The Vault

Eyesight, Vision and The Alexander Technique

Peter Grunwald

 

The old Chinese prevented eyesight deteriorating through exercises and the means of acupressure—and partially do it in primary schools today; the Indians and Tibetans by using yoga practices and mandalas; the Persians in the Middle East by means of knitting rugs with their 'hidden' 3-D images. And here in the West through the work of Bates, Corbett and more recently, Goodrich, Kaplan and Kavner and a number of behavioural optometrists.

But why, as statistics for Australia show, are nearly 50% of the population behind glasses or wearing contact lenses? The figure rises even to 80% of the population with vision fatigue throughout their life time. Apart from common myopia, astigmatism, and 'middle-aged' presbyopia, this includes squints, lazy eyes and a variety of eye diseases, particularly later in life.

Having watched the participants during the Sydney congress 1994, the figure might be quite similar within the Alexander teaching community. My intent in writing this paper is to bring about more consciousness into the 'process of seeing', how this relates directly to our Alexander work and applying Alexander's principles to eye-sight and vision, and improving the quality of seeing.

The Process of Seeing

Let us look at how vision works as I see it at present. What sound waves are for the hearing, light waves are for the vision.

Imagine, the light from the solar system enters the eyeball through layers of the cornea, passes through the lens onto the retina. The retina, a masterpiece of engineering, consists of over 137 million photoreceptors in an area of 1 inch in diameter. Only about 7 million 'cones' are found concentrated around a little groove called the fovea centralis, which is the area with the greatest clarity. Another 130 million receptors— 'rods'—are found around the rest of the retina with a variety of tasks. They pick up the information on motion, shades, depth, night vision and possibly much more. The peripheral field is vital as it receives light as food for the nervous system.

From the retina the information passes through fibres and nerves to the relevant areas in our brain. Now in your imagination and with the help of the diagram, trace for a moment the optic nerves from the 'blind-spot' in the retina via the optic chiasma to the 'brain stem'. From here the information 'radiates' out into the visual cortex, or occipital lobe which is found anterior to the occipital bone. Here is the centre for our seeing, where we process the information of depth perception, motion, colour, form and shades. The close proximity of the visual cortex and its function might play a crucial part in the 'condition' of the 'primary control'.

Underlying the Blur Might Always be a Contraction

The Cranial nerves 2, 3, 4 and 6 are responsible for different movement tasks of our eyes. They connect with the brain stem. For example—a contraction in the brainstem will see the spinal cord shortening and will result in a postural slump. On the other hand the cranial nerves, e.g. the optic nerves, will likewise shorten, thus elongating the eyeball. The result is myopia or short-sightedness. I understand that 'presbyopia' has a similar underlying contraction within the brainstem and cranial nerves. It has a particularly contracting influence on the cillary muscles which influence the flexibility of the lens. Without this flexibility the lens starts to harden and to 'calcificate', and hinder the light intake.

Short-sightedness occurs mainly until age 20-21. Between age 21-40 there seem to be hardly any vision problems—unless a severe trauma or accident occurs or through such activities as prolonged computer work.

From age 40 'middle aged' sight often—but not always!—can set in, when 'the arms are getting too short to read the phonebook!' One explanation I found is that the world of children tends to be very close, their minds and thoughts stretch only between now and tomorrow, even Christmas is still in the distant future! Whereas when we reach 'middle age' our thoughts and minds expand a much longer distance—then the thoughts are of retirement or we often remember our childhood. The physiology of our eyes is directed through our thinking, primarily the visual cortex, which might help us to understand our own eye condition better.

Alexander's Principles Related to Vision Improvement

Wearing glasses or contacts, we might say, is a classical form of 'end-gaining', allowing us to see 'clearly' and forgetting to apply the 'means-whereby' to direct our entire visual system. Prescription lenses, as I understand at present, are cut in such a way that the maximum light falls exactly onto the 'fovea centralis' for clear sight. This reduces extrinsic muscle flexibility, enhances staring, and uses only those 7 million photoreceptors, and leaves the other 130million 'out of sight'. The whole peripheral field is not used, cutting off vital information I mentioned earlier. In this way we tend to 'see only detail' instead of the 'whole picture', thus affecting our experience of ourselves and our environment.

