Posted by Paul Cavel on 13 July 2017
I don’t have to tell you that stress and tension have a way of building up during the day. In this Information Age, a lot of that tension gets stuck in our eyes and nervous system. So I’ve got a few exercises that will help you recognise when your eyes are becoming overloaded and what to do about it.
[Image © istockphoto/Dmytro]
Eradicate the Fixate-Dart-Fixate Pattern
During most activities, you turn, bend, stretch and move around in three-dimensional space in one way or another all the while your eyes involuntarily focus on objects in your field of vision. Often times, they remain fixed there until they jump to the next object, creating three bad habits:
- The mind is drawn outwards, causing consciousness to go external.
- The occiput — located at the base of your skull where the spinal cord meets the brain — closes down, restricting signals travelling between the brain and the body.
- The nervous system contracts, eliciting a stress response.
Until you become aware of the fixate-dart-fixate pattern in your eyes, you will continually rev up your nervous system. If you’re not sure this applies to you…
See for Yourself
Start from a relaxed and comfortable position and only do the following two experiments a couple of times to get the point. Neither should be practised long-term as they only serve to help you become aware of how intimately the eyes are connected to the nervous system.
- Choose an object close to you, fix your eyes on it and stare at it for a couple of minutes.
- Notice what happens to your body, nerves and mind. Can you feel any tension building?
- Now close your eyes, breathe into your belly and relax your eyes for a minute or two.
- 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 that’s okay.
The intensity or tension you feel from this exercise also happens involuntarily during times of stress and anxiety — whether you notice it or not.
Easy Energy Exercises for Releasing the Eyes
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 one-third of the way — not more or you can too easily go into all sorts of visualisations.
As your eyes soften even more, open up your peripheral vision.
Next, allow the object to come to you rather than projecting out to it. I’d bet your object of choice will remain there, but you’ll also have peripheral vision while remaining aware of what’s happening in your body. This can only happen while remaining totally relaxed and while maintaining soft eyes.
Finally, direct your mind behind your eyes into the optic nerve (where all visual information is passed to the brain), and feel that space. Try to directly let go and relax the optic nerve to positively affect the whole nervous system and brain, and deeply release the eyes.
Practise this exercise as frequently as you can, especially when you notice yourself getting stressed or revved up, or when anxiety strikes!
No Bug Eyes!
Have you ever noticed people’s eyes bugging out when their tense about something? If you practise releasing the eyes before work or exercising, 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 neutral standing posture before practising your forms, during your forms and at intervals during your day to stabilise your insides.
Exercise 2: Open the Occiput
Opening the occiput is best learned and initially practised in a neutral standing posture. When you look straight ahead, the occiput closes. So you want to align your head properly by bringing your eyes, ears and occiput onto a horizontal level. In this position, your eyes will naturally look down slightly and you must roll the eyes up in their sockets to look ahead.
Hold this posture and practise Exercise 1, softening and releasing the eyeballs and optic nerves.
See if you can become aware of any deep tension stuck in your occipital area. If you feel tension there, consciously relax it and drop it down your body into the ground.
You might only want to practise Exercises 1 and 2 for a week or so before moving onto Exercises 3 and 4.
Exercise 3: Shift Your Weight and Turn
With your head correctly aligned in your standing posture, look straight forward. Allow your eyes to soften and peripheral vision to widen.
Now you’ll add a simple movement to help you practise eradicating the fixate-dart-fixate pattern. Shift your weight and turn your pelvis. For qi gong, tai chi and bagua students, this motion is identical to how you would move in your form. 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 object to the next as you move. Try to relax your gaze and let whatever is around you come into your field of vision.
While keeping your eyes soft:
- Relax your eyeballs for several shifts and turns;
- Relax the eyeballs and optic nerves; and 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 of any kind in your body or mind. If you can’t maintain a soft focus, you know you’re revving your nervous system by trying too hard or for too long. You can build up endurance by training little and often rather than training a lot infrequently.
Exercise 4: The Kwa Squat
Once you’ve 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), using a kaw squat.
- Keep the eyes soft and do several squats with relaxed eyes;
- Relax your eyes and optic nerve; and then
- Relax your eyes, optic nerve and nervous system.
Yin Eyes Support Relaxation in Body and Mind
Once you practise the four exercises above for some time, you can apply what you’ve learned any time — whenever you feel anxiety or stress swelling or as you walk from point A to point 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 like qi gong, tai chi, bagua or yoga. You can achieve deeper relaxation and greater awareness with softer, yin eyes, while releasing tension and pain that cause stress and strain!
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In upcoming posts…
I’ll teach you a hybrid exercise that incorporates the two qi gong exercises posted previosuly for creating and using space in your body to deepen health benefits.