In part 1 of this post I demonstrated a neck and head self massage to improve posture and eyesight. In addition to directly working on these areas, it’s important to massage the upper back muscles as well, namely the upper trapezius, levator scapulae and the rhomboids. The first two are contributing to the movement of the neck, and the rhomboids and the levator scapulae are responsible for lifting the shoulders up. We do this all the time when sitting hunched over at the computer, holding a phone between shoulders and ear, and even when doing yoga.
This constant state of elevation in the shoulders combined with stiffness in the neck mover muscles due to bad posture, stress, shallow chest breathing, sitting at the computer with a fixed gaze, creates major tension in the upper back, neck and head. All of which effects our eyesight.
While you can roll the neck and head muscles at your desk, you will need a wall or floor space (more intense) to do the following upper back release sequence. Do this short sequence after work or in the morning after waking. Best to roll directly on the skin for maximum shear in the myofascial tissues (and clothes tend to get rolled into the balls).
The video shows the sequence at the wall. For more intensity, do it on the floor.
1. Place the balls right above your shoulder blades in the center of the shoulders (not to close to neck). Step away from the wall and use your body weight to let the balls sink into your upper trapezius and levator scapulae. When on the floor, lift your pelvis up (you can put a yoga block under your hips for a more restorative version). Breathe deeply into belly and chest
2. Start crossfibering the muscles by bending and straightening your knees (wall) or by chugging your hips forward and back (floor). The balls will move up and down the shoulders, about 2 inches.
3. Then change the direction of the movement by moving side to side. The balls will glide along the edge of the shoulder blades from left to right, covering the whole width of the shoulder blades. When doing this on the floor, it helps to move the arms side the side, bending one at the time to create that sideways motion of the upper body.
4. Move the balls together and down to just under C7, the last cervical vertebrae. They will be right and left of the spine, touching each other. Repeat the chugging motion, moving the balls up and down a few inches, crossfibering the upper trapezius and rhomboid minor. When doing this on the floor, cradle your head in your hands.
5. While chugging, put more weight onto the left side for a few strides, then to the right. Wherever you feel more tightness, do it a bit longer.
6. Add a pin & stretch by moving the arms up in circle shape on an inhale and lower them down on the inhale. The movement should resemble the snow angel arms we did as kids.
7. Last stop is at T5/T6, roughly in the middle of the shoulder blades. Do a bit of moving up and down, then hug yourself and twist the upper body from side to side, putting weight onto one side at the time. This massages the rhomboid major and the trapezius.
Notice the difference after you have rolled these upper back muscles. You will feel relaxed, refreshed and be able to breathe more deeply. Your body and eyes will thank you!
As a Bates Method and yoga teacher, I pay attention to the whole body, the posture and the breathing. For this post, we will only look at the upper body, specifically the neck, jaw and temples, since these areas are directly connected to tension and strain in our eyes. And with the help of the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls, you can conveniently self massage these hot spots directly at your desk, while closing your eyes and giving them the rest they deserve.
Many of us spend hours, if not the whole day, sitting at the computer. Spine rounded in flexion, shoulders in protraction, internal rotation and elevation, head extended backwards, craned forward, or tilted sideways holding the phone between shoulder and ear, with the neck bearing the weight of the head. And our heads are heavy, about 11 pounds or 5 kg without hair. That constitutes roughly 8% of our body weight. Quite a lot of weight that our neck and shoulder muscles have to hold up there, all day long!
All of this sitting and slouching looking at the screen is creating muscle tension and weakness throughout the body, witnessed as bad posture and resulting lower back pain, neck stiffness, limited shoulder mobility or pain, tension headaches, migraines, jaw pain, TMJ, the list goes on. This in turn leads to an imbalanced posture from head to toe.
When looking at this from an eyesight perspective, it becomes obvious that some of the head tilts initiate from poor vision, e.g. craning the head forward when myopic, or tilting it back when presbyopia starts and the near point gets blurrier. But this also goes the other way. That is a whole new post, but just know that our head posture is a main contributor to astigmatism, and the angle or tilt of the head can directly be measured in the angle of your astigmatism. And staring at a screen up close for hours will most likely end in myopia.
