Yoga For Eye Health
Eyes are one of the ‘special’ sense organs in the body; which means that the eyes are irreplaceable in the body and their function cannot be performed by any other organ. The eyes are located on the head which means they are not covered by clothing or any protective layers. This, along with their intricate structure and nerve and blood supply makes them susceptible to various discomforts and diseases which can be mild and temporary to serious and permanent. In this article, in addition to a brief introduction to the structure and the function of the human eye, we shall discuss common problems of the eye with an emphasis on which disorders can be prevented and managed at home without medical intervention; with yoga practices that generally suit all individuals.
IntroductionEvery organ in the body serves at least one important purpose in the body, the purpose could be anatomical (structural) or physiological (functional). However, some organs are considered vital, which means they are essential for the body to survive; for example, the heart and the lungs. Then there are non-vital organs, which perform important functions but the body can manage without them; for example, the reproductive organs and the limbs. Some organs perform special functions of sensing occurrences around us and send information about them to the brain. They are called special senses and help us sense pleasant as well as dangerous components around our body. The eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the skin are considered special senses with the first four located within the head, close to the brain.
Eye: Structure And FunctionThe eyes are located symmetrically in the front of the skull with a major part of their structure enclosed within a spherical cavity. The eyes receive a dedicated nerve supply with mainly sensory and motor functions. These nerves are crucial in the functioning of the eye since the motor nerves regulate eye movement and the sensory nerves transmit visual signals to the brain for processing. The eye receives a profound blood supply by branches of the artery. The eye is made up of a lens held in place by the ciliary muscle, dividing the whole eye into anterior and posterior parts. The anterior (or front) part consists of the iris, the cornea, the pupil and the conjunctiva; and the posterior (or back) part consists of the retina, the macula and the aqueous humor connected with the optic nerve and the blood vessels.
- The lens is a muscular form of the converging glass lenses we use for studying optics and in daily objects like a laser light, a microscope, a magnifying glass, a camera, etc. It focuses the light rays incident on it, on to the retina.
- The ciliary muscle’s function is to facilitate adaptation and adjustment of the eye lens as the need be. It is a part of the ciliary body, which also secretes a jelly called the aqueous humor.
- The iris is the muscle that facilitates the adjustment of the pupil; it is also responsible for providing a specific color to our eye lens.
- The pupil is the small black circle in the center of the eye that increases or decreases in diameter with an increase of or decrease in the ambient light around us. It acts like the door of the eye which decides how much light shall enter; it expands when it’s dark around the viewer and contracts when it is bright.
- The cornea is like a covering of the eye lens; any light entering the eye is the first incident on the cornea and any injury like a rough rub affects the cornea first.
- The conjunctiva is a thin membrane that protects the eye from injury and foreign particles. It also lubricates the eye and prevents it from drying.
- The retina is the screen at the back of the eye where pixel images are formed after proper convergence done by the lens. In a healthy eye the retina lies at the focus of the eye lens.
- The macula holds special cells that perform the function of reception of raw visual signals in a form differentiable on the basis of shape and color.
- The aqueous humor is a jelly that perfectly fits the inside of the eye. Its function is to maintain the shape and tension in the eye.
- The optic nerve transmits the pixel signals received from the eye to the concerned part of the brain where they can be integrated and processed into a whole image.
Common Eye Disorders And Their CausesStye, blurred vision, dry eye, defected vision, one eye functioning better than the other one, watery and irritated eye, redness and hot sensations, etc. are common problems with the eyes, and can be treated or at least managed well at home. Conditions like cataract, glaucoma, diabetic neuropathy, and retinal detachment, etc. are however, more serious and require medical intervention. Eye disorders can be enlisted systematically by grouping them with the part of the eye they affect.
- The lens: the lens can get unclear i.e. develop opacity. This condition is called cataract and requires attention.
- The ciliary muscle: the muscle’s inability to contract and relax decides the focusing power of the eye lens. Hence the ciliary muscle has a great role to play in correct vision.
- The iris: mild inflammation and irritation, as well as blindness can be caused by a faulty or injured iris.
- The cornea: vision defects such as astigmatism, hypermetropia (inability to clearly see near objects) and myopia (inability to clearly see far objects), are common problems of the cornea.
- The pupil: overly dilated pupils, asymmetrical pupils of both eyes and birth defects are related to the pupil.
- The conjunctiva: rubbing or abrasion, pain, watery eyes, dry eyes and irritation are related to the conjunctiva.
