The Bates method for better eyesight was developed by ophthalmologist William Bates in 1920. Bates believed poor eyesight of all kinds (not only refractive errors that are usually treated with prescription lenses, but also abnormal eye conditions such as cataracts) originated from habitual strain caused by the mind. Rather than believing glasses would help, he suggested a series of exercises that would relieve the strain. Treatments include closing and opening the eyes in front of an eye chart, visualising objects no longer present, shifting gaze regularly, and exposing the eyes to sunlight.
William Horatio Bates was born in America in 1860. He attended Cornell University, and then received his medical degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He later became an ophthalmologist, after which time he developed the Bates Method for better eyesight. The method was in contrast to most medical theories of the time, and is still, although there are many patients of this method who claim to have been cured of myopia. Along with this research, Bates is also famous for the discovery of a substance in 1886 that was later marketed as adrenaline.
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The central premise of Bates’ argument was that poor eyesight was caused by mental strain. He believed focus is maintained by variation in the extra-ocular muscles around the eye that cause the elongation of the eyeball itself; Bates rejected the idea that the lens played any role in accommodation (changes in the eye that result in focusing on near or far objects). He also rejected the claim that refractive errors were due to damage to the physiological shape of the eye, and believed that this, too, was the result of visual habits. He claimed that straining to see at the near-point instantly shortened the eyeball, producing hypermetropia (farsightedness) in an eye with previously normal vision, and that straining to see at the far-point instantly lengthened the eyeball, producing myopia (nearsightedness), however there were also more psychological causes of eyesight problems. Bates believed the strain of lying or of over-work could cause myopia. Treatment involved exercises of the eye to build up muscle strength and relieve strain. Bates also believed prescriptive lenses affected colour perception, contracted the field of vision, and caused dizziness and headaches. For this reason, he advised people who wore glasses to discard them before seeking further treatment.
Bates method relies on relaxation in order the achieve better vision. There are many suggested exercises designed to relax the eye muscles, most of which involve closing the eyes for a period of time, and picturing something not seen, and preferably pleasant. Along with this, there are some more specific exercises.
Covering the eyes with your palms, which is referred to as 'palming', is believed to aid relaxation of the eye by blocking out all light. The darkness of the field in this instance is a reflection of the patients relaxation, however if he/she cannot see black then it is better to picture a concrete object than strain the eyes in attempting to clear the field of vision.
Keeping vision centred on the small points rather than trying to take in the whole image is intended to reduce strain on the retina. Picturing images in your minds eye is also believed to help perceive finer detail. This is best used in conjunction with memory exercises: trying to recall something just seen in fine detail in the mind.
Sunshine is made use of in the Bates methods. Letting the sun fall on closed eyelids while swaying back and forth is intended to relax but stimulate vision.