self-care practice 063: eyes

Intentionally relaxing the eyes after intervals of visual activity is an overlooked self-care practice. Today we help fill in that gap with an easy-to-implement exercise that has as a side benefit cultivation of self-awareness.

Our eyes move in various directions by virtue of both instructions given them by the mind and the muscles-nerves which connect with the visual organs. Generally speaking, maintaining health and flexibility in a given part of our being involves allowing that part different modes of expression as appropriate (keep in mind that no-expression is itself an important form of expression). It is no different with our eyes.

Largely creatures of habit, we humans tend to engage in the same limited number of expressive modes with our bodies. Regarding the eyes, we use them as a way of assessing, interpreting, and reacting/responding to the external environment. The eyes are capable of moving in an infinite number of angles/directions, yet we tend to look at our device screens and read books from the same distance every time. Focusing on an object of interest, the eye muscles hold their position; the energy is externally directed. Rare is it that we intentionally express them outside the mode of central vision on an object of focus, nor rest them outside of sleeping hours.

Limited movement variability becomes a normal way of living, a comfortable habit that causes no apparent problems. But without realizing it, this can develop into a picture of stagnation with the passing of time. Stagnation favors sickness just as standing water favors the breeding of mosquitoes. Our visual acuity becomes duller and duller. Those of us with glasses/contacts need progressively stronger prescriptions with the passing of time. Eye strain in the name of keeping up our productivity becomes associated with headaches, neck pain, and tight shoulders.

The preventive wellness lifestyle involves recognizing this possibility and taking right steps to keep ourselves in balance. We intentionally break established habits when Love deems it necessary. We institute new ways if those new ways confer benefit. We leave behind old ways if a harm risk inheres those old ways (understanding that naive neglect can add up to an unintended harm risk).

Given popular concepts of what “exercise” means, our associative faculties may go immediately to some idea of movements, reps, sets, resistance, etc. But the dynamic of today’s exercise is in the opposite direction of that spectrum. Any movement that takes place is secondary to the primary thesis of not-doing, similar to water in ice form melting into liquid form and effortlessly flowing into its whiskey bath (a 15-year single malt, in case you were wondering). The energy of tension in and around the eyes melts, and that energy simply reenters the lifestream.

The 14th century physician Zhu Dan-Xi remarked that Yang is often superabundant, Yin often insufficient. How relevant that statement remains for us productivity-minded modern humans some 700 years later!

Yang is planning, achieving, giving, thinking, “out-there”, male, mountain; Yin is relaxing, waiting, states of receptivity, feeling, “in-here”, female, valley. The intentional relaxing of the eyes described below allows us to intersperse a Yin thesis into our Yang lifestyle. For however long we agree to give ourselves per practice session, we switch the mind and the visual organs into Yin mode. We can re-engage with metaphorically and literally fresh eyes the day’s activities.

Method: Commit space and time to peel the eyes away from screen, page, or other activity. But, uh, if you did that right now you’d actually have to stop reading this. So don’t do that just yet.

Calm mind, check in with breathing. Ensure that you can be free of urgent matters for a minute or two. Put your device on silent if need be. Breathe relaxedly into belly and chest. Spine upright and un-tensed.

Close the eyes. Bring attention to the eyes. Let awareness stay here and, by extension, with self. Think to let the eyes gently withdraw into the orbits. Switch the operating of the mind from the mode of doing “out there” to the mode of connecting “in here”.

Like a hand clenched in a tight fist that can release tension and open, send directives to the eyes to relax. Remain with this mental intent for, say, 10 seconds. Let the relaxing be progressive. Feel that tension is melting in however small degree. It’s not the flipping of a switch from on to off, but more of a gradual process that continues for the duration. Even if the eye muscles don’t particularly feel tense to begin with, stay with it and see what happens. At the very least, you get points for deepening self-awareness. The actual number of seconds is not super-important; think more about quality of self-connection, and allowing the energy of the eyes to relax and withdraw.

Now extend your awareness to include the muscles of the face and jaw. Relax those, too. Soften.

Next, extend awareness to include the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Soften those, too. Relax.

Give yourself permission to stay in this state for, say, 3-7 breaths. Breathe calmly, a little more deeply than usual.

Whenever you’re ready, open the eyes back up and carry on. Simple. Lemon-squeezy. But why not add just a few moments of heart-level gratitude, and/or honoring yourself for loving self enough to care for self in this way before you resume the day’s activities. Just a suggestion.

Recommended dose: the 3-7 breaths mentioned above is only a recommendation, given in the context of a short break between or within activity. Suggested frequency: every two to three hours

Caution: watch for a feeling of becoming sleepy. This indicates the need for lifestyle changes in that department. Watch for thoughts of “Uckh, I can’t do this, I got so many other things to do.” Really? Challenge it.

Though the words in this instructional take up space, the practice itself may only be 30-45 seconds of clock-time–longer if you like; it’s all up to you! It is a useful and beneficial pause, a mini-reset during the day.

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Points to ponder

Perhaps you will note the arising of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that want to pull you away somewhere else. Practice being the observer of such phenomena. Train the mind patiently to keep with this exercise. If you do become distracted, acknowledge it, release any judgments about it, and simply return to the practice.

This related post pairs nicely with the above; it contains instructions in an exercise for letting the eye muscles express in variable ways

Self-care is important. Challenge yourself to make time for it. There’s always an excuse handy to not practice. Challenge those excuses with your discerning wisdom.

Relaxing the mind helps relax the body. But since mind and body are heads and tails of the same reality, we can relax the body to relax the mind.

It’s kinda like brushing our teeth. meh, I’ll do it when I feel like it gives small benefit, doing it regularly gives greater benefit.

They say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But should we wait until something is broke before we fix it? Sometimes “it” is in the process of breaking, or breaking down, or becoming sick and we don’t realize it. No alarms are sounding. Our attention is focused on other matters. All seems normal. Sometimes you want to fix “it” proactively in the name of preventing the broke state from occurring.

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I welcome any thoughts, comments, reflections, or questions you may have. Please share as you see fit, thanks for your interest!

Copyright (c) 2020, Justin Jaucian

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