Monday, January 4, 2010

4. Directionals

The Idea: Directionals, or "eye yoga," are basic exercises moving the eyes in various directions. They can be done just about anywhere, anytime, including while practicing other stretches of the body.

Basic Directionals: Sit or stand comfortably with spine erect, breathing deeply, moving the eyes in each of the ways listed below. These directional exercises can be pretty intense, so start with the smallest number of repetitions of each, working your way up gradually over time, stopping at the threshold of discomfort. When you're done, close the eyes and cover them with your palms:
• Horizontals: Shift the eyes all the way to the left, then all the way to the right. Do this 3-10 times.
• Verticals: Move the eyes all the way up, then all the way down. Do this 3-10 times.
• Diagonals: Look all the way to the upper left, then to the lower right. Do this 3-10 times. Repeat on the diagonal of upper right to lower left.

Advanced Directionals: After practicing the Basic Directionals for a while, add the following exercises into your routine, initially closing the eyes and covering them with your palms after each exercise:
• Upper Arcs: Begin looking to the lower left, arcing the eyes in a ¾ circle up through far left, upper left, straight up, upper right, far right, and then lower right before moving the eye back up and around and back down to lower left. Do this 2-5 times.
• Lower Arcs: Begin looking to the upper right, arcing the eyes in a ¾ circle down through far right, lower right, straight down, lower left, far left, and then upper left before moving the eye back down and around and back up to upper right. Do this 2-5 times.
• Rotationals: Look up and then move the eyes clockwise as if visiting the farthest points of a compass (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW, and back to N) or clock (12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and back to 12). Do this 1-5 times, then repeat, moving the eyes counterclockwise.
• Gradually work toward smoothing out these polygonal movements, rounding out the corners and stutters into something more circular while still sending the eyes to their furthest points.
• If you find areas along your rotation that are not smooth or feel uncomfortable, you can "scratch" them (like a DJ scratches a record) by moving the eyes back and forth along that point.

What's Happening:
• There are 6 muscles around each eye which regulate all eye movements, including the ability for the eye to focus. Directionals stretch, strengthen and tone these muscles, helping improve the eyes' ability function normally and relax easily.
• Directionals help improve peripheral vision and get us to move and use our eyes in ways we aren't accustomed to, breaking stagnant vision habits in the process.
• Certain areas of discomfort are linked to emotional experiences. Many people have a tendency to avoid moving the eyes in ways that might trigger these emotions. By deliberately bringing the gaze over to explore these spots, one can release pent up feelings that may literally be clouding the vision. This can be difficult, but well worth it when a person is ready to go there.

More Info:
• All of the above Directionals can be found in Yogiraj Sri Swami Satchidananda's book Integral Yoga Hatha (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970), complete with photos and Sanskrit names. Ana Forrest includes Rotationals as part of her yogic eye exercise program as part of her larger mission to "mend the hoop of the people."
• Optemetrist/acupuncturist Dr. Marc Grossman has done extensive work on the relationship between vision and emotion, some of which appears in his book Greater Vision (McGraw-Hill, 2001).

Above: A diagram of the left eye muscles (labeled in French) in relation to the eyeball and "nerf optique."

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