The primary control, to my understanding, is directly linked to the visual cortex and perception. The cortex as mentioned earlier, has its position anterior to the occipital bone. When we use 'passive seeing' versus 'active seeing' then this tends to move our head back and down and the typical slump will appear. In other words, to successfully 'free the neck in such a way that the head can move forward and up', we need to adapt an 'active seeing' (conscious awareness of either colour, form, motion or depth), and a direction relating to the entire visual system. Then our head 'moves forward and up' just like that!

'Inhibition' and 'direction', as they relate to our Alexander principles applied to vision improvement, means suspending the stimuli of needing to see clearly in all circumstances and applying a direction of 'lengthening and widening of the peripheral vision'. This will allow the retina to expand and the additional influx of light will stimulate the photoreceptors. As the retina expands the fovea will expand likewise, giving more room for the 'cones' to reflect clarity.

'Faulty sensory appreciation' appears when we 'think-we—can't-see' after having taken off glasses. Often when I guide students to a more expanded and clearer vision we find that the main aspects lie in a lack of attention and a 'passive' seeing habit, which causes the 'mental blur'. Once we recognise this and my students bring more attention to the 'active seeing' and constructive direction of their entire visual system and the rest of the common Alexander directions, then they will un-do the habits of wearing glasses and a faulty visual system within a relatively short span of time. I recently discovered a holotropic interrelationship between the visual system and body motions (similar to that of ears and feet) which is used as an exact diagnosing system. Nowadays, it is a vital instrument for me to determine visual fatigue in relationship to the habit patterns in our whole self. By recognising them and releasing them together, old patterns will be removed.

Experiment: Without any visual aids find a spot in the distance which you focus on. (People with short-sightedness focus in a close distance.) Now, keep your focus and 'lengthen your peripheral vision above you and below you. Notice your experience. Then 'widen' your peripheral vision to your side, left and right. Notice your expanded vision. As you now 'lengthen and widen' your peripheral vision at the same time be aware of any colour in your field of vision. Notice your experience throughout your whole body/mind.

Repeat this with motion, depth and form.

To conclude, the eyes and the visual system play a substantially important part in our freedom of movement. Four-fifths of information is coming through our eyes.

Within our perception and the entire visual system lies an enormous potential to be discovered. When I think back to FM he observed and watched himself 'actively' for over 9 years, as he discovered the function of the primary control, the centrepiece of his discoveries.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bates, Dr W. H., The Bates Method, first published in 1919.

Goodrich, Dr Janet, Natural Vision Improvement, Penguin: London (1985)

Grunwald, Peter, "Alexander Technique and Vision", AUSTAT Newsletter, AUSTAT: Melbourne (1994)

Huxley, A.ldous, The Art of Seeing, first published 1942, reprinted in 1982.

Kaplan, Dr Robert Michael, Beyond 20/20 Vision, Beyond Word Publications: California (1987)

Kavner and Dusky, Total Vision, Kavner Books: London (1978)

Liberman, Dr J., Light—Medicine of the Future, Bear and Company :New York (1991)

Mansfield, Peter, The Bates Method, Optima:New York (1993)

Rickover, Robert M., "Seeing and Moving", article held in AUSTAT Library: Melbourne.

BIOGRAPHY

Peter Grunwald wore glasses for myopia and astigmatism from the early age of 3 continuing for 27 years. Six years after his Alexander Technique training and teaching in Sydney (Australia) he trained professionally in Germany with Dr Janet Goodrich with the Bates Method, and emotional healing applied to vision improvement. Applying the principles steadily, it took Peter only 18 months until he was totally free of glasses. Nowadays he has integrated the Alexander Technique principles to the successful application of vision and eyesight improvement. He lives and teaches in New Zealand, lectures extensively abroad and conducts post-graduate trainings for Alexander teachers in vision improvement.

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