Paul McCartney claims ‘eye yoga’ helps vision, ophthalmologists say that’s not a thing

I was today years old when I learned there was a thing called “eye yoga.” Don’t overthink it, it’s literally yoga for your eye muscles. At first glance I thought, “Eureka! I’ve finally found a physical activity I have the energy for!” And guess who’s a fan? Paul McCartney! The Times interviewed him about how he stays fit, and his eye yoga practice was among his tips. The exercises Paul does (hopefully while reciting the traditional ancient mantra ob-la-di, ob-la-da) looked simple enough: essentially moving your eyeballs so they’re directed at more places than just straight ahead in front of you. But ophthalmologists have weighed in about the breadth of eye yoga, and some other related methods, and pretty much say, “Nope, this isn’t really doing anything for eye health.” This is why I stay away from exercise, people!

Paul McCartney recently told The Times that he does eye yoga to avoid needing glasses. In the interview, he revealed that he was introduced to the eye exercises in India some years ago and has practised them ever since.

He believes that by exercising your eye muscles, you can reduce the need for glasses. Macca has demonstrated some of these techniques on YouTube.

So what is eye yoga and can exercising your eyes really prevent the need for glasses?

Different types of eye yoga have been practised for thousands of years. One example, tratak kriya, originating in India, is part of a yoga meditation practised in the belief that it develops higher states of consciousness and spiritual awakening. The Sanskrit word “tratak” means “fix your gaze” and involves staring at an object, such as a candle flame without blinking, until tears flow.

More recently, in the late 19th century, Dr William Bates, a New York ophthalmologist, published
The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses, in which he made the case that eye exercises could avert the need for glasses.

He believed that any glasses correction can be overcome by exercises involving eye movement and visualisation techniques, such as looking at an eye chart, focusing on letter contours, blinking frequently, closing the eyes to visualise the letter and imagining it blacker and sharper. The Bates eye exercise website still promotes his work today.

However, the premise of Bates’ theory, that the eye changes its shape during movement and focus, is physiologically untrue.

A 2018 study in the International Journal of Yoga compared visual acuity (the smallest letter that can be seen) and refractive error (a person’s glasses prescription) in groups who practised either Bates exercises or trakata yoga for eight weeks. The study concluded that neither exercise made any difference to refractive error or visual acuity.

The Bates method has been rejected by ophthalmologists, not only because of lack of evidence but because it’s potentially harmful, promoting “solarisation” (looking at the Sun), which is dangerous and overexposes the retina to sunlight.

[From The Conversation]

“The Sanskrit word ‘tratak’ means ‘fix your gaze’ and involves staring at an object, such as a candle flame without blinking, until tears flow.” The yogis are pulling one over on us, right? I realize we’re missing a lot (or all) of the context of tratak kriya, and other eye yoga traditions, and I’m willing to believe there’s a benefit to these exercises when done as part of a whole body yoga practice. It seems particularly Western-minded to pick out just “eye yoga” instead of seeing it as part of a holistic system. But yeah, I’ll be keeping up with my blinking for now.

To be fair to Sir Paul, none of the exercises he touted were harmful; they’re just not going to advance your eyesight, either. And also to be clear, he wasn’t talking about the Bates Method at all, whose first line on its Wikipedia entry reads “an ineffective and potentially dangerous alternative therapy aimed at improving eyesight.” Yikes. The Conversation’s article just brought up Bates as a practice with some similar exercises to eye yoga. The full article also included more of the nitty gritty physiology of how eyes work and how to keep them healthy. In short: visit your eye doctor every two years minimum, and don’t stare directly at the sun. (Except for #45, he can keep solarizing himself for all I care.)

PS — What is so terrible about wearing glasses?! I love mine!

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Photos credit: cpuk / Avalon and Getty

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15 Responses to “Paul McCartney claims ‘eye yoga’ helps vision, ophthalmologists say that’s not a thing”

  1. ML says:

    I’ve never heard of eye yoga before, but this doesn’t sound entirely crazy?
    I know that if (kids) have poor eyesight (does your kid need glasses?), the eye doctors here all say that you need to spend at least two hours outside (natural light is brighter and you can use your eye muscles to farther away), your eyes need a 20-second break every 20 minutes if you’re reading or behind a computer and you need to blink and focus on something distant.

