Bates Method

From Academic Kids

For the general public and the orthodox ophthalmology the Bates Method is a controversial system of techniques that is intended to improve vision through a set of practices that are claimed to relax the eyes. It is the backbone of the natural vision improvement movement, and was first described in 1919 by William Horatio Bates in a book entitled Perfect Sight Without Glasses, then subsequently in his monthly magazine entitled Better Eyesight.

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W. H. Bates

Bates developed a theory that people with abnormal vision used their eyes differently than people with normal vision, then created a system designed to help people to relearn the right vision habits and to unlearn the wrong habits.

Advocates of the Bates Method claim that it is not based on doing eye exercises, but rather relearning and improving the right vision habits which they assert are inseperably connected to normal vision. They assert that the Bates Method is a natural method that improves movement, relaxation, and circulation of the whole visual system.

The core of the Bates Method consists of a set of practices which Bates advocates term "exercises in relaxation" and "movement exercises" [1] ( They state that the term "exercise" is used in the same sense as "memory exercise" and does not imply muscle strengthening. Advocates state that the Bates Method emphasizes the practice of deliberate movements of the body ("swinging") with relaxed awareness of vision; cupping or palming the eyes with the hands; attempting to see or visualize "perfect black"; and exposing the eye to as much full daylight as possible. Fundamentally, the Bates Method is said to require a holistic change in the way the body is used rather than any consciously applied eye exercises.


Eye Exercises

In recent years, the growing interest in alternative medicine has led to an increase in the popularity of the Bates Method and other methods claim success via visual training through eye exercises. One particularly controversial area is the efficacy of eye exercises in the treatment of myopia (near-sightedness) and whether the use of eyeglasses makes myopia progressively worse.

Several points-of-view exist about the use of eye exercises to treat vision problems:

  • Traditional mainstream ophthalmologists and optometrists use eye exercises to treat a limited range of problems, particularly problems involving muscular imbalances and problems with coordination of eye movement between the two eyes.
  • Functional optometrists and optometric vision therapists are licensed, credentialed doctors of optometry, who specialize in treatment that involves eye exercises. They hold that such exercises are useful in improving a wide range of visual conditions, including focusing problems. The methods used are said to be backed by clinical studies and publications in peer-reviewed journals.
  • The Bates method differs from other health systems that use eye exercises in a way that can be categorized as alternative medicine. Like homeopathic medicine, the treatments used and the explanations of how they are said to work are rejected by mainstream medicine, despite personal testimony by people who claim to have been helped by such methods.

The Bates Method

Theory of accommodation/focusing

Accommodation is the process by which the eye changes focus between objects that are far and objects that are near. Bates maintained that the eye focuses, not by the action of the ciliary muscles on the crystalline lens, but by varying elongation of the eyeball caused by the extraocular muscles.

Theory regarding the pathogenesis of refractive errors

Bates concluded that myopia was related to apprehension or what some may call "anxiety". He felt that good vision was nature's way and that any other way was a strained way of seeing.

Advocates of the Bates Method believe that excessive tension of the extraocular muscles changes the shape of the eyeball to cause decreased vision, and that by understanding this cause of decreased vision is essential to understanding how it may be improved.

Advocates of the Bates Method claim that excessive tension of the oblique muscles make the eyeball too long (leading to myopia), that excessive tension of the recti muscles make the eyeball to short (leading to hyperopia, and that excessive tesnion of the oblique and recti muscles make them astigamatic. They claim that Bates Method techniques can elleviate this excessive muscle tension to allow the shape of the entire eyeball to return to normal.

Advocates of the Bates Method believe that viewing books, computer monitors, and other close objects may cause weakening of this muscle and lead to myopia. They claim various exercises outlined in the Bates Method can strengthen those muscles, and that eyeglasses are an unnecessary crutch. Bates advocates also claim that the Tibetan eye chart has long been used for the purpose of helping to keep eye muscles toned and that acupressure techniques can be used to improve vision and increase circulation to the eyes.

Some advocates of the Bates Method propose that the myopic eye condition is not caused by weakened muscles, but by muscles that are being used improperly. It is suggested that when a myopic person focuses on distant objects, they are no longer relaxing the muscles used in accommodation. Instead, they are "straining" to see the distant objects with the same musuclar tension exhibited when viewing at the nearpoint. Dr. Bates believed that it was impossible to consciously relieve the eyes of this tensing and instead developed his method as means of effecting subconscious relaxation.


Advocates believe the Bates Method to be effective.


Advocates believe the Bates Method to be safe.

Criticisms of the Bates Method

Theory of accommodation/focusing

Critics of the Bates Method reject the theory that human eyes accommodate, or focus, due to elongation of the eyeball caused by “squeezing” of the extraocular muscles, as has been claimed to happen in some animals. Critics of the Bates Method instead support the mainstream theory that human eyes accommodate, or focus, due to the actions of the ciliary muscle (an intraocular muscle) and zonules changing the shape of the crystalline lens. To support this theory, critics of the Bates Method point to the action of various cycloplegic agents which temporarily paralyze accommodation by relaxing the ciliary muscle but leave the extraocular muscles, which control eye movements, unaffected. They also note that modern equipment, not available to Bates, has made possible the observation of the eye in great detail; such observations show the lens changing shape when the eye accommodates. [2] ( With the eye on the lenstheory versus the the eyeball theory it is very interesting to look at retinal detachment. This condition occurs more often when people have a high degree of myopia. Due to the elongation or growing of the eyeball the retina becomes thinner. Which increases the risk on detachment. [3] (

Theory regarding the pathogenesis of refractive errors

If the cause of myopia is continuous tensing of the muscles, either ciliary or extraocular, the Bates Method theory is that it should be possible to cure (or noticeably improve) it by causing intentional relaxation of the muscles; a process most commonly done using injections or topical administration of atropine. The consensus on this, however, is that no significant improvement of the vision is obtained when muscles are relaxed in this manner.

The mainstream objection to the Bates Theory of Myopia Pathogenesis is that the ciliary muscles which control focusing contract to focus on near objects and relax to focus on distant objects. It is near focusing, not far, that exercises these muscles. Thus, the effect of weakened eye muscles ought to be farsightness (hypermetropia) rather than nearsightness (myopia). The negative lenses that are used to correct myopia cause the muscles to work harder than they would otherwise need to and might, if anything, be expected to strengthen them. Accommodation to distant objects is a passive process and does not involve the use of muscles. In distant accommodation, the ciliary muscles simply relax; accommodation results from the elastic action of the suspensory ligaments and the lens of the eye itself. Therefore it is difficult to see how strengthening the ciliary muscles could improve distant vision.


Martin Gardner, in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, characterized Bates' book as "a fantastic compendium of wildly exaggerated case records, unwarranted inferences and anatomical ignorance." He suggested that the Bates method may however work, to a limited degree, by increasing the trainee's ability to interpret and extract information from blurred images.


Critics of the Bates Method concede that most of the Bates techniques are harmless, apart from the possibility that faith in the Bates system could deter people with eye conditions requiring prompt care from seeking conventional treatment. (One of his original exercises, however, involved looking directly at the sun, which is very dangerous; a 1940 revision of his book modified by suggesting that the sun shine on closed eyes.)de:Augentraining nl:Batesmethode


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