Do you ever find yourself squinting and rubbing your eyes after a long stretch in front of a computer? If so, you’re not alone. Average adults now spend more than eight hours a day staring at screens of one sort or another. And this growth in “screen time” has brought an increase in adults suffering from blurred vision, itchy and watery eyes, headaches, double vision, and other symptoms of eye strain.
Screens—including those on computer monitors, tablets, and smart phones—force users to focus their eyes intently at a single distance near the face. “The eyes were not made to do extensive close work,” said Marc Grossman, behavioral optometrist, licensed acupuncturist, and author of five books on natural eye care. “But now, almost all of our processing is happening at a near distance, and that puts extra strain on eye muscles.”
Eye yoga is the latest wellness trend to hit the headlines, but it’s actually as old as yoga philosophy itself, with its asanas (yoga poses), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation. Like many other ancient practices that were built upon practical experiences and intuition, modern scientists have only recently started to explore the benefits of eye exercises, which span better eye focus and a heightened sense of calm.
When mindfully practiced, these simple exercises rest overused muscles, reduce tension in the face and eyes, and help strengthen muscles that help the eyes focus. “By making the eyes more flexible and adaptable, you can keep eye problems from getting worse, and can even improve them,” said Dr. Grossman.
Aside from the physical benefits, yoga teachers sometimes offer these exercises for another reason: to draw one’s attention inward. This, in turn, can help cultivate a keener sense of body awareness, inner presence, and well-being. “By controlling the eyes, you’re controlling the mind,” says Ananda, a yoga teacher at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm in Grass Valley, California. “There’s a physical benefit, of course, but there’s a mental benefit as well.”