In 1920, William Bates, a brilliant American physician with a strong interest in ophthalmology, proposed a theory that would send ripples across the medical establishment of the time – that eyeglasses are harmful and that vision problems can be corrected through a series of eye exercises and subtle lifestyle changes. Bates treated many patients based on these principles, and published his findings in a comprehensive book called Perfect Sight Without Glasses (or The Cure of Imperfect Sight by Treatment Without Glasses).
Challenging the establishment
In mainstream ophthalmology, vision defects like nearsightedness and farsightedness are described as being caused by defects in the anatomy of the eye, which cannot be cured through eye exercises. Bates; however, believed that some vision defects are caused by tension in the muscles of the eyeball, and that this tension can be reduced and eventually eliminated. Bates described eyeglasses as “crutches,” that encourage the eyes to become lazy as they accommodate to using the corrective lens.
Unlike most traditional ophthalmologists, Bates believed that regular people can learn how to improve their vision naturally, using simple healing techniques. He emphasized the importance of improving blood circulation, getting a lot of sunlight, and using mental images to achieve a state of inner balance and relaxation.
Principles of the Bates Method
“Perfect Sight Without Glasses” tackles numerous problems that Bates felt were plaguing traditional ophthalmology, and suggests four primary treatments for vision defects: palming, visualization, eye movement and sunning. Some of these treatments are still applied today, primarily by behavioral optometrists.
For an ideal palming exercise, Bates suggested that patients first close their eyes for a few minutes to induce a state of visual relaxation. Next, patients are to cover their eyes with their palms, without applying pressure, and maintain this posture for a few minutes at a time.
Visualisation of mental images is a central concept in the Bates method, as it is believed not only to help induce relaxation, but also to help improve focus. One exercise involves the ability to visualise perfect black (the darker it appears, the more relaxed the mind is said to be).
Eye movement (such as swinging the eyes from left to right and up and down), an important part of the Bates method that is still used in vision therapy today, helps improve eye coordination, blood circulation and eye movement control. Bates believed that the more a patient can control their eye “swings,” the more it will help their vision.
The Bates method stipulated that moderate exposure to sunlight, called sunning, can also benefit vision. He suggested that patients close their eyes and turn their faces to the sun, letting the sunlight shine on their closed eyelids.
After Bates’ death, his followers gradually incorporated dietary recommendations into the ethod. Though some vision therapists recognised the many benefits of his proposed treatments, Bates came under heavy fire from his peers, and today many researchers feel that the method is difficult to test scientifically, since it so strongly depends on a subjective feeling of well-being.