Yoga for your eyes: The Computer Vision Syndrome

Working continuously for umpteen hours or staring like a zombie at the computer screen may lead to swollen eyes, blurred vision, light sensitivity and headaches.

Working continuously for umpteen hours, staring like a zombie at the computer screen, trying to finish that presentation before starting on the next... If this sounds familiar, then you are probably also familiar with tired, swollen eyes, blurred vision, light sensitivity and headaches. And with the winter months ahead (read grey days and low light), this problem is bound to get compounded.

Computer vision syndrome
Advances in technology bring myriad problems; the more we become dependent on the computer for our work, the more our eyes suffer. Eye experts note that eye fatigue is a common problem today. One of the most common computer-related diseases is computer vision syndrome (CVS). The most likely symptoms of this are eyestrain, headaches, blurred near vision, slowness in changing focus, light sensitivity, eye irritation, trouble with contact lenses, after-images, neck, shoulder and back pain. So look out for these signs and don't ignore them.

Need for a proper workout for the eyes
"We do not use our eyes properly. Most eye muscles are never exercised. All we do is focus and focus in one direction. So a proper workout for the eyes is needed to keep them fine," says Abhinav Sagar, a yoga teacher in Delhi. Besides other aspects like getting the correct equipment (anti-reflective screens etc), proper workstation ergonomics and posture, appropriate lighting and good nutrition (plenty of green vegetables, tomatoes, carrots), one sure-fire recipe for putting the sparkle back in your strained eyes is eye yoga.

Yoga for your eyes
"Rest those eyes between long spells of computer gazing. Take a yoga break and refresh your eyes," Sagar advises and outlines some simple exercises - tips and techniques that can be adapted even at your working desk.

1. Don't stare continuously at the screen. Get up from your desk and move around every half-hour. Take a break. Take your eyes off your computer screen. Drink a glass of water. Some computers have alarm clock functions that can be set to remind you to get up. Ideally, take a two-minute break each half-hour.

2. Blink consciously every five minutes.

a) Shut your eyes and roll the eyeballs behind closed lids every now and then.
b) Close your eyes and take some deep, slow breaths

3. Gazing at a distance relaxes the eyes. So an easy way to rest your eyes is to simply look out the window at the sky or at the horizon.

4. Do 'Sambhavi mudra'. Look up to see the V of the eyebrows and then down to see the tip of the nose. Do this 10 times.

5. Close your eyes tightly and then open them. Do this again.

6. Close your eyes. Rub your hands together fast. Feel the heat build up in your hands. Now, bring the warm hands up and place them on your closed eyes. Let the healing heat from your hands soothe your eyes. Take a long, deep breath in, and then exhale slowly and comfortably. Repeat this breath and, on an exhalation, remove the hands slowly as you open your eyes softly. Blink a few times and return to work. This palming of the eyes is extremely beneficial.

7. Open your eyes wide. Relax your face. Count the seconds out loud. As you do, look to your right one second, and to your left one second. Then look to your upper right for one second and your lower left the next second. Now look to your upper left for one second and then to your lower right. Last, look straight upward one second, and straight downward the next. Repeat this exercise, beginning with the left side. Do this as many times as it feels comfortable.

8. Form eye circles - sit still in your chair with both feet flat on the floor. Begin breathing long and deep. Begin to move only your eyes. Roll your eyes in circles clockwise for three long, deep breaths. Then roll your eyes anti-clockwise for three long, deep breaths. Blink your eyes rapidly for 10 seconds. Gently close your eyes and relax for three long, deep breaths.

You can also use your thumb or a pen for a proper parameter. Follow the thumb/pen in a clockwise direction with your right eye keeping the left eye closed and then in the anti-clockwise direction. Repeat this 10 times. Then do it with the left eye. Or without moving your head, trace the face of a clock with your eyes.

Let your eyes look at 12:00. Watch the hands of the clock move to 1:00. Consciously move your eyes around the clock to each hour. When you get to 12:00, where you began, move your eyes back to 11:00... then 10:00, and so on.

9. Perform 'Tratak'. This yoga exercise will not only help your vision by cleansing your eyes and strengthening the eye muscles, but also relax and calm your mind. For this you need a candle, a soft cotton cloth and a bowl of cool water. The best time to perform 'Tratak' is in the early hours of the morning but it can be done anytime. It is important to perform this exercise alone and undisturbed, in a dark and silent room.

Sit on the floor or a chair; position the flame of the candle at eye-level and stare at it. Let your surroundings fade away as you still your mind. Focus your attention totally on the flame and close your eyes. Pick up the wet cloth and rub gently from your left eye to the left ear, a few times. Do the same for the right side. Keep the cloth away and with your eyes still closed, recall the image of the flame, in the centre of your forehead. Meditate as long as you can. Finally, open your eyes. Do this for about 10 minutes - once a week in the beginning and then slowly increase the frequency.

It is important to practice 'Tratak' under the guidance of a qualified yoga master in the beginning to get it right. Also take care to keep your spine straight and posture right during the pose. 'Tratak' requires concentration so it is beneficial for the mind too. It encourages one to focus on one thing, which helps the mind to relax and become indifferent to other stimuli. Besides sharpening the vision, this exercise even removes the elementary stages of shortsightedness and also reduces eye ailments like excessive blinking and conjunctivitis.

Ensure relaxation process after every exercise
One important thing to remember is that eyes are very delicate; Sagar's final advice on the matter is that a relaxation process should follow every eye exercise.

So, don't wait for your eyes to let you know they've had enough of staring at the computer screen. Protect them from the invasion of computers. Some other good resources for more reading on the subject are 'How to Use Yoga: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Iyengar Method of Yoga for Relaxation, Health and Well-Being', by Mira Mehta, The Yoga Research Centre (www.yrec.org

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