Does eye yoga help ease eye strain?
27 February 2020
Why do our eyes become strained?
When you’ve been focusing closely on some small print for an extended period, or you’ve been staring at a screen all day, you might find that your eyes start to feel a bit strained and tired. This can come in the form of dry eyes, blurred vision, headaches, or even just an aching, fatigued sensation. Now that we rely on screens so much in almost every part of life – from checking Google Maps to writing work emails – a condition called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) has made itself apparent. The average adult spends over eight hours a day in front of digital screens, which only exacerbates the problem. The close proximity of most screens also creates near point stress, where our eyes struggle to focus on such near distances for extended periods.
We’ve written previously about the impacts of screens on our vision and the effects of CVS in daily life. It can range from distorted vision and red eyes, to difficulty concentrating and making more errors. Staring at screens tends to mean that we blink less, encouraging dry eyes and bringing on headaches. One of the most common suggestions to help eye strain is a method called “20-20-20”. Experts suggest that every 20 minutes, you pick something 20 feet away to look at, and focus on it for 20 seconds. This helps your eyes to adjust to distances further away than just your computer screen in front of you, and also encourages you to blink more, combatting dehydrated eyes.
Relax optical muscles with eye yoga
You have six muscles around each eye which connect it to the eye socket, and facilitate movement in all directions. When you overexert your eyes, usually by focusing them for a long time, these muscles can become fatigued, bringing with it all the symptoms of eye strain we previously discussed. Vision takes up 40% of your brain’s capacity and 4 of our 12 cranial nerves are dedicated exclusively to vision. Processing visual images is such a big task that it’s no wonder that our eyes can become strained easily. Experts have also suggested that our eyes are not evolved to carry out close work, making our muscles work particularly hard throughout the day.
It’s thought that particular exercises can help your eyes to rejuvenate and relax following a long day of near point focusing. Sometimes called “eye yoga”, these stretches have allegedly been around for centuries in order to benefit your eyesight. While there is some debate around how scientifically accurate these exercises actually are, it is thought – at the very least – that they can help with eyestrain and provide some sort of relief from being overworked.
Stretching: Stretching your eyes works much like stretching other parts of your body, increasing circulation and reducing any aches and pains that come after a workout. To stretch your eye muscles you can look straight ahead, all the way up, all the way down, then to your left and right. Hold your gaze for two seconds in each of these directions, before repeating this again but looking in all four diagonal directions. Keep your head still to ensure it’s just your eyes that are moving during these exercises.
Deep blinking: This exercise supposedly improves your visual acuity and relaxes your eyes. Choose an object on a wall to focus on, and move further away until it starts to look blurry. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, tensing all the muscles in your body. When you breathe out, open your eyes and the previously blurry object on the wall should appear clear again.
Distance gazing: Here’s an exercise which is very easy to do inconspicuously, meaning it’s perfect for doing on your commute or your lunch break. Choose a distant object and focus on it for a few seconds. Slowly move your eyes to another object next to it, continuing to focus intently. Repeat this for objects closer to you, but make sure you move your gaze slowly. It allows your eyes to focus properly on different distances – something we don’t tend to do much of anymore!
Flexing: This exercise is designed to improve the flexibility of your eyes. Rotate your eyes slowly anticlockwise for one minute, relying on all areas of your visual field including your peripheral vision. Repeat this with a clockwise motion and repeat. This is similar to stretching, ensuring that you’re exercising all parts of your eye and its muscles.
Palming: This is an exercise which doesn’t focus so much on movement, but rather gives your eyes a break from the stresses that come with bright light. Our photoreceptors “break down and are reconstructed every minute”, so giving our eyes a break from brightness can help this process. Palming is simple: close your eyes and cup your hands over each of your eyes. Imagine that you are staring into the dark and maintain this for as long as it feels soothing. It has been suggested that relaxation is “the single most important element of eye health” so giving your eyes a chance to rest throughout the day is vital.
Focus switching: This is something you might have experienced before as it’s an exercise often carried out when someone has hit their head. It generally checks whether you can still focus yours eyes properly after a head injury, but can also be used to practice shifting your focus. Hold your thumb out in front of you and move it towards your nose until you can no longer see it clearly. Then move your arm back to where it was, while still focusing on your thumb. You can repeat this several times.
Keeping your eyes in shape
Most vision problems related to age occur as a result of losing flexibility in your eyes muscles. Much like with fitness in the rest of your body, ensuring you frequently use these muscles to their full ability can help combat future deterioration. A recent increase of high rise buildings in our urban environments doesn’t allow our eyes to focus on objects further in the distance, preventing proper function of our eyes. This, combined with digital screens, puts more strain on our eye muscles, making eye yoga and exercises even more important in today’s world. While these optical stretches won’t reverse your myopia or hyperopia, perhaps they can relieve aches and strains, and help the battle against age-related eye changes.
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