The Bates method of eyesight training, named after Dr W H Bates, an eye specialist of New York, is a natural way of improving and maintaining eyesight using particular exercises to relearn proper habits of vision. Dr Bates published his bestseller, Better Eyesight without Glasses, detailing these exercises, in 1919. He argued that perfect vision was the product of completely relaxed eyes, and that it was misuse of the eyes that led to defects of vision.

Bates’s methods found many advocates, including the writer Aldous Huxley who as a young man could hardly see to read. Huxley’s book, The Art of Seeing, explains how he was helped by this method. Followers of the method, found throughout the world, argue that the exercises benefit people of all ages, however poor their eyesight. Many practitioners of other complementary therapies use the Bates method during treatments.

There are seven main exercises which should be practised daily. They can be learned easily by obtaining a book or, more simply, by consulting a Bates practitioner, who will usually recommend a course of weekly training sessions. The exercises aim to relax tension in the eye muscles, and include ‘palming’, covering the eyes with the palms of the hands for ten minutes two or three times a day; ‘splashing’, splashing the closed eyes repeatedly with warm and then cold water, morning and evening; and ‘shifting and swinging’, consciously imitating the minute shifting movements of the eyes around objects. Bates also believed in blinking frequently, once or twice every ten seconds. In addition he considered the importance of diet, supplements and homeopathy in maintaining the health of the eyes.