We live in a sea of screens. Indeed, many people spend 8 or more hours every day staring at various versions of them. Moreover, our eyes are constantly being stimulated by artificial lights — blinking traffic lights, neon lights, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), even energy-saving LEDs (which emit blue light that can generate high amounts of oxidative stress). Over time, this can spell trouble for the eyes, resulting in a condition now called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), characterized by: squinting, blurred vision, dry, red eyes, itchy eyes, watery eyes, double vision, headaches, neck or back pain.
If this sounds like you, you might want to try these exercises. We’ve dubbed them Eye Aerobics, many of which are derived from ancient practices like yoga to help combat eye strain and strengthen overall eye health. Turns out, humans down through the ages have needed to give their eyes a break!
- Palming. This simple exercise can be done any time of day to rest your eyes. Rub your palms together to generate some heat in your hands, then gently place them over your eyes in a cupping position. Let your eyes rest in the darkness. Relax, breathe for a few minutes. Enjoy the peace and solitude.
- Blink rapidly. Blinking helps nourish eyes while relaxing the muscles and preventing dryness. The ideal blinking rate is 25 times per minute, but when we’re intensely focused on a task, we tend to blink less. This exercise helps balance out those low-blink sessions. Sit in a comfortable position, relax and breathe deeply from your diaphragm. Then loosen your jaw, separate your lips, releasing any tension in your face or forehead. Find a point in the room to focus on, then blink rapidly 10 times in a row. Close your eyes for 20 seconds, then repeat this pattern 3 more times.
- Gaze up and down. Seated comfortably, relax and continue breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Then, picture a clock in front of you. Without moving your head or neck, shift your gaze up towards 12:00, then down to 6:00. This exercise is for your eyes only. Do this up and down stretch 10 times, slowly. After that, do the same thing right and left, 9:00 to 3:00.
- Eye circles. Always start by breathing deeply. To increase eye muscle flexibility, move your eye gaze around as big a circle as possible — no help from the neck or spine. Slowly look up towards the ceiling, then work your way around a clockwise circle. Try to get in at least 3 deep breaths per circle. Once you’ve reached the top, use the ‘“palming” method to rest your eyes. Do the same sequence counterclockwise.
- Shift focus. Our eyes have evolved to see details of ever changing distances, though today so much of our time is spent looking at materials up-close. This exercise helps retrain those muscles to function well in different perspectives. Start by holding your right arm out one full length in front of you and stick the thumb straight up. Focus your eyes on your thumb. Slowly move your thumb towards your face until it looks blurry. Pause, then slowly move your thumb back to the distant starting position. Repeat a few more times, always mindful of a slow pace and relaxed breathing.
- Fixed gazing at a candle (trataka). (Best done at home, not the office!). This is a meditation exercise that helps sharpen eye focus and sends energy to your third eye — the point between the eyes on the forehead that, according to ancient yoga tradition, guides intuition, and is believed to enhance concentration, memory and to quiet the restless mind. Set up a candle 3 feet away from you. Find a comfortable seated position, where you can keep the spine erect and the flame is level with your eyes. Stare into the flame with a fixed gaze, focusing only on breathing. Listen to the thoughts coming into your mind without judgement. Just let them float by like clouds. When your eyes begin to water, close them and rest in the darkness. Some yoga practitioners suggest doing this exercise for up to 40 minutes, but do whatever is comfortable for you.
If you feel yourself tensing up during any of these exercises, take a break, shake out, relax and breathe deeply before resuming.