As photographers, our perception of the world around us is our most important tool, and our only interface to the visible world. There's much to be said about reducing screen-time, but it may not be practical for everyone. Instead, here's another way to relieve your eyes; with a simple daily routine.
Two conditions that may benefit from regular exercises are eyestrain and short sight (also known as Myopia).
What Is Eyestrain?
Eyestrain occurs due to excessive and intense use of your eyes. Typically, eyestrain is the result of long sessions of computer use, gaming, driving long distances, or extended use of digital devices. Common symptoms are sore, burning, watering, dry, itchy, or tired eyes.
These are usually temporary symptoms but they can affect our ability to get work done. As a photographer who uses a bright computer screen in a dark studio for hours, and then spends many more hours editing these images, I often suffer from eyestrain and its associated issues — like headaches.
What Is Short Sight?
Short sight or Myopia is a condition where the eye is unable to focus accurately on far-off objects. This could occur when your eyeball changes shape slightly. Typically, this is corrected by the use of prescription glasses.
There is anecdotal evidence that short sight may be relieved by regular practice of some exercises, but there is no conclusive evidence at this time.
How Eye Exercises Can Make a Difference
Our eyes move and focus by the contraction of muscles. These contractions change the shape of the lens, and consequently, the point of focus. This is fundamentally much the same as the way in which your camera's lens operates.
When the muscles aren't used often; for example, when the eye doesn't have much range of movement, or when there are few changes in focus point over a period of time, they can become weakened.
The muscles in our eyes are no different from any other muscle in our body. As they become weaker they are more likely to be fatigued and prone to strains. Thankfully this can be overcome with a daily routine of eye relaxation, and exercise.
There are eye exercise traditions in many parts of the world. Yoga, as well as some martial arts and eastern medical practices, use similar eye exercises to ensure that their practitioners retain sharp eyesight. Let's get started.
Strengthen Your Eyesight With These Exercises
Practice these exercises when you're relaxed, and not immediately after using your eyes for long hours. Remove your glasses before you begin.
Ensure that you're sitting upright, with your neck and spine straight. Keep your shoulders square and relaxed. Breathe slowly and deeply while you maintain this posture.
Remember to gradually increase the numbers and duration of these exercises, and to do them slowly, with pauses in-between.
You DO NOT have to do every one of these exercises every time, or every day. Do what you can at first, and add on more repetitions or exercises as they begin to feel easier day by day.
Start by relaxing your eyes further with this easy palming technique.
- Rub the palms of your hands together fast until the friction generates some heat.
- Now place them gently over your closed eyes and enjoy the warmth.
- Repeat this a few times. When you feel relaxed, move on to the next exercise.
You can perform palming in between each eye exercise, or even when you're in front of your computer, or during a photoshoot.
2. Looking Side-to-side and Up-and-down
You can perform these exercises with your eyes closed, or open. If your eyes are open, focus on a distant object for a few seconds at the end of each movement.
- Without moving your head, look as far right as you can. Hold this for 3 seconds, then move your eyes as far left as you can, and hold for 3 seconds. Repeat the left to right movement 10 times.
- Still keeping your head immobile, look as far up as you can. Retain the position for 3 seconds, and then move your gaze as far down as you can; hold for 3 seconds. Repeat this 10 times.
- Close your eyes for 15-20 seconds and then repeat the previous sequence two more times. You can practice palming during this short break to give your eyes some relief.
3. Figure of Eight, Diagonals, and Circles
- With your eyes open, trace a giant horizontal figure-of-eight (or infinity loop) pattern with your eyes. Make sure your eyes move to their maximum extent when doing so. Repeat this for a few minutes before reversing the direction of movement.
- Similarly, imagine a massive box with diagonal lines joining each corner. Move your eyes to each of these corners following the path of these lines. Repeat this 10 times.
- Finally, imagine a gigantic circle, and trace its path with your eyes 10 times. Reverse the direction and repeat 10 more times.
4. Focusing Near and Far
This exercise trains the internal focusing muscles while the previous exercises trained the muscles outside the eyeball.
Do this exercise while relaxed. You can be either sitting or standing when you do it.
- Keep your index finger (or thumb) about 10 inches directly in front of your nose.
- Focus your eyes on your finger. You may find that your eyes take a while to focus; let them settle for a few seconds.
- Now shift your focus to an object that is placed 20 feet or further away. Once your eyes settle on the object, focus back on your finger.
- Repeat this 10 times or more.
- Relax for 15 seconds, before repeating the whole sequence two more times or until you feel some fatigue.
This is a similar exercise to the previous one but involves focusing from close to medium distances. Get started by sitting or standing with a straight, but relaxed posture.
- Stretch out your arm in front of you, and make a fist with your thumb or index finger sticking up. Focus on the finger.
- Slowly bring your finger closer to your nose, while keeping the finger in focus. Stop around 3 inches away from your face
- Move your finger away from your face once again, until your hand is once again fully extended.
- Repeat this as many times as possible, for a duration of about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Rest for 30 seconds before switching to a different exercise.
Rest, Breaks, and Blinking
During these exercises and while working during the day make frequent, short pauses to rest your eyes. You can use the palming technique to soothe your eyes.
When performing tiring tasks, especially in front of a computer, or other digital devices, it has been shown that we do not blink as much as we should. Taking regular breaks, and remembering to blink more frequently can help our eyes to cope better.
Remember to take a break from your screens, and to focus on far-off objects every 20 minutes for a few seconds. This short action will help relieve your eyes.
Have you ever imagined not being able to use your eyes? As photographers, most of us can't. It's up to us to keep them in good health.
While these exercises can help reduce eyestrain, they are no excuse for missing your annual eye checkup. These exercises should not be used as a replacement for using prescription glasses, or for seeking appropriate medical attention when required. None of this article constitutes medical advice.
Readers who may have more serious eye issues should first seek the advice of their ophthalmologist before attempting any of the actions mentioned above.
Yoga teacher, Yasmin Ponnappa, who vetted this article for accuracy adds that people who use high-powered prescription glasses (diopter of 5 or more) should avoid doing these exercises altogether, or risk affecting their eyesight further.