Glasses are also a major reason for bad head posture and the resulting strain and pain. Are you tilting your head backwards when sitting at the computer? If you do, you probably wear bifocal or varifocal glasses. These lenses assume you are looking down when you are using the plus prescription in the lower part of the lens for near work, and straight ahead when looking at the distance. But the computer is straight ahead and near. To compensate, you need to crane your head backwards to access the lower part of the lens. This not only creates extraordinary neck tension, but starts or worsens any existing astigmatism.
The following therapy ball self massage sequence gets into the nooks and crannies of your tense muscles and fascia, the connective tissue which runs throughout your body. Its superficial layers are right under the skin, the deep layers in and between our muscles. The stiffer and harder the fascia, the more tense and stiff the muscles surrounded by it.
Start by breathing deeply into the belly five times, feeling it expand and collapse. Then let the breath ripple from the belly up into the chest on the inhale, letting it leave the body on a long exhale. Keep inhales and exhales equal in length. Continue this abdominal thoracic breath throughout the whole self massage sequence. It improves flood of blood and oxygen into your tissues and cells.
1. Place one of the balls at the lateral side of the neck. Test the waters by pressing the ball against the sternocleidomastoid muscle (the one you’ll use to turn your head backwards when changing lanes, tilt your head to the side and when looking down). If you feel tension there, spin the ball, winding up skin as you do. This alone stimulates the superficial fascia around the neck muscles, creating slide and glide between fascia and muscle which is important for smooth and pain-free movement.
2. Add some motion for a deeper tissue massage. Nod your head “yes” a few times, then “no”, turning it side to side.
3. Move the ball to another area on your neck and repeat.
4. Cup the ball in your hand and place it on the side of your jaw. The muscle you feel there is the masseter, the strongest muscle in the body. Turn your head slowly sideways as if saying half of a “no”, letting the ball crossfiber the masseter. This might be quite intense, so adjust the pressure with your hand or by leaning more or less into the ball. If you find a particularly tense spot, keep the ball on that area with sustained compression for a couple of breaths, then add a stretch by opening and closing the jaw.
5. Place the ball at your temple and roll it forward and back. You can also use sustained compression by just pressing it against one area, or spin the ball on the skin, gathering up superficial fascia. Remember to breathe deeply.
6. Repeat this on the other side. One side might need more attention than the other, because none of us is symmetrical.
7. Finish this tension tamer by gently drumming your fingers along the bony ridges of your eye sockets (above the eyebrows and along your cheek bones) and your temples.
For a quicker version (albeit without the spinning movement of the ball on the skin) you can massage jaw and temples at the same time by using the balls in the tote.
You can purchase The Yoga Tune Up® balls during a session at my practice, or by visiting yogatuneup.com Should you order online, make sure to get the smallest size for this exercise, or the starter kit with differently sized balls which come in handy when massaging your whole body.
Part Two of this stress relieving sequence will include the shoulders, upper back and chest for a complete release of “tech neck”. When working these areas, you will need floor or wall space.
Please remember that while self care through neck and head massage is really important in your journey to improve your eyesight, you need to address the origins and causes of your poor posture and eye strain at the computer as well. Be it by getting rid of varifocal lenses, an ergonomic makeover of your workstation, improving your proprioception through yoga or other movement practices, learning the Bates Method to recognize eye strain in the first place, practicing the Bates Method to improve your vision, blinking and breathing, daily exercise, relieving mental strain, or just taking frequent breaks.
In fact, as you have probably figured out by now, all of the above mentioned changes are important for good eyesight and a healthy body and mind. If you only address the tension but not the root causes, the tension will come back quickly and your eyesight will not improve. It might even get worse.
Blinking is one of 3 simple things you can do during your day to make your eyes happy by manifesting relaxation:
1. Blinking: Healthy eyes blink every 2-3 seconds. Observe yourself and count the seconds between blinks. Or better yet, ask a friend or family member to observe you, especially when working on the computer. We often don’t blink more than every 20-30 seconds when looking at a screen. Try to do that on purpose and you’ll have a hard time not blinking for so long.
