[This article originally appeared on The Alternative Daily here.]
They say your eyes are the window to your soul. Well then, shouldn’t we give them a little TLC? If you stare at a computer screen all day, like the majority of Americans, then this article is for you. Here’s how to do eye yoga to reduce eyestrain, keep eye muscles sharp, promote better eyesight and more.
Why your tired eyes need yoga
If you spend eight or more hours staring at a computer screen every day, your eyes might be in trouble — and you might not even know it! Over time, you could develop a condition called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), which is characterized by several signs:
- Blurred vision
- Dry, red eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Watery eyes
- Double vision
- Neck or back pain
If this sounds like you, you might want to give eye yoga a try. It’s been in use for centuries, helping to combat eye strain, vision issues and more. Try these strengthening exercises for improved eye health:
1. Practice palming
Our eyes are used to staring at lights all the time. From the moment we wake up, we’re taking in the blue light emission on our phone, artificial lights in our office and blinking lights in traffic. That’s a lot of stimulation for the eyes! This simple palming exercise can give them a rest, any time of day.
Rub your palms together to create some heat in your hands, then gently set them over your eyes in a “cupping” position. Allow your eyes to rest in the darkness. Relax and breathe here for a few minutes, enjoying the peace and solitude this brings.
2. Blink rapidly
Blinking helps to nourish the eyes while relaxing the muscles and preventing dryness. Ideally, we would all blink 25 times per minute. However, when we’re intensely focused on something — like a detailed Excel spreadsheet or a shocking YouTube video, we may blink less. Here is an exercise to help you balance out intense staring sessions.
In your comfortable seated position, relax and breathe deeply using your diaphragm — you’ll see prana (focused breathing) come up over and over again. Now loosen your jaw, separating your lips from one another, releasing any tension in your face or forehead. Find a point of focus, then blink rapidly 10 times in a row. Close your eyes for 20 seconds, then repeat this exercise three more times.
3. Gaze up and down
Now that your eyes are warmed up, use this simple up and down movement from Yoga Journal. Make sure to relax and check in with your breath again. Next, imagine a clock in front of you. Shift your gaze up towards 12:00 then down towards 6:00. Be careful not to move your neck; this exercise is for your eyes only. Do this up-and-down eye stretch 10 times, slowly back and forth. After your done, try the same exercise looking left to right.
4. Do eye circles, both directions
Think of this as flexibility training for your beautiful eyes. Yoga International recommends moving your eye gaze around in as big a circle as possible, without using any help from your neck or spine. Start by remembering to breathe deeply. Send your eye gaze up towards the ceiling, and slowly work your way around in a clockwise circle. Try to squeeze in at least three deep breaths per circle. When you’ve reached the top, rest your eyes with the “palming” method. Try the same sequence again, moving counterclockwise this time.
5. Shift your focus
We’re not meant to look at up-close materials all the time, and yet we do! This simple exercise of shifting your focus will help retrain your eyes to see detail at different perspectives.
First, hold your right arm out one full length in front of you and stick the thumb straight up. Focus your eye gaze on your thumb. Slowly move your thumb towards your face until it appears blurry. Pause, then slowly move your thumb away from you back to the starting position. Repeat this a few more times, being mindful of your pace and breathing.
6. Try trataka (fixed gazing at a candle)
Obviously, don’t do this at work if you shouldn’t be lighting candles, but feel free to give this a try the next time you’re relaxing at home. This meditation exercise will help sharpen the focus of your eyes and send energy to your third eye — the point between the eyes on the forehead that guides intuition. Trataka is also said to enhance concentration, improve memory and quiet the restless mind.
Here’s how to try the ancient practice of trataka: set up a candle three feet away from you. Find a comfortable seated position, where you can keep your spine erect and the flame is level with the eyes. Next, using a fixed gaze, stare into the flame and focus only on your breathing. Listen to the thoughts that enter your mind, without judgment. Simply let them float by like clouds. When your eyes begin to water, close them and rest in the darkness. Some yoga practitioners recommend this exercise for up to 40 minutes, but do what makes sense for you.
Always give your eyes a break
In addition to doing eye yoga regularly, there are a number of things you can do to reduce eye strain. When you’re at work, make sure to follow the 20-20-20 rule. This means every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Also, make sure to complete the following tips from the American Optometric Association:
- Reduce the glare on your screen by angling your computer away from the window or adding a glare filter to your monitor.
- Rearrange your monitor so that it is 20 to 28 inches from your face and 15 to 20 degrees below eye level. You shouldn’t have to stretch your neck like a turtle or squint your eyes to see what’s on the screen.
- Adjust the brightness on your monitor away from factory settings, particularly if you’re working after dark. The blue light emitted from screens interrupts natural melatonin production, the hormone that lets you know it’s time to sleep. In other words, if your screen is too bright, it’ll interrupt your natural circadian rhythm and ability to get deep, healing sleep.
In yoga, there’s a stretch for just about everything — and the eyes are no exception. After all, they work just as hard as any other muscle in the body. Practice eye yoga every day to keep your eyes sharp while giving them the break they deserve.
— Hilary Lebow