As a Bates Method and yoga teacher, I pay attention to the whole body, the posture and the breathing. For this post, we will only look at the upper body, specifically the neck, jaw and temples, since these areas are directly connected to tension and strain in our eyes. And with the help of the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls, you can conveniently self massage these hot spots directly at your desk, while closing your eyes and giving them the rest they deserve.
Many of us spend hours, if not the whole day, sitting at the computer. Spine rounded in flexion, shoulders in protraction, internal rotation and elevation, head extended backwards, craned forward, or tilted sideways holding the