Recently I was observing a friend who does a lot of online gaming. I was able to count to 40 between his blinks. When I asked him if he was aware of this, he said he had actually trained himself to blink so little since every nano second counts when you play those intense games. I advised him to reconsider since blinking is one of the best ways to avoid staring, which causes strain and blurry vision. So better “train” yourself to blink frequently, in an effortless way.
Blinking is not only necessary to lubricate our eyes, but it’s like a micro nap which interrupts any staring or straining we were doing before. Like a computer restart, it clears out the old and brings a fresh view. If you suffer from dry eyes, practice blinking several times a day by doing quick, light “butterfly” blinks for a minute each time.
Blinking is the heartbeat of the eyes and the best way to keep your cornea healthy. The cornea is the only part of the body without blood supply.
2. Breathing: Our eyes are part of our brain which consumes 25% of the total required oxygen for a normal functioning of the body. The capillaries in our eyes are among the smallest in the body and since they are located above the heart, only deep relaxed breathing will get the required oxygen all the way up there. So remember to breathe, especially when concentrating.
When you are anxious or stressed, place a hand on your abdomen and take a few deep breaths into your belly, feeling it rise on the inhale. Count your inhales and exhales and practice making the exhales a little longer. If, on the other hand, you need more energy, put more emphasis on the inhales.
Tip: Place a sticker on your computer to remind yourself to blink and breathe!
3. Yawning: Whenever you feel like yawning, go for it! Let those often super tense jaw muscles—the strongest in the body—stretch and the eyes rest for a while. Yawning also lubricates the eyes by stimulating the lacrimal gland on the upper outer eye. The lacrimal gland is in charge of producing tears which both cleanse and nourish our eyes, especially the cornea. You might even notice your vision being clearer after a few rounds of yawning due to the improved lubrication and relaxation.
New clients often ask me if it’s not more important to do eye exercises than to palm the eyes. After all, aren’t the eyes getting enough rest when sleeping? Shouldn’t the eye muscles be trained instead of relaxed?
The answer is, of course No. The eyes are not really resting while we sleep, especially in the REM phases of dreaming. Scientists have proven that the eyes accommodate to the objects we are “looking at” in our dreams. 90% of our sensory input comes through the visual system! Moreover, palming gives our eyes not only much needed rest from computer and other eye straining work, but it is the best and easiest tool to relearn to relax the eyes.
Relaxation vs. Rest
Just to make this clear: Rest and relaxation are not the same thing. Palming is rest for the eyes, through which relaxation can be achieved most easily for most people. A feeling many cannot even remember in their muscle memory, so learning what relaxation feels like is the most important first step in improving your eyesight. Once you can achieve that state of relaxation with eyes closed, you can apply that feeling when your eyes are open for clear, relaxed, effortless vision. The more relaxed your vision gets and the less you strain while using your eyes, the less palming you’ll need.
Bates practitioners know that relaxation is the only way to have clear vision. This is not easy to learn after years of strain and tension being carried in the eyes, facial and body muscles. Palming (and sunning) offer the beginner and the advanced practitioner the opportunity to slip into the rejuvenating pool of relaxation, letting go of tension, stress, worries…. The darkness, energy and warmth of the hands covering the eyes lets muscles and the mind relax. Without a relaxed mind, we literally cannot focus, visually and mentally.
“Seeing” deep black while palming is the mind’s feedback that we are relaxed. This is the ultimate confirmation of relaxation but it cannot be achieved with force or will power — only letting go and fully immersing yourself into the experience can get you there. This means accepting that your visual field in front of your closed eyes might be gray, grainy, cloudy, wavey or shows glimpses of color today. But maybe tomorrow it will be black. Accepting something does not mean you don’t want to change it. It just means that you have learned to be patient with your progress, the only way to get you to your goal of total relaxation and clear vision.
Mindful and Meditative
Practicing the Bates Method has therefore more to do with a mindful, meditative practice than an exercise regimen. What I mean by that is the activities let our minds relax as much as the eyes, a necessary prerequisite for perfect vision. Our vision is 90% mind and only 10% eyes. Doing pure eye muscle training as in traditional vision therapy is helpful for vision problems related to muscle & fusion imbalance, but there comes a point where that alone is not enough. And the reason is that vision therapy ignores the mind and focuses on the eye muscles only. Vision therapy would benefit from including the Bates relaxation approach, and hopefully one day that will happen!
