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Eyesight and the Alexander Technique

by Peter Grunwald


Perhaps you or your spouse or one of your children, your parents, or a friend depend on them--that is, on a pair of spectacles or contact lenses. Australian statistics show that nearly half of the adult population is behind glasses, and that about 80% will experience some form of visual malfunction during their lifetimes. Time Magazine's recent report showed that a staggering 90% of Asian school children are affected by shortsightedness alone.

Being fed up with wearing glasses was enough of an incentive for me to ask this question several years ago: Is it really necessary to wear glasses, even with a very high degree of myopia and astigmatism (-10.5 degrees)? Out of this simple question gradually came my work of applying the Alexander principles to improving eyesight and vision naturally.


The physiology of vision

The power of eyesight lies in the visual brain (visual cortex). The eyeballs are receivers of light particles that enter through the cornea and the lens. This light passes through the body of the eyeball onto the retina. Here we find about 137 million receptors or nerve endings, 5% of which are available for clear sight (fovea centralis), and 95% available for peripheral vision. The visual information then passes through the optic nerve into the brainstem, from where it radiates into the visual cortex that lies in front of the occipital bone. It is in this part of the brain where vision occurs, either in perceiving outside objects, or by visualizing in our "mind's eye".


How eyesight affects body use

The physiology of myopia, presbyopia, and astigmatism are similar in many ways, and are the most common visual problems in our Western world. The excessive use of only a small part of the visual cortex means that only 5% of our total vision capability is used. This implies that a major part of the visual cortex lies dormant, eventually affecting parts of the visual system and the sub-occipital muscles, so that the head tilts back and down. How we use our entire visual system affects the function of the eyes and the rest of the body.

In 1992 I discovered a patterned association between my eyes and the rest of my body. I found that every area of the eye, internal visual pathway, and visual cortex responds to an associated area in the body. Specific vision malfunction, such as short or farsightedness, astigmatism, middle-aged vision (presbyopia), squints, and lack of binocular vision have been seen to correspond with specific analogous tensions and contractions in the body. We can aid our vision by connecting it with related parts of the body; and we can learn to enhance our visual function through the increased kinesthetic awareness that is gained through study of the Alexander Technique. Discoveries learned through the Eye-Body Movement Method create a bridge between the Alexander Technique and the Bates Method for vision improvement.


Directions in the process of seeing

Over several years' time I have developed visual directions to include generally and specifically the eyes and the visual pathway. The directions are primarily based on the inter-relationship between the active function of the visual cortex and the subtle movements within the organs of seeing; and based secondarily on visual physiology. Applying those directions during day-to-day activities increases good use of the visual system. They can be applied specifically during reading small print close up, or shortshighted people can apply them when looking in the far distance.


How Prescription lenses influence the body

Prescription lenses focus the light only onto the fovea centralis, where we receive information for clear sight. This way of seeing excludes light from the all-important peripheral vision. Wearing glasses reduces mobility of the extrinsic eye muscles and numbs the intrinsic subtle movements of the rest of the visual system. Often the person who starts wearing glasses for the first time experiences his/her vision very soon becoming much poorer, which results in using glasses or contacts on a regular basis.

Each January since 1998, a group of enthusiastic and experienced Alexander teachers from around the world have explored the AT principles applied to vision and eyesight, coming together in Auckland, NZ. This year we found that glasses had a dramatic effect on our overall posture. Specifically we noticed an automatic slumping when putting on our glasses, even though we were directing our use as well as we could. The occipital bone and the lower back were particularly affected by the shortening and narrowing of the entire visual pathway.

Walter Carrington tells this story in an interview recently published in Direction Magazine (Vol. 2, #7, p. 30): "then there was the case of Alexander himself. After his stroke in 1947 he lost the co-ordination of his eyes, which is very common I believe, and this was corrected by him being prescribed prisms because of the loss of vision. This was a story he told himself. He said that a few years later he began to get very worried about his eyes. We didn’t know he was getting worried about them, but he was.

He said that his vision was getting worse and worse and he wasn’t even able to see with his binoculars and he was very worried about it because he thought this meant that there was deterioration after the stroke. So he eventually plucked up courage and went to see Andrew Rugg Gunn FRCS, the ophthalmic surgeon, who was an old friend and pupil of his and who, I think, had originally prescribed the prisms.

Rugg Gunn gave him a very thorough examination and looked into his eyes and when he concluded he said, “that’s good”. Alexander said, “What do you mean, ‘good’? and he said, “Well, your eyes have practically corrected themselves. Of course you can’t see with those glasses – you don’t need the prisms anymore.” And Alexander said it was such a relief to him because he had really been desperately worried. It had never occurred to him that his eyes had actually been rectifying themselves."

Unfortunately for us, F.M. has not written down anything on vision and eyesight during the last years of his life. It is now up to us to discover the mechanism involved that can apply Inhibition and Direction to improving eyesight and vision.


About The Writer

Peter Grunwald (M.STAT) wore glasses for myopia and astigmatism from age three. His overall ‘use’ and eyesight deteriorated and his glasses became stronger and stronger year by year. He studied the Alexander Technique from 1984-1987 at the Sydney Alexander Teachers’ Training School. From 1985-1990 he studied yearly with the late Marjorie Barstow who qualified in 1934 with F. M. in London.

It was then that he came across the Bates Method of improving vision naturally. Subsequently he trained in Australia and Germany with the late world-renowned vision instructor, Dr. Janet Goodrich. After habitually wearing glasses for 27 years, it took only eighteen months until he was absolutely free of them!

Peter then began researching and applying FM’s principles to the use of eyes and vision. By chance he discovered the principles of what he termed the Eye-Body Reflex Pattern in the early 1990s. Ever since he has continued to develop and refine a learning and teaching method which is based on the Alexander Principles and the Eye-Body Reflex Patterns.

He lives with his family in Auckland, New Zealand.

E-mail: Peter Grunwald


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