  2. Chaine says:

    I hated my glasses. I definitely had a period of time that I tried goofy “eye exercise” and while the physical movement can make tired eyes physically feel a little better, they did not help my vision. LASIK when I finally took that plunge was the key and has changed my life so much for the better.

    • AMB says:

      Give it a few years, Chaine, your eyes will change with age even after Lasik. And then if you’re lucky you’ll get cataracts at an early age like me (I had Lasik too) and then you’ll be All Set! after cataract surgery … until you develop old person presbyopia, or what we call around here “short arm disease”.

      Having sight at all is wonderful!

  3. maisie says:

    I love that pic of Paul and Nancy. She has the same “just f*cked” look that Harry often sports when he and Meghan show up at events.

  4. Bumblebee says:

    Eventually everyone has vision problems. It’s called old age. Unless there’s been a medical advancement, Lasik can fix only distance or near vision, but not both. So if Paul doesn’t need glasses it’s because he’s had Lasik to correct his near vision and never had a distance problem. Nothing to do with yoga. Just luck of the genetic lottery. For me, it’s glasses always.

  5. laurie says:

    Yeah my father was a huge believer in eye exercises to avoid wearing glasses. He didn’t wear glasses but walked around with a magnifying glass all the time. 🤷🏼‍♀️

  6. Jensies says:

    I’ve done tratak kriya and really liked the practice, but for meditation reasons.

    What I’ve done that’s been the best thing for my eye health is to do heated eye masks most nights, to get the oil in the eyelids flowing and lubricate my eyes. My ophthalmologist cousin recommended it due to eye fatigue from zoom and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Your eyes feel so new and refreshed and it on,y takes like 10 min.

  7. MsIam says:

    Yeah I’ve seen those videos on YouTube that swear you can get rid of your glasses by doing these exercises. As someone who’s worn glasses since third grade, I wish! I felt they were quackery so I’m glad to hear that I was right. I know the optometry industry doesn’t want to put itself out of business, but I think if there was any truth to this, we would know about it by now.

  8. Glamarazzi says:

    Sir Paul does loads of yoga & meditation and credits much of his good health to it. He can still stand on his head! Does he think, at his age, it is right? (Quoting Father William for the non-literary.)

  9. ClaireB says:

    I don’t get the flak for Sir Paul here. I get migraines, and have been told to take eye breaks to focus at different distances. Sounds pretty similar, and I don’t see why exercising the muscles that move and hold the eyes wouldn’t help, even if it doesn’t “fix” actual focusing problems.

  10. Aidee Kay says:

    Huge Beatles and Paul fan here!! I think it’s amazing what the Beatles learned during their time in India. It was much more than George developing his skill wihe sitar. Paul got his mantra from the Maharishi and learned different kinds of yoga and if he did then I think they all must have. Their India trip was also, sadly, the beginning of the end of the band but I think it was both hugely beneficial as well as a fracturing moment.

  11. BlueNailsBetty says:

    Yeah, so this is all very misleading.

    If your vision issues are caused by limited movement (eyestrain or muscle weakness) then yes, doing eye exercises which force you to use/strengthen those eye muscles in a different way will help.

    If your vision issues are in the eyeball then muscle exercises won’t help.

    I love Paul but this is more woo-woo misinformation.

  12. Jen says:

    My friend’s MIL’s drivers’ licence was revoked because she refused to wear glasses, believing some nonsense that glasses are a scam and 20/20 vision will be restored if you just stop wearing them.

  13. Izzy says:

    My ophthalmologist told me to look away from my computer screen for at least one minute every hour to reduce eye strain. Not once did he refer to it as eye yoga. Honestly, when you’re that rich and can afford the best healthcare from any leading expert in the world but you choose to follow people who talk nonsense like “eye yoga”…

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