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What is the Bates Method?

By Steve R.
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Bates method is a technique that focuses on relaxation to improve eyesight. Developed by ophthalmologist William Bates (1861-1931), who earned a medical degree from Columbia University, the method instructs that eyesight can be enhanced through decreasing mental strain and following the behaviors of individuals with good eyesight. Bates developed his system for improving vision after becoming disenchanted with traditional ophthalmologic methods that recommended corrective lens for poor eyesight. In 1920, he published his book Perfect Sight Without Glasses, documenting how he improved his own vision.

A principal of the Bates method is that good vision is the product of a calm state of existence. As the eye is a muscle, the organ can be improved with exercise. Bates, however, advised that working an already tired muscle will not help it get better. Instead, a major premise of the technique is to retrain the eyes to relax.

Palming is a major method that can be used to help relax the eyes, according to Bates. By shutting out light, he realized that eyes often become completely relaxed. With the palming method, he advised that a person should rest the heels of his or her hands against the cheekbones. Bates noticed that when an individual then places no pressure on the eyes, after only a couple of minutes he or she will often notice a temporary improvement in eyesight.

The Bates method also makes use of sunning. He realized that sunlight provides the body with a form of nourishment. The sunning technique requires a person to move his or her head toward the sun, or a bright desk lamp, while keeping the eyes shut. An individual would then sway his or her head from side to side for three minutes while basking in the light.

Bates also found that learning to distinguish movements can often create a strong connection between the mind and body. Under his method, this can be done through the use of swinging. Under the swinging technique, a person attempts to improve peripheral vision by concentrating on a specific object while rocking back and forth.

When initially introduced, the Bates method was criticized by some of his colleagues. He was forced to leave Columbia University when the head of the higher learning facility did not agree with the techniques. Noted author Aldous Huxley, however, credited Bates for helping restore his failing vision. Huxley claimed that by following the Bates method, his eyesight improved so much he no longer had to rely on Braille or glasses.

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