to be associated with a turmoil in the cortex which is the opposite of the calm, easy state in which the eyes work best. If you suffer from eyestrain during sleep, the Bates technique of ‘long swinging’, practiced just before retiring, may be of value.

Palming and Visualization

Visualization is also valuable exercise for the memory and imagination. With your mind’s eye examine some outdoor scene, remembered, imagined, or a mixture of both, that gives you particular pleasure. Allow your gaze to take in details both in the distance and near to, changing the focus swiftly and easily as various objects attract your interest. If you are short-sighted, pay special attention to distant scenes, and if you are long sighted or presbyopic, pay special attention to objects close at hand.

Palming and Visualization: Advantages

[Visualization] is a powerful technique which relies on the fact that all mental activity is accompanied by corresponding physical rehearsal. Thus if you imagine that you are speaking, or even if you frame your thoughts in terms of words rather than abstractions, there are minute but measurable movements of the vocal apparatus; if you imagine you are clenching or unclenching your fist, all the muscles involved undergo fractional changes of tension. When you see with your mind’s eye, the real eyes respond in a similar way, except that, as the eyes are even more intimately related to the mind than, say, the muscles of the arm, the changes are likely to be more pronounced. The advantage of mental seeing is that the mind’s eye has no refractive error and forms a modelfor the real eyes to emulate.


Long Swinging

Rotate your body from left to right and back. Eyes, torso and head move together. Turning mostly around your waist. Don’t look at anything as you swing; be aware of movement mainly. Let your eyes go, let your consciousness stay in front of you while you turn. Make sure to keep breathing.

There is another type of mobility swinging in the Bates method, sometimes called “long swinging”, which has a rather different purpose [from regular swinging]. It is simple to do, and consists essentially of turning from side to side. Stand with the feet about 30 centimeters ( 12 inches) apart, the arms hanging loosely, and, lifting the right heel as you do so, turn to the left. When you have reached the limit of comfortable travel, turn to the right, letting the left heel rise and the right one return to the floor. Go on like this until you have performed 20 complete swings. The turning should involve your hips as well as your waist. Keep your arms relaxed so that they rise slightly as you swing. Do not go too fast; try to make the swings smooth, level, and rhythmical.

Keep your eyes open and allow the image of your surroundings to rush past without trying to focus on anything in particular. Nearby objects will naturally seem to move faster than distant ones, and will probably be no more than a blur. Make no attempt to hold on to or fix any part of the image; notice only that everything seems to be moving in the direction opposite to that of your swing.

Long Swinging: Benefits

Long swinging is very effective in breaking the habit of staring. It also promotes looseness and relaxation in the upper part of the body. According to Dr. Bates, 50 swings performed at bedtime and again on rising will help to prevent or alleviate eyestrain during sleep.

Long Swinging: Dizziness

Should you find yourself becoming dizzy, begin with just a few swings and each day add one or two to the total. Eventually any feeling of nausea should disappear and you will be able to do as many swings as you please.



The Bates technique for relieving photophobia is called sunning, and consists simply of taking sunshine on the closed lids. In this way the retina is accustomed to progressively brighter light, until the stage is reached where the eye can function efficiently over the entire range of normally encountered light intensities. The warmth of the sun and the therapeutic properties of its rays also have a profound and beneficial effect on the health of the eyes and on the ability to relax them.

Things to Avoid

Do not look directly at the sun

Do not wear contacts or lenses when sunning

Do not use fluorescent light

Never use an infrared or ultraviolet lamp

It is advised to sun only in the morning or evening and only for short periods of time

What is Sunning?

“Face the sun, eyes closed. I repeat: EYES CLOSED. Allow the warmth of the sun to penetrate deeply into your eyes and forehead. Relaxedly turn your head from side to side. Keep breathing. Feel the position of the sun.”

Begin if you can by taking half a minute of sun [ do not look directly at the sun], palm until the after-images have substantially faded, and repeat two or three times. At the next sunning session increase the period slightly and repeat it an extra time, building up over the weeks and months to a maximum of 20 minutes of sun in all.

“If direct sunlight isn’t available, artificial full-spectrum lights can be used.

