I don’t have to tell you that during the day, stress and tension have a way of building up. In our extremely visual world—with books, television, signs, mobile phones, computers and all kinds of gadgetry—a lot of that tension gets stuck in our eyes and nervous system. I’ve got a few exercises that will help you recognise when your eyes are becoming overloaded and what to do about it.
Easy Energy Exercises for the Eyes
In most activites, e.g. seated at a desk in front of a computer, you turn, bend, stretch and/or move around your space in one way or another. As you do, your eyes involuntarily focus on objects in your field of vision. They remain fixed there until they jump to the next object.
Image © iStockphoto.com/Eraxion
As you turn, bend and move your body, three bad habits usually accompany the eyes that allow them to fixate on a particular object:
- The nervous system contracts
- Consciousness goes external
- The occiput closes down (located at the base of your spine, where the spinal cord and skull meet)
These bad habits are great for revving up the nervous system and eliciting a stress response, but most of us would prefer to remain relaxed–even during stressful situations–rather than freak out! So I’ve got a few techniques to help you chill out, and exercises 3-6 will help you break any bad habits.
Start from a relaxed and comfortable position and only do the first prep exercises a couple of times to get the point. They shouldn’t be practised long-term.
Prep Exercise 1
Choose an object close to you, fix your eyes on it and stare at it. Notice what happens to your body, nerves and mind. They become tense, don’t they? Now relax your eyes for a minute or two.
Prep Exercise 2
Try focusing again and, this time, go out to the object as if you were trying to reach it with your mind through your eyes. Feel the intensity of your action. Then, completely relax your intent, your eyes and your mind.
Bring your mind back inside your body, soften your stare to a gaze and allow the object to arrive at your eyes. Breathe smoothly and totally relax your eyes. If you need to close your eyes to relax them for a few minutes, nobody will mind!
The intensity or tension you feel from this exercise also happens involuntarily during times of stress and anxiety—whether you notice it or not.
Energy Exercise 1: Soften Your Eyes
When your eyes are back to normal again, look at your object once again, but this time with soft eyes. Allow your eyelids to close a quarter to two-thirds of the way—not more or you will go into all sorts of visualisations. As your eyes soften even more, open up your peripheral vision.
If you can go behind your eyes to the optic nerve (where all visual information is passed to the brain), feel that space. Try to let go and relax the optic nerve. From here, you can relax the whole nervous system and deeply release the eyes.
Now, allow the object to come to you rather than you projecting out to it. I’d guess your object of choice is still there, but you also have peripheral vision and you can feel what is going on in your body. All this can happen while remaining totally relaxed.
Practise this exercise as frequently as you can, especially when you notice yourself getting stressed or revved up, or when anxiety hits.
No Bug Eyes!
Have you ever noticed people’s eyes bugging out when their tense about something? If you practise releasing the eyes before your work or exercise programme, you can calm down the central nervous system and soften your body.
For qi gong, tai chi, bagua and yoga students, you can use this exercise in your standing posture before practising your forms, during your forms and at intervals during your day to stabilise your insides.
Energy Exercise 2: Opening the Occiput
Opening the occiput is best learned and initially practised in a standing posture (learn more about how to find and maintain the proper posture). When you look straight ahead, the occiput is closed. Aligning the head properly involves bringing the eyes, ears and occiput onto a horizontal level. In this position, the eyes will naturally look down slightly and you must roll the eyes up into their sockets to look ahead.
Hold this posture and practise exercise 1, softening and releasing the eyeballs and optic nerves. As you do, be aware of any tension deepening into your occiput or brain. If you feel tension there, consciously relax it and drop it down your body into the ground.
You might only want to work on this exercise for a day or two before moving on.
Energy Exercise 3: Shift Your Weight + Turn
With your head correctly aligned in your standing posture, look straight forward. Allow your peripheral vision to soften. Now, we’ll add a simple movement to help you practise while in motion since most people fix and harden the eyes when moving around. Shift your weight and turn your pelvis. For Tao arts students, the motion is identical to how you would move in Cloud Hands Qi Gong, tai chi or bagua (see a video demonstration here). As you move from side to side, allow your eyes to sweep around the room–without fixing on any particular object.
Notice how your eyes jump from one thing to the next as you move. Try to relax your gaze and let whatever is around you come into your field of vision. Keep your eyes soft.
- First, relax your eyeballs for several shifts and turns.
- Next, relax the eyeballs and optic nerves.
- Then, while turning, relax the eyes, optic nerves and the whole nervous system.
Practise for as long as you want, but no so long as to cause strain in of any kind in your body or mind.
Energy Exercise 4: The Kwa Squat
Now that you have practised a horizontal movement (moving side to side), we’ll repeat all steps from exercise 3, but this time we’ll practice a vertical movement (moving up and down), known as a kwa squat (see a video demonstration).
- Keep the eyes soft and do several squats with relaxed eyes.
- Next, relax your eyes and optic nerve.
- Finally, relax your eyes, optic nerve and nervous system.
Yin Eyes All the Time
Once you practise the prep exercises and four exercises above for some time, you can apply what you have learned any time–at work, when you’re on the computer for prolonged periods, when you feel anxirty or stress swelling or as you walk from point A to B. Remember to keep your eyes soft at all times and try to look forward on the horizontal plane when your body is erect. Let your eyes sweep, drop and rise with the natural movement of your body during movement, especially while training any movement art or exercise. You can achieve deeper relaxation and greater awareness with softer, yin eyes, while releasing tension and pain that make the eyes strain!