When to Palm
Palming is useful as a remedy for tired, strained, dry eyes, when your vision gets blurry after a long day, or when getting a headache. If you have recurring symptoms like the ones described, you would ideally prevent them from occurring by palming beforehand. Or as a regular routine, e.g. in the morning and evening, to start and end each day with the memory of relaxed eyes. Think of it as maintenance like stretching your muscles after exercise to stay flexible and nimble.
How to Palm
There are so many descriptions of palming online that I don’t want to reiterate them here, but instead give useful tips based on the issues I hear most often (I am happy to introduce you to palming in more detail during a session if you have questions that go beyond the information here). Palming is beneficial on it’s own, and should always be done after any other vision activity to rest the eyes and “capture” the release of tension. If you are very restless and antsy, do a movement activity like the sway or long swing before palming. Oftentimes the inner visual field is blacker when palming after stimulating the eyes with movement.
The key to successful palming is a comfortable position. Find a place in your home where you are happy to be at. This might be a comfy armchair in a light corner, a bench in the garden or your couch. There are many positions that can work, see images and descriptions below. Most important if you want to palm for more than a few minutes is elbow support. Without it, your arms will tire quickly, tensing up the shoulders and neck. There are several ways to support the elbows, depending on your position: pillows, blankets, table top, knees, back of the chair, or a palming stick, invented by James Laker and now produced by Stephen Poytner in the UK (more on how to get one later).
The position can vary throughout the day, you might palm laying in the bed in the morning with pillows propped under your upper arms, using your office table with a stack of books during the lunch break, straddling a chair with the back serving as an elbow rest at home, and sit in your favorite comfy chair in the evening, supporting your elbows with cushions or the palming stick. Relax the shoulders and neck. The head and neck should be more or less upright, you don’t want the head to tilt back or forward, the hands should not support the weight of the head, but just cover the eyes.
Keep your legs relaxed, with feet flat on the floor (except when laying down). You want to feel grounded and connected, not twisted up like a pretzel. That also helps blood circulation. So make sure you are not crossing over the legs or ankles but keep the legs parallel. Lean back in the chair if that is comfortable.
The hands should be cupped slightly, the edges of the palms resting on the bony part around the eyes. No pressure should be felt on the eyes themselves. Cross your hands over the nose and move your fingers so no light comes in anywhere, without pressing on the nose (you still want to breathe easily). Then close your eyes, relax facial muscles, especially the jaw, and let shoulders get heavy. You want to relax the body completely.
Should you have trouble positioning the hands so all the light is excluded without straining the hands, find a comfortable place in the dark area of your home, or invest in dark curtains so you can darken the room. This is preferable to using eye masks for palming, since you are losing the beneficial energy and warmth only the hands can provide.
Methods of Relaxation
If you find it hard to relax your mind while palming and feel like a million thoughts are racing through your mind, don’t fight them — they will win. Instead, use one of the following techniques. But remember not to “think” with your eyes as this will prevent deep relaxation. Since the visual cortex is at the back of the brain and the hippocampus (where we “reassemble” memories) in the center of the brain, bring up thoughts or visual memories from the back of the head versus the eyes.
Feel your eyes get heavy and sleepy, resting in their plush sockets. Think of the them tilting slightly downward
Think of a favorite moment, person, event, location, smell, object. Remember the relaxation and happiness you felt. If you are a visual thinker and feel that you are using your eyes to conjure up the memory, use another way to relax such as observing your breath or listening to music.
Find a “Foundation Object” to induce relaxation. A foundation object is something you remember so easily and perfectly that the memory of it requires no effort.
Observe your breath, feel your out breaths get longer and longer. You can also count the breath
Listen to music that relaxes you and/or makes it easier to remember favorite moments
Repeat a mantra in your mind (meditation technique)
“Write” a love letter to your eyes in your mind, describe how fresh they look, how beautiful they are and how clearly they can see. Scientists have proven that imagining something creates a 70% higher chance of it actually happening. So imagine your eyes with perfect vision!