“If you are very light sensitive you may want to start by closing your eyes and just facing into the sky but not directly at the sun. NOTE: At no time are you to open your eyes while looking at the sun!! This stimulates the rods and cones in your eye. Anytime I come out of a very dark place, like a movie theater, I do this exercise for about 20 seconds, and have no problem. I do not wear sunglasses anymore on a regular basis. I keep them handy for glare situations and only then when I’m wearing contact lenses which is not very often anymore”

Blinking and Breathing

Practice giving half a dozen rapid and very light blinks, shut the eyes lightly for the space of two whole breaths, and repeat four times. This little routine, practiced regularly, twice or more a day, will, especially if followed by a brief spell of palming, help to establish the correct tone in the muscles of the eyelids and develop better habits of blinking. No more than a few seconds should pass between one blink and the next. As a very rough guide, between two and four blinks in each period of ten seconds is about right.

Beware of the stare. We lock ourselves into a stare, eyes immobile and breath stopped. Spaced. Blink your eyes rapidly as you take two big breaths whenever you become aware of your eyes or breath.


We now come to the part of the Bates method aimed at improving the use of the extrinsic muscles. Tracking, searching, and scanning are helped by the techniques covered in the chapters on mobility; fusion techniques, given here, will improve control of the visual axis.

Together with the accommodation drills to be described later, fusion techniques come as close as anything else in the Bates method to what is normally understood by the term “eye exercises”. In one sense they are indeed eye exercises, because the extrinsic muscles and the mechanism of accommodation are strengthened by them, but to say that they are nothing more is to simplify what the achieve. They make use of conscious control in order to improve control on an unconscious plane. This principle is basic to the whole of the Bates method, and runs through nearly every one of its techniques.

Fusion drills are simple. The first [pencil fusion] may be used as a test to determine whether your fusion (control of the visual axes) is faulty and needs further work.

Pencil Fusion

“Take a pencil and hold it straight up in front of you and about 45 centimeters ( 18 inches) from your face. Look at the pencil, and then allow your eyes to refocus in the distance beyond it (on the far wall if you are indoors). You should now be able to see two blurred pencils, like gateposts one on either side of the point you are looking at. The two pencils should be equally plain. If they are not, if you can only see one, or if the point in the distance also appears double, then your fusion is certainly faulty.

If you can only see one pencil, shut either eye alternately to find out which is the weaker. Now cover the stronger eye and look at the pencil again. Refocus in the distance and memorize where the pencil comes in relation to the distant view. Uncover the stronger eye. Does it dominate the weaker one completely; does the pencil immediately switch sides? Or are you able to retain the weaker eye’s pencil, at least for a moment or two?

Similarly, practice covering the stronger eye if both pencils are visible but one is clearer than the other. If the distant point is also double, practice with one eye at a time, focusing first on the pencil, and then in the distance, bringing your focus back to the pencil. Repeat this routine three times with each eye, then try both together. Don’t worry if you have difficulty with this or with any of the fusion drills. They will all come eventually, aided by your progress with palming and sunning.

Two-Pencil Fusion

For two-pencil fusion you need some definite reference point in the distance: any object that will fit conveniently into the ‘gateway’. Hold one pencil up at arm’s length, and another a few inches from your face. Practice making two gateways, one enclosing the other and both enclosing the reference point. Aim to make each of the ‘four’ pencils equally plain, although the nearer gateway will of course be more blurred. Now focus on the further pencil. You should find that your reference point has doubled: each of the two should appear equally plain. Bring your focus back to the nearer pencil. The far pencil should now be making a gateway, which is itself enclosed by the paired images of the reference point. Again, the paired images and the gateway should appear equally plain. Finally, focus somewhere in the middle distance, between the far pencil and the reference point, and see whether you can maintain not only both gateways but also the paired images of the reference point.


The ‘distance’ referred to in the instructions for pencil fusion and two-pencil fusion should be a distance which is farther away than your eyes are accustomed to at the time you do the exercise.

For example if you are watching television, and you are doing the fusion exercises during the commercials, you should focus on a point in the distance which is farther away than the television.


The techniques [blinking and breathing, shifting, swinging, long swinging] given under this heading, besides improving the remaining functions of the extrinsic muscles (tracking, searching and scanning), also counteract the various tendencies which are part and parcel of the habit of “trying” to see. As already noted, this “trying” is commonly accompanied by some degree of immobility of the eyes and body. The rate of blinking decreases; breathing becomes shallower and may, for a while, even stop. The muscles of the head, neck, shoulders, and perhaps other parts of the body too, may be unnaturally tensed, and all the time the eyes are fixed with increasing intentness on their target. As the eyes become fixed so does the attention, which only encourages the eyes to become yet more fixed, with a resulting impairment of both vision and perception.


What is Accommodation?

Bates’s proposal was that the eye accommodates [changes focus for far and near objects], not by a change in the shape of the lens, but by a change in the shape in the eyeball itself, this change being brought about by the six extrinsic muscles which control the movement of the eye in it’s socket.

Changing Focus, Room Lighting

When indoors you should remain aware of the need for frequent change of focus. While reading, look up from the page at regular intervals say at the end of each long paragraph or each page, and, just for a second, consciously focus on some distant object. While watching television [or a computer monitor], keep a light on in the room and frequently look away from the screen, whether at an object nearer or farther away.



Cut a strip of paper about eight centimeters (three inches) long and two centimeters (slightly under an inch) wide, and in the center mark a small ink cross Should you not have a bit of paper by you, close your hand slightly so that one of the creases in your palm becomes more pronounced, and use that as your object instead.

Wrap the strip of paper round the base of the middle finger of your left hand, in such a way that the cross is towards you when the palm is uppermost. The strip is held in place by your ring and index fingers. Cover your right eye with your right hand and, watching the cross, bring it slowly closer, and closer still, …until it is merely a blur, and then make it slowly retreat. Take it out to arm’s length and bring it back rather more quickly. Do this five times in all, accelerating as you go, so that at the end your hand is moving rather rapidly.

Repeat with the right hand and the right eye, and then, still with the strip on your right hand, with both eyes together. Pause, look into the distance, and repeat the whole drill once more. Slowly build up to five repetitions, making six sets in all.”

Things to Avoid

Zooming can be relatively strenuous in the beginning, so do not try to attempt too much, and stop immediately if you find yourself becoming tired or losing interest.


The palming exercise may be helpful in resting the eyes before or after viewing stereo images. Using the ‘parallel-viewing’ method of viewing 3D Stereo Images may also be helpful.


Scheduler or reminder programs can be helpful in reminding you to rest your eyes while using a computer. For example, a program could remind you to look into the distance, for 20 seconds, every twenty minutes.

Vision and the Mind

Unconscious Vision

“According to the Bates hypothesis, faulty vision can arise as one result of emotional difficulties, among which may be a subconscious desire not to see. As far as refractive error is concerned, this desire not to see can be compared to the desire not to walk or talk shown in certain kinds of hysterical illness. The brain is able to block the responses of the body so that walking or talking -or focusing -do indeed become more difficult, or even impossible.

The brain can also block the visual process in another way, by erecting a barrier of some sort between the unconscious and the conscious mind, so that, even if the eyes are performing well, the signals are obstructed or degraded before being allowed to reach the consciousness. It is helpful to think of this barrier in symbolic terms, as being made of some substance which can vary in consistence according to the subconscious wishes of the brain. When vision is perfect the substance of the barrier is perfectly fluid and the signals pass through it freely, but as vision deteriorates the substance becomes more and more glutinous, slowing down the passage of signals or preventing it altogether.

There are two distinct ways in which the brain can block the visual process. The first is by interfering with the mechanics of vision; the second is by altering the consistencyof the barrier between the unconscious and the conscious mind.”

“The outer edges of the retina contain relatively few photoreceptors, mostly rods, and provide vision which may be compared to that of primitive animals. At the very periphery of the retina, indeed, there is no conscious vision at all, merely an awareness of movement and contrast. When you see something ‘in the corner of your eye’ and automatically turn to see it better, you are responding to signals generated in this portion of the retina.

Source: Barnes, Jonathan. Improve Your Eyesight: A Guide to the Bates Method for Better Eyesight without Glasses. Souvenir Press, 1999.