- The retina: blurred vision and development of blind spots occur in the retina. The retina can also be detached in a diabetic person’s eye.
- The aqueous humor: since the aqueous humor maintains pressure inside the eyeball (intraocular pressure), increased or decreased pressure can lead to vision defects and also glaucoma.
- The macula: macular degeneration; which is mostly age-related and involves gradual loss of vision.
- The optic nerve: inflammation of optic nerve can cause temporary or permanent vision loss in one or both eyes. Glaucoma is caused by a fault in the optic nerve.
- The blood vessels: if the blood vessels don’t deliver proper oxygen to the eyes, can cause partial or complete vision loss. High blood pressure damages the optic blood vessels and affects eye health badly.
Other FactorsBesides the physical factors that cause the eye disorders to originate, some environmental factors worsen eye health and contribute to development of diseased conditions and poor functioning of the eye. They are:
- Poor lighting: a significant difference in the ambient light and the light falling on or emitted by something you’re using requires frequent adjustment in the anterior part of the eye, and it can trouble the eyes.
- Long exposure to digital screens: digital screens like those of the TV, smartphones, computers or tablets are backlit i.e. they throw light on our eyes from the background of the screen. Using these devices for long is a harmful practice since it strains the eyes and also causes dryness and irritation.
- Nutritional deficiency: micronutrients like zinc, vitamin A, carotenes and carotenoids, high quality fats, vitamin C, and vitamin E make a great difference in eye function and performance.
- Overall muscle weakness: a general weakness in the muscles of an individual’s body makes them more susceptible to developing eye disorders sooner or later in life; especially vision defects which can be multiple and simultaneous.
- Degenerative changes: with age, our cells and tissues get used up and are not as efficient as they were when we were younger. Aging brings vision defects and lack of muscle tone.
Yoga Practices For Eye HealthIt is possible to ease strain, fatigue, tension, dryness and regulate blood circulation in the eye muscles by following some techniques that have been tested by yogis and used by people over the years for preventing eye disorders.
- Palming: generation of warmth with both palms followed by application of this warmth to the eyes is done first of all to relax the eyes and prepare them for the next exercises. It is especially recommended during eyelid inflammation and styes.
- Blinking: blinking the eyes fast for some seconds further removes tension built up in the motor nerves of the eye.
- Side Viewing: moving the eyes to the extreme left and right without moving the neck not only strengthens eye muscles but also removes squint.
- Side And Forward Viewing: looking interchangeably at points located in the front of the head and at the side improves central and side vision.
- Up-down Viewing: looking at points at the extreme top and bottom of the visible space without moving the neck strengthens muscles connected to the bottom and top of the back of the retina, respectively.
- Circular Viewing: rotating the eyes in a circular and opposite motion improves coordination of the sensory and motor nerves of the eye.
- Nose Tip Gazing: fixing the eyes at the tip of the nose greatly improves vision and strengthens eye muscles. It is however an intense practice and exercises 5.1 – 5.6 should compulsorily be performed before this one.
- Focus Shifting: viewing a closely placed object such as a pen or one’s own thumb and then shifting the focus to what is lying at the farthest in the background; improves focusing power of the eye and corrected defective vision.
- Trataka Kriya: it is a cleansing practice that not only improves performance of lachrymal glands that lubricate the eye but also improves focus. This practice has great spiritual benefits since one can start getting visuals that are not visible to an ordinary person. Trataka is also used to enter into meditation.
Special Note:If a regular yoga regime is started involving the whole body; people with severe eye diseases such as glaucoma should not perform bending positions for long duration as it can build up pressure in the eye.
Lifestyle & Dietary TipsSome tips can greatly improve eye health and slow down degeneration of the eye muscles. These should be followed by everyone regardless of their health (or disease) condition.
- Consume a diet balanced in all respects, i.e. sufficient micronutrients and macronutrients should be consumed as per daily requirement of an individual.
- Take care to maintain proper distance from the object in use during activities like book reading, digital screen reading, watching the TV, etc.
- Prescription glasses should be used only during the activity that requires them; reading glasses should be put off when you’re not reading.
- Break should be taken from continuous digital screen use.
- Eyes should be washed with clean water a few times a day.
- Eye makeup should be used less often and care should be taken to remove it with more natural products.
- Eye makeup should not be shared.
- Protect the eyes from dust, excess Sun and pollutants by wearing sunglasses.