The 36th Chamber of Shao Lin
I am thinking you probably don’t get to spend your day training like a Shao Lin monk, polishing your mind and your body as you move through 35 chambers of focused training.
When you do take time to exercise, do you give special attention to your eyes?
Throughout the day, instead of protecting our vision, strengthening our ability to detect motion, or improving our hand-eye coordination, we take our eyes for granted. We clock significant amounts of screen time…TV at home, the computer at work, and the iPhone or Blackberry on the road. And, our eyes suffer.
During the day, do you take a break from the screen, rub your eyes, let them rest, or refocus them on a faraway object?
As you age, do you accept weaker eyesight and deteriorating hand-eye coordination as inevitable?
Does focused exercise for your eyes seem like a weird idea?
Ahh, grasshopper, there is much to learn. Keep reading to discover the hidden secrets of massaging your eyes, strengthening the muscles that move the eyeball, and how to exercise the muscles that stretch the lens. Next, we will explore both modern and ancient methods for improving hand-eye coordination and peripheral vision. Train hard and you will keep your eyes healthy, improve your overall athletic performance, and learn to slow time.
As every journey must begin with a single step, let us consider this first set of exercises from the wikiHow post on How to Exercise Your Eyes.
(1) Sit comfortably on a chair. Rub your hands together until they feel warm. Close your eyes and cover them lightly with your cupped palms. Avoid applying pressure on your eyeballs. Place your palms so that the nose remains uncovered, and the eyes remain behind the slight hollow of the palms. Make sure that no light rays enter the eyes, and leave no gaps between fingers or between the edge of the palms and the nose. You may still see other lingering traces of colors. Imagine deep blackness and focus on the blackness. Take deep breaths slowly and evenly, while thinking of some happy incident; or visualize a distant scene. After your eyes see nothing but blackness, remove your palms from your eyes. Repeat the palming for 3 minutes or more.
(2) Close your eyes tightly for 3-5 seconds, then open them for 3-5 seconds. Repeat this 7 or 8 times.
(3) Close your eyes and massage them with circular movements of your fingers for 1-2 minutes. Make sure you press very lightly; otherwise, you could hurt your eyes.
(4) Press three fingers of each hand against your upper eyelids, and hold them there for 1-2 seconds, then release. Repeat 5 times.
(5) Sit and relax. Roll your eyes clockwise, then counter-clockwise. Repeat 5 times, and blink in between each time.
(6) Sit about 6 inches (150 mm) from the window. Make a mark on the glass at your eye level (a small sticker, black or red, would be perfect). Look through this mark and focus on something far away for 10-15 seconds; then focus on the mark again.
(7) Hold a pencil in front of you at arm’s length. Move your arm slowly to your nose, and follow the pencil with your eyes until you can keep it in focus. Repeat 10 times.
(8) Look in front of you at the opposite wall and pretend that you are writing with your eyes, without turning your head. It may seem difficult at first, but with a bit of practice it is really fun. The bigger the letters, the better the effect.
(9) Imagine that you are standing in front of a really big clock. Look at the middle of the clock. Then look at any hour mark, without turning your head. Look back at the center. Then look at another hour mark. Do this at least 12 times. You can also do this exercise with your eyes closed.
(10) Focus on a distant object (over 150 feet or 50 m away) for several seconds and slowly refocus your eyes on a nearby object (less than 30 feet or 10 m away) that’s in the same direction. Focus for several seconds and go back to the distant object. Do this 5 times.
(11) Focus on an object in the distance (as far as possible) with a low contrasting background. Do this for a few minutes every half hour or so. This does not improve your vision, nor does any other technique. It can, however, maintain your best eyesight level during the day and prevent significant further vision deterioration.
With eleven exercises, this is a comprehensive list. Some of the exercises are great for helping your eyes recover from too much screen time. Try the palming exercise, to give your eyes a break at different intervals during your work day or follow the directions for a gentle eye massage. Other exercises, like tracing the letters of the alphabet help you strengthen the muscles that move your eyes. While changing focus from near to far targets the muscles that stretch and contract your lens. And for all athletes, exercise 7, which focuses awareness on your peripheral vision, will improve performance and reaction times.
Now, let’s have some fun while working with our eyes. For this drill, all you need is a bucket, some tennis balls, and two people. One person stands with the bucket at their feet. The other person sets up about 2 meters away with all of the tennis balls. The person with the tennis balls tosses one to the person with the bucket, who uses one hand to grab the tennis ball out of the air, drop it in the bucket, and set up for the next incoming ball. After a few times through, the catcher recognizes that they do not need to change their focus from the ball to the bucket. They can find the bucket using their peripheral vision and maintain focus on catching the incoming tennis balls. Jump to the video at Stack TV to see how this drill works.
Hitting a speed bag is an all-time great exercise for developing hand-eye coordination and nothing sounds better than walking into a gym and hearing the tom-tom beat of a speed bag being worked. This video gives a decent explanation of how to get started.
How to Work a Speed Bag
If you are just starting out with a speed bag be patient. It takes practice to find your rhythm and adjust your reaction time. The bag used in the video is a very small, very light, very fast bag. Once you are an ace speed bag artist, bags like this are a blast to work with. But, when you are first starting out, they seem impossible to hit. Start with a big, fat, slow bag. This gives you plenty of target to hit and plenty of time to react. When you get bored with the big bag, swap it out for smaller and faster ones.
Volume matters. Commit to doing a lot of work on the bag. Set a timer or put your sets in the hundreds…do 100 with each hand, then 100 alternating hands. Doing volume work trains your eyes and hands and digs a groove in your muscle memory.
Once you get comfortable with the bag, there are lots of ways to use it. Here are some tips for beginners from world renowned boxing trainer Freddie Roach.
I have saved the best for last…the ultimate in hand eye coordination, fun, and entertainment…JUGGLING. I can unequivocally state that learning to juggle has changed my life.
The Book That Changed My Life
Since high school, juggling has helped me break the ice with kids all over the world. You don’t need to be able to speak the language to make people smile. All you need is three easy to toss objects (Tip: hacky sacks are light, easy to pack, and perfect for juggling).
The coolest thing about learning to juggle happens, when you get it…really get it for the first time. Time slows as your focus increases. You see the objects you are juggling as they move through their trajectory. With practice, you learn to relax, while simultaneously speeding up the processing of information. As your mind moves faster, the balls move slower and you know where to put your hands to make the right catch, the right toss, or the right adjustment. Seriously, learning to juggle changes your brain.
No ancient Chinese secret will restore your vision or miraculously fix long standing eye problems, but you can take better care of your eyes by resting them, massaging them, and exercising the muscles that move and focus them. Training for improved hand-eye coordination and increased peripheral vision can be fun and helps with general athleticism. To make your Kung Fu strong…Exercise your eyes and learn to juggle.