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Bates Method

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The Bates method, often considered the backbone of the natural vision improvement movement, utilizes a series of relaxation exercises intended to improve vision and reverse some sight disorders. According to the theory behind this method a multitude of eye conditions can be attributed to various types of mental strain. The Bates exercises are used to remove mental strain allowing sight to return to normal. Examples of disorders said to be improved by this method are hyperopia, presbyopia, myopia, astigmatism, cataracts, amblyopia, strabismus, glaucoma, blepharitis, diseases of the optic nerve and retina, and conjunctivitis.  

William Horatio Bates first introduced this method in 1920 in his book Perfect Sight without Glasses (now published under the title Better Eyesight without Glasses).  Bates also published a monthly magazine called Better Eyesight, which also included information on this method.  In these publications Bates stated several reasons he believed were the root of vision abnormalities. Bates believed that excessive use of the extraocular muscles could lead to either hyper or hypo elongation of the eyes resulting in abnormal vision.  Other mental strains in the brain could also result in eye disorders.  In addition, he claimed that people with vision problems do not use their eyes the same way that people with normal vision do.  The Bates method was therefore developed in order to retrain people to use their eyes correctly as well as to remove the mental stains through relaxation exercises.

The Bates method was controversial at the time of its development and to this day conventional medicine rejects its efficacy.  The main dispute of this method is a difference in opinion on how the eye focuses on objects that are close or far.  Bates believed that the body uses the extraocular oblique muscles to elongate the eyeball in order to focus rather than the conventional belief that the ciliary muscles adjust the eye's lens to focus. Critics have challenged the Bates hypotheses with experiments in which cycloplegic agents are used to temporarily paralyze the ciliary muscles yet leave the extraocular muscles unaffected.  In these experiments the patients' eyes are unable to focus, supporting the theory that the lens changes to achieve focus.  

Both supporters and critics of the Bates theory find it to be safe without side effects with one exception.  Critics worry that it may give false hopes to people with eye disorders and may prevent them from seeking conventional optometry.

Author: Bronwyn Bacon, ND Candidate '09

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