Use Your Own Eyes
by William B. MacCracken, M. D. Use Your Own Eyes was first published in 1937.
WHEN I explain to patients that swinging the body gently in a half-circle, with the eyes closed, is generally a very effective way to relax, they almost always are surprised at the idea that such a practice will help the eyes to see better. Some find it a great help, and always begin any period of practice with ten or fifteen minutes of swinging.
The first requirement of any successful technique is that the attention be completely occupied with the thought of what is being done. The very act of swinging, when it is correctly performed, involves that specific objective attitude of mind. The tension in the eyes and the mind is relieved because a condition of relaxation is produced in all the muscles of the body.
Standing with the heels well apart, and the toes turned out, and the eyes closed softly, the body is rotated with an easy rhythm in semi-circles from right to left and back from left to right. It must be a soft, even roll, with the idea in the mind that all the muscles are as soft as cloth. The position of the feet insures an easy and perfect balance of the body, and the curve in the swing keeps the weight poised over the feet, so no effort is required to correct the balance. The head and neck work in perfect unison with the body, so that the head may swing only a few inches in each direction, or may swing so far to each side that the face will point fully to the right and then fully to the left, and the body will time its motion to meet the movements of the head.
When the head goes to the right, if the muscles are to remains relaxed, the left heel must be allowed to leave the floor, because the left line from floor to neck will be longer; and when the head turns to the left, the right heel leaves the floor to match the position of the head. It is a further help to allow the arms to swing around while hanging limply at the sides. There must be a soft feeling in the muscles of the neck, and the head must roll as if limp on the body. The eyes are to take an intimate part in the movement by rolling softly to the outer limits of the orbit in each direction. This free roll of the eyes is easier to acquire if they are kept open at first, until a consciousness is established, and the sensation registered and remembered, so one will know that the eyes are in action and are relaxed.
To secure the full effects of this practice, the whole body must be dominated and co-ordinated by an attitude of mind. This can be accomplished by giving undivided attention to the conduct of all the muscles, including the muscles of the eyes. But it must be an objective attitude. A concern about correctness induces a tension instead of a soft relaxation. A violinist, or an organist, or any expert performer, is not any more concerned with observation of the muscles than the runner or the gymnast. The whole body of those experts is dominated and stimulated and educated by the enthusiasm of the mind. If one is walking leisurely toward a point, and suddenly remembers that the car is due at the corner, there comes to the conscious mind no thought of the feet, but the muscles all change their conduct, and instantly the limbs are propelling the body in a run.
I once saw a picture of an operator showing a cripple with a paralyzed limb how he was to try to move the limb. He demonstrated with his own limb. He was communicating a conception to the mind of the cripple. The perfect unison with which two partners in a waltz move in rhythm, is controlled by the thoughts of each. All very simple. But I have found that most of those who begin to practice a swing for relaxation, are obstructed by their bewilderment of mind, which causes a stiffness of their muscles. I found this reaction in myself, and conceived the idea of humming softly, as one dances to music. The melody that suited me best was a few bars of the "Merry Widow Waltz" tune. Gradually, I learned to soften the timbre of my voice until it was almost imperceptible, and I found that this relaxed the vocal cords, so that with a few minutes of practice, I was frequently able to carry a note an octave higher than I could reach when f began.
Swinging with the eyes closed, slowly and in perfect balance, for fifteen or twenty minutes, will develop a feeling of softness, and is found by some to be their best method of relaxing the eyes. It is possible to add to the swinging the very helpful addition of shifting. Facing a corner of the room, with small objects or pictures along each side, blinking the eyes slowly, and looking always straight ahead, the eyes will shift in passing from one object to another. There must be 1u a fixed idea that the mind is not paying attention to the objects as they pass the eyes, but that the eyes are looking softly into the distance. Another method, when there is a long distance outlook from a window, is to look softly at the scenery while swinging and blinking, and let the eyes shift constantly from the different points in view.
There is a method of swinging the head, while seated comfortably, and blinking the eyes softly. One may hold the first finger of the right band six inches in front of the face and six inches to the right of the eye. Close the left eye and blink the right eye, and rock the head back and forth, looking always straight ahead. After one or two minutes, close the eye and hold the head still. Repeat, alternating, until an afterimage appears, of the finger and the hand swinging back and forth in the opposite direction to the rocking of the head. Practice the same way with the left hand and the left eye, the right eye closed. Continue for fifteen or twenty minutes. This sometimes gives a better result if one is facing a window, or sits facing a good light in the evening. Strong contrasts are more impressive on the eyes. A method that has a similar effect, is to look softly ahead, blinking the eyes and holding the head still, while the elbows rest on the body, and the hands, closed except the first finger straight up, are rocked back and forth in front of the face, so that they cross leach other and return.
In that procedure, the fingers are shifting across the line of vision, and the effect is to relax the eyes by the passive change of central fixation. The eyes in that procedure are shifting with the moving fingers. One can use any small object the same way, a pen handle or a ring, by passing it across the line of vision rhythmically, while the eyes blink softly and look directly ahead. A helpful practice is to roll the head back and forth across the partitions of a window, especially the small panes of a leaded window, while blinking the eyes. A good test of the success of any of these practices is the appearance of the after-images when the eyes are closed after a few minutes with them open.
It is helpful to remember that swinging or swaying, when the eyes are open, is another way of shifting, that is, moving the central fixation from one spot to another, with an added value in the relaxing effect of the soft swaying movement. There are different techniques which can be practiced, to secure these two effects. One can devise individual efforts. A piece of chain, or rope, or cord, or ribbon. hanging at a given distance, less or more, in front of the eyes, with a background of light, or a background selected—a Snellen Test Card, a picture, a window frame, a white sheet or a black cloth, likewise placed at any given distance back of the hanging cord, or what not, or back of a tall thin object placed on a table half way between.
One can place three Snellen Test Cards, three, six and nine feet in front of the eyes, or use home-made cards say twelve by sixteen inches, and paint on black letters of similar sixes. They should be suspended on upright strips or hung on strings stretched across the room, and placed so that they almost overlap. Stand so that when the head is swayed with slow rhythm back and forth, the eyes softly blinking, the cards will seem to overlap and to show the clear between them, according to the direction the head moves in. Pick the same letter on each of the cards, and watch for it, and ignore the other letters. That will facilitate the apparent movements of the letters in the direction opposite to the way the head is moving. Close the eyes in periods, but continue to sway, and watch for the letters to appear as after-images. Practice with either eye closed, or with both open. Practice while sitting, and using a pen or pencil with a book for a background, holding it still while the head moves, or moving it while the head is still. Whatever the details of these pratices involving swinging or swaying, the effort is to have the object under observation move back and forth across the line of vision so that it is alternately seen and then not seen, as it goes in a direction toward the right and then back toward the left and out of sight. If, with the eyes closed, an after-image is not produced, there is some fault in the technique.
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