William Bates Eye Exercises: Do They Work -Book Cover

William Bates Eye Exercises: Do They Work?

I remember picking up the book, Better Eyesight Without Glasses by Dr Bates many years ago when I was a teenager. I was excited as I thought this book was going to provide me with all the tools I needed to be rid of my glasses for ever. Although the book was useful and provided exercises to relax the eyes, I didn’t see improvement myself. To be fair, though, I didn’t persevere with the program for a long period of time. However, coming back these many years later to re-visit whether short sight or myopia can be improved naturally, I strongly believe that there is some value in the Dr William Bates Eye Exercises. So, William Bates Exercises: Do They Work?

Brief History of The Bates Method

Dr Bates was really a pioneer of his time (he lived from 1860 to 1930). He was a lecturer of ophthalmology and practitioner in New York. His peers were ingrained in their thinking that glasses could only provide the only answer to correct short sight. He, on the other hand, was going against the tide as it were by advocating a different course of treatment.

He believed the external eye ball muscles not only deal with eye movement but also the lengthening and shortening of the whole eye. This theory seems to be debunked by other eye improvement educators (for want of a better phrase!) these days.

He taught that through a series of exercises, changes in diet (cutting down on caffeine and eating healthily for example) and visualization techniques, eyesight could be improved naturally without the need for glasses.

Unfortunately, his methods of correcting eyesight didn’t hit the mainstream. The other method ( the generally accepted Helmholtz theory of correcting eyesight with glasses) became the only real option. Until later, of course, with the introduction of contact lenses and Lasik eye surgery.

The Exercises

The William Bates Eye Exercises: man exercising

His methodology is heavily centered on relaxing the eyes. This, I believe, is a good starting point. But this does not provide a comprehensive package for eyesight improvement. The exercises include the following:

  • Palming: this involves covering both eyes with your cupped hands so no light gets through. There should be no pressure applied to the eyes. The elbows should be resting on something (e.g. a table). But there should be no strain on the back or shoulders. This can be done for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. This is my favorite of his exercises. I find that my eyes are refreshed after doing it.
  • Sunning: this is probably best done using a table light than natural sun light. Obviously looking straight at direct sunlight is to be avoided! The exercise involves slowing moving your head from side to side in front of the lamp with eyes closed. As you turn your eyes you are visualizing an imaginary far point. The light should not be too close such that it is too bright in your eyes.
  • Short Swinging: this is one of a series of swinging exercises. This involves standing in front of a window (for example) and seeing through that an object in the distance (like a tree). In a relaxed position (arms by your sides) slowly move from one leg to the other. After about ten swings, close your eyes and visualize the objects as you continue to swing. Open your eyes again and repeat the process.

A lot more detail on these and other Bates Method exercises can be found at www.bateseyeexercises.com.

Why I Think It Does Not Improve Eyesight

There are many web sites and You Tube videos advocating the success of the Bates Method. There are testimonials of people saying through this method they now have 20/20 vision or at least improved eyesight through this method. So I can’t say for certain that it does not work.

As I explained in my previous post  [click here if you want to read it] relaxation of the eye muscles is an important step. But, for me, you also need to stimulate the eyes to bring them back to focusing as they should be. How can this be done?

The Alternatives

Mainstream thinking is that short sight can not be corrected naturally: it is anatomically impossible, they say, to correct the elongated shape of the eyes. There are those, however, who say this is not correct. [See endmyopia.org]. It was the use of glasses, they say, that made the shape of the eye elongated in the first place. By stimulus of the eye (mainly by the use of under correction of lenses) the shape of the eye will alter as the focal point alters from just beyond the back of the eye to just before the back of the eye.

The under correction of the lenses is not dramatic (could be at 0.25 of a diopter at time for example) and in stages. So personally I intend to try to reduce the strength of my glasses from a -5.25 to a -5.00 initially. After 2 or 3 months if I see improvement, I will reduce this further and so on. This gives the eyes a challenge to focus but not too much of a challenge that it results in strain. By giving the eye a gradual stimulus, the eye adjusts itself. (Obviously, it goes without saying that you should use your normal prescription when doing those things that require it such as driving!)

Also, I will have different pairs of glasses for different environments. So for outdoors where I am looking into the distance, I will require the -5.00 (or what my prescription would be if I dropped a further -0.25 off it). But for, say, indoor computer work, I would require far less. I should be able to get away with -3.75 lens. While it may not be so clear as normal, it would still be clear enough to be comfortable for the eyes and also providing that stimulus.William Bates Exercises Do They Work: woman reading

I am not medically trained so I must stress that I am just setting out what I plan to do and then update my progress on this site as I go along. I am not giving prescription advice.


Unlike the Bates Method, there is not a lot of changes in your lifestyle that is required to carry it out. So there is more likelihood that it can be adhered too. It makes a lot of sense too. The eyes adapt to the environment they are in. Look up Cliff Gnu on You Tube and read his ‘the no bullsh#*t guide to vision improvement’ for more details on this method.

It’s a Starting Point But Not The Full Package

I am thankful for Dr Bates for what he did. He stood up against the mainstream thinking of his time. He offered an alternative way instead of the conventional prescribing of glasses. Others later could build on that alternative thinking. It is easy for some now to criticize his methodology. But he was the one to take that first important step to think outside of the box (or in his case, the glasses!)

If you have a comment on this post, please leave one below. Thanks.




4 thoughts on “William Bates Eye Exercises: Do They Work?”

  1. Hello, your site looks well organized and well written. You provide a lot of important information and it reflects your level of expertise in the subject.

    I got a little bit lost when trying to understand the units you use to describe the under correction of lenses. I think it will be helpful if you could explain what a diopter is. I think a few eye diagrams to help explain the topics discussed will also help.

    You are very familiar with your topic. Keep it up!

    • Jose, thanks for your comment. Apologies for the lack of explanation. I take this on board for the next posts and yes, eye diagrams are needed!

  2. Hello James, I find your article very interesting. I don’t wear glasses, but I am very nearsighted out of my left eye can (with difficulty) only see from 2 to 3 inches away. While in High School I saw an eye doctor, and he said there were no lenses that could help me. That was back in 1987, but maybe there’s something that could help me now. I’ll give the exercises a try and see.

    The exercises are similar to meditation in that they involve relaxation and visualization. It is no secret that the mind is a powerful tool and I’m sure that it plays a vital role in these exercises – if done correctly as Dr Bates instructed.

    Thanks for your insightful article. Take care.

    • Thanks Jose. You are right. The mind is a powerful tool. I don’t think many appreciate its importance in the ability to see well. I wish you success in your exploration of alternative ways to see further.


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