How long to Palm
It really depends on your situation. In general older people benefit from longer palming sessions whereas children are often relaxed after a minute or two. Experiment and see what gets you the best results. In general, palming twice a day for a longer period (15-30 minutes, e.g. morning and evening) and then as needed during the day is a great way to start when you want to improve your vision. If you suffer from an eye disease, longer palming is necessary to give your eyes the much needed rest. Keep a daily log of your palming and write down how you felt afterwards. You might quickly notice a pattern, and then custom tailor your palming frequency and length to what works best for you.
The pictured palming sticks come with two different base sticks: A shorter one for children or for placement on top of legs (e.g. when wearing a skirt), and a longer one for adults.
Details: The poles are aluminum, the fittings are magnesium, the top and bottom is made from birch plywood, the stiffeners are canadian maple, the top is closed cell foam (can be wiped clean with a damp cloth). They cost £35 each, shipping varies (£11 to the US).
They can be ordered directly from Stephen Poynter in the UK:
The media is full of stories about how bad computer use is for our vision. But that’s not really true. Using a computer in general is not bad for the eyes. The problem that we do it wrong. Just watch a colleague or friend work on the computer and you will notice how most people stare at the screen.
As if the screen is big hole that sucks us in. Eye movement and blinking are very reduced in an effort to see the whole screen equally clear at once. Which is tiresome not just for the eyes but the mind as well. Headaches, dry eyes, blurry vision, fatigue are the common responses of the body. To avoid this, move your attention across the screen while blinking effortlessly every few seconds. Remember that you can only see one tiny spot perfectly clear at any given time, so move your peepers around.
The second bad habit most people have that they stare at the screen for hours a time without a break. The eyes are locked into a fixed accommodative state, meaning they are fixed onto a specific point in a specific distance. That’s the equivalent of sitting cross-legged for hours at a time. Of course your legs will be numb and need a while to walk again properly. Yet we expect our eyes to do this in split seconds, and get frustrated when we look up after a long time and everything’s blurry. So, it’s important to look up from the screen every 10-15 minutes, let your gaze wander around the room or look outside the window for a minute or so.
But that’s not everything. Equally important to keep your vision in perfect shape is the peripheral vision, which is basically shut down when we concentrate too hard on the screen in front of us.
Our visual field has a radius of about 180º horizontally and 90º vertically with both eyes together. With one eye the horizontal field of vision is about 140º, the overlap of both eyes about 120º. Why does it matter when working on a computer? Isn’t peripheral vision only important when outside to see dangers looming around us?
Simply put, no. Peripheral vision is our “rod” vision, the receptor cells that detect motion and provide us with black and white night vision. In contrast, our central “cone” vision is not larger than 2-4º and created by the cone cells that provide us with detail and color in daylight.
When focusing on the central vision alone we create an artificial tunnel vision which is rigid with a lot of strain. This tunnel vision promotes the unhealthy staring habit and suppresses the natural frequent blinking, necessary to lubricate the eyes and keep the attention soft. Peripheral vision encourages eye movement since our attention can freely move to the next thing we ‘catch’. It’s a continuous, soft flow of moving attention.
How can we stimulate our peripheral vision when working? We need to put something interesting into our peripheral field, and it needs to move. Streamers that gently swing in the breeze or bouncy objects such as mobiles or chimes are perfect to keep our attention soft and avoid tiring tunnel vision. The children’s party head piece is probably not proper office attire, but can be used for peripheral stimulation as needed, especially if mobiles and other fixed installations are not possible at the office.
Remember to switch sides of the desk to stimulate the other side of your visual field. Or install the mobile in a flexible way, so it can be moved to the other side. Best is to have stimulators on both sides of course, even if it’s just a dangling toy hanging from the desk lamp. Be creative!
Some pretty choices available for purchase (click image for store link):
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace traditional vision care or regular check ups at an ophthalmologists office and is not medical advice. I understand that vision educators are not medical doctors. I am clear that I am not being diagnosed, prescribed for or treated medically for my vision or any other health condition. I understand that I can check my own vision to my satisfaction at any time. The information on this website is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Claudia Muehlenweg, myholisticvision.com, and the experts and doctors who have contributed. We encourage you to make your own vision care decisions based upon your research and in collaboration with a qualified eye health care professional.