The Bates Method

The Bates Method is a technique to improve eyesight by natural means without glasses, contact lenses or surgery.

Bates Method at a workshop

Bates Method at a workshop

It was created and developed by Doctor William Horatio Bates, a brilliant American ophthalmologist who graduated from Cornell University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1885 and practiced in New York.

Like all ophthalmologists of his time, he began to prescribe glasses to patients who consulted him because they were suffering from myopia (shortsightedness), hypermetropia (longsightedness), presbyopia (longsightedness from age), astigmatism (distortions when reading) or had a squint. But the more he did so, the more dissatisfied he felt. He could not accept that the eyes had to be considered the only part of the body which “could not” be re-educated!

So he made a decision to question all he had learned and through his extensive research on the functioning of the eye he developed a revolutionary approach to the improvement of vision. He was using a new optical instrument called a retinoscope with which he could objectively determine the nature and evaluate the degree of people's vision problems - not only in his consulting room but in all sorts of environments, indoors or outdoors, in all sorts of activities : work or leisure, in various lights, good or bad, in different states of mind, from keen interest to boredom...

Not being dependent on the feedback of the person, he could study people with different languages coming from different parts of the world and even different species “cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, cows, birds, turtles, reptiles and fish”...(1)

His observations led him to a major discovery : when a person with perfect sight is under a strain (physical, emotional or mental) his/her eyesight deteriorates. The principles of his method derive from this discovery :

  • No state of vision is permanent
  • The cause of imperfect vision is strain
  • When the strain disappears, vision improves
  • Therefore, the key to vision improvement is relaxation.

The second main idea of W.H.Bates concerns the mechanism of accommodation which is the ability to see clearly at all distances.

In fact our eyes are naturally adjusted to see distant objects effortlessly, so in order to see a near point they have to “work”. Bates offered a new theory of this mechanism, stating that far from being achieved by the sole ciliary muscle changing the shape of the lens, accommodation is mainly achieved by the big external muscles of the eye changing the shape of the entire eyeball.

The difference between the two theories is extremely important because, when the ciliary muscle is totally involuntary, the extrinsic muscles are partly voluntary. Thus is introduced in the world of ophthalmology the idea that vision can be consciously exercised, improved and maintained.

Following these principles, the many trained teachers of the Bates Method teach their pupils to use their eyes consciously in a beneficial way in their everyday life as well as to practice when necessary a wide range of specific exercises.

(1) : W.H. Bates. The Cure of Imperfect Sight by treatment Without Glasses, Central Fixation Publishing, New-York City (1920), p.21.

Doctor Bates wrote many articles which have been collected and edited by Thomas R. Quackenbush under the title : Better Eyesight, the complete Magazines of William Horatio Bates ( ISBN:1-55643-351-4), and one book, now reprinted as : Better Eyesight Without Glasses.

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