In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as in many other cultures, the eyes are the windows to the soul and they believe one can see the degree of a person’s shen, or spirit in them. They do not consider this to be a religious connotation, but more of a measure of a person’s vitality. In TCM, it is believed that if there is enough shen, that whatever the sign or symptoms of a person’s diagnosis can be overcome. Conversely, if a person does not have enough spirit or will to live, it does not matter if their diagnosis is minor, the prognosis will be more guarded.
So, how can you nurture your own shen? The Chinese believe that it is of paramount importance to live well. Include in your life good friends, family, quality interactions with people. They believe it is important to have regular moderate exercise, movement in life, regular sleep, good quality food and adequate nutrition.
Our eyes will easily show our stress and it manifests itself in a range of eye conditions such as when each eye cannot see equally well, or as astigmatism, for example. Eye conditions such as keratoconus can also be the direct result of severe and traumatic impact injury.
In TCM, staring such as watching a small screen television or a computer screen, is one of the most stressful activities on one’s eyes and vision. Martha relates a story as told to her by her acupuncture teacher who was sent by her family to New York City to assist a family friend in the hospital and when she arrived the patient was watching television. She immediately ran over, turned it off, and told him, “They’re trying to kill you!” This may seem extreme to our Western sensibilities, but to the Chinese, staring at a fixed screen such as a television or a computer screen is a terrible strain on one’s eyes. Staring lowers the kidney chi, or the immune system, which lowers the ability to heal.
There are three pairs of muscles to exercise when strengthening your eyes. The muscles that control up and down movements, the ones that control left and right movements, and the oblique muscles—the muscles that control eye movement on the diagonal. If they are not all used and equally strong specific eye conditions can develop such as wandering or lazy eye. In TCM, when all the eye muscles are not in balance this is considered a spleen condition. Their preferred way to correct an eye deficiency is to exercise all three sets of muscles so they are equally strong, instead of cutting the overly dominant muscle so it is equally as weak as the weak one. This is the common treatment in western eye care.
There are four main exercises in TCM to balance the yin and yang. Most of them can be done in a spare minute—while at a red light, waiting in line at the bank, watching your kids at the park.
- Opposites – first look into a bright light (not the sun) for 30 seconds. Second, cover your eyes completely so no light reaches them for 30 seconds. Repeat three or four times.
- Far & Near – follow your finger with your eyes without moving your head. The better you are at this exercise, the more slowly you can do it. Work on this one until it isn’t difficult.
- Relaxed & Tight – relax your eye muscles so your eyes are wide open and relaxed and there is no forced feeling about it. Then squeeze your eye muscles and scrunch your eyes as tight as you can. Hold each for five to ten seconds and repeat three to four times in a row.
- Hot & Cold – take slices of cucumber or zucchini for the cold and two tea bags in warm water (as warm as you can stand). First place the cold on your eyes until it warms and feel free to flip sides. Then take the tea bags and place them on your eyes until they cool. Repeat this a couple of times. This exercise needs the most time commitment, up to 30 minutes. An added benefit is it will reduce puffiness around the eye as well.
There are a number of additional resources for eye health and strength available online. Two significant ones include The Bates Method which includes an extensive list of exercises to strengthen and relax the eyes. Another has been pioneered by Dr. Benjamin Lane and is an excellent resource on nutritional eye health. He discusses a variety of issues that can lead to eye disease including excessive protein, vitamin C, and vanadium.
Nutrition is a very significant part of eye health. In order to maximize the health of your eyes, you’ll want to include the following: kale and other sources of lutines, antioxidants including berries and other vegetables with a purple/blue/black color, turmeric, minerals, B vitamins, and vitamin A. If you’re looking for herbal supplements to assist with some of these, try Sight Saver for cataracts and macular degeneration, Gingko, Bilberry, Herbal Mineral Tonic, or Horsetail for the selenium.