We all know that exercise is good for us, keeping our joints limber and our bones and muscles strong. However, have you ever considered exercising your eyes?
With roots in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as yoga practices, the idea of eye exercises is not contemporary. In the West, eye exercises and their potential positive impact on eye health have become more popular in recent decades. The idea behind eye exercises is simple. Like the muscles in the rest of our body, the muscles in our eyes must be cared for to ensure optimal performance and prevent injury. The movement of the eyes within the orbit is controlled by 6 muscles.¹ An additional muscle within the eye controls the thickness of the lens, allowing for vision accommodation (refracting light to varying degrees and allowing us to see things at different distances).¹ In addition to being helpful in reducing eye fatigue and strain, it has been proposed that eye exercises may improve and prevent refractive errors that lead to nearsightedness.²
The ancient Chinese practice of eye acupressure exercises goes back 4000 years and is still encouraged today.³ In fact, since 1963 the Chinese government has endorsed these practices for school-aged children.³ These practices are believed to prevent nearsightedness, as well as promote overall eye health.⁴ Eye acupressure exercises include massaging a variety of acupressure points around the eyes, as well as on the sides and back of the head.² This is done a minimum of once a day, 5 days a week.² Although there is no definitive evidence on the effectiveness of these exercises, a 2016 study and a 2019 meta-analysis (a study which compiled and analyzed the results of several studies) both demonstrated that children who performed high-quality eye exercises of this nature had a markedly lower risk of nearsightedness than children who performed low-quality exercises.⁵⁻⁶ With over 4000 years of history and data supporting its practice, Chinese eye acupressure exercises may be worth trying.
Next up, is yoga for the eyes. Yoga is a practice associated with improved physical and mental well-being.⁷ Yogic eye exercises typically involve a combination of palming (the practice of covering your eyes with the palm of the hands), blinking, sideways/front and sideways/diagonal, rotational near and distant viewing, preliminary nose tip/concentrated gazing and/or stimulating acupressure points on the palm.⁸ In a study published in 2020, yogic eye exercises performed for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, were significantly associated with a reduction in self-reported eye fatigue and eye strain.⁹ These results, as well as a decrease in stress levels, were supported by an earlier study in 2016.¹º Overall, the benefits of yogic eye exercises are promising.
In the early 20th century, William Bates introduced a modern version of eye exercises. With the belief that all refractive problems were the result of eye strain, he proposed what was termed the Bates method; a series of practices including palming, visualization, movement exercises, and sunning.¹¹ His methods, however, have since been discouraged, being cited as ineffective and even harmful.¹²
Although not conclusive, there is some support for the benefits of Chinese acupressure massage and yogic eye exercises for reducing eye fatigue, strain, and overall stress. If you are interested in either, why not take the time to give them a try!
Author: Dr. Katie Kinaschuk received her Doctor of Medicine from the University of Alberta in 2018, following completion of a Bachelor of Science degree at the same institution. She has since been living in Berlin, Germany, where she is completing clinical training and working as a medical consultant in the pharmaceutical industry.
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Rosenfarb, A. Healing Your Eyes with Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture, Acupressure & Chinese Herbs Ch. 1, 1–9 (North Atlantic Books, 2007).
Ostberg O, et al. On the merits of ancient Chinese eye acupressure practices. Appl Ergon. 1992;23(5):343-348. doi:10.1016/0003-6870(92)90296-8
Zhang, X. Are Chinese eye exercises ineffective? No. Family Science and Health 9, 24–25 (2012).
Kang, MT., et al. Chinese Eye Exercises and Myopia Development in School Age Children: A Nested Case-control Study. Sci Rep 6, 28531 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep28531
Lu, Z., et al. Association between Chinese eye exercises and onset of myopia : a meta-analysis. 2019
Akhtar P., et al. Effects of yoga on functional capacity and well being. Int J Yoga. 2013;6(1):76-79. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.105952
Saraswati SS. Yoga Nidra. 6th ed. Bihar: Yoga Publications Trust; 2009
Gupta SK, Aparna S. Effect of Yoga Ocular Exercises on Eye Fatigue. Int J Yoga. 2020;13(1):76-79. doi:10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_26_19
Kim SD. Effects of yogic eye exercises on eye fatigue in undergraduate nursing students. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016;28(6):1813-1815. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.1813
11. Bates, WH. Perfect Sight Without Glasses. 1920
- Worrall RS, Neyvas J, Barrett S (19 July 2018). "Eye-Related Quackery"