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Linda Gi, of Ashland, demonstrates a motion from the Bates Method, an exercise to help with eyesight. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Optimal eyesight

You can get over a cold, but you can't get over poor eyesight — or so goes conventional wisdom.

But Karen Kiester of Ashland doesn't buy that. She teaches methods of movement, relaxation, visualization and breathing that she believes promote clearer vision.

In Kiester's class, "Move Into Optimal Eyesight," based on a 120-year-old program called the Bates Method, students practice these steps: remove your glasses, blink every couple of seconds, slowly take five deep breaths while "palming" (blocking all light by putting the hands over the eyes), do head rolls to loosen stress and tension in your neck, look up often from reading or a screen to a point about 20 feet away — then try to read without your glasses.

Bad eyesight, explains Kiester, is not always natural. It's something we pick up from the stresses of civilization, such as overwork, personality conflicts, illness, lack of sleep, too much time at screens, being immobile at computers so our backs and necks get stiff (the ocular center is approximately at the back of the neck).

"Vision becomes optimal when you stay in the present, in your mind and body, instead of preoccupied, as we usually are, focusing on what we're upset about and what we're going to do tomorrow," says Kiester. "Take in where you are and what or who you're interacting with."

A lot of vision problems stem from the fact that we've moved into a two-dimensional world — of screens, televisions, books, magazines — when we evolved to be in a three-dimensional world full of color, texture and shadow, where we often scanned the forests and hills around us for prey and predators. In that world, we didn't need glasses. Looking up often and blinking helps ground our eyesight in that natural world.

All functions of our bodies, including vision, need lots of water, oxygen, nutrition, light and movement — and sitting at a screen for hours, we tend to forget about these needs, says Kiester. We end up thirsty, hungry, underoxygenated and tense, and these keep us from seeing well.

Water is big, and breathing is "huge," says Kiester, noting that some pilots whiff from oxygen tanks as they get ready for landings. It sharpens vision as well as the mind. Many nutrients and supplements, including carotene (in carrots), bilberries and lutein (a carotenoid found in green, leafy vegetables) aid vision, she adds.

Kiester has her students stand, loosen up their necks and shoulders and, with their eyes, follow their fingers as they swing their hands in great circles to the sides, remembering to focus on both the hand and the far-off background.

The Bates Method, created by opthamologist William Bates in 1891 and widely taught in the first half of the 20th century, has been surrounded by much controversy — with the medical profession proclaiming lack of results and danger to people who should be wearing appropriately strong glasses for driving and other tasks.

The practices were lauded by famous novelist-philosopher Aldous Huxley in his book, "The Art of Seeing" (1942), where Huxley wrote that his eyesight had become twice as good as it was, venturing that "Vision is not won by making an effort to get it: It comes to those who have learned to put their minds and eyes into a state of alert passivity, of dynamic relaxation."

The Bates Method may seem like magic, with widely varying results — and Kiester does allow that a lot depends on a positive mind-set and use of positive words about your vision.

"Language is huge. People who say, 'I'm blind as a bat,' tend not to see well. The belief system is huge. Say 'I can see.' "

People need to get outside more, says adds, and actively move around and take in the three-dimensional world in which we live, with all its colors and shapes.

"TV and computers are flat, with the illusion of 3-D, and make us stiff. Our world is meant to be lively and moving," she says. "We still have our hunter-gatherer bodies. We've had them far longer than our screens. We are used to paying attention to our world because we didn't want to be lion chow. We've always looked near-far-near-far in a fluid way."

In our culture, we routinely put kids in glasses, and if later they can't see well, we put them in stronger and stronger glasses without addressing all the other needs that support good vision, she says.

In our stressful, 2-D world, we might have to accept the fact that vision isn't going to be perfect, but it can vary in one day across a range from 20/20 to 20/250 and back, with lots of it looking like an Impressionist painting of Monet, that we should just relax and enjoy.

Kiester gives classes regularly. Her next vision improvement workshop is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Family Massage Education Center in Ashland. She can be reached at 541-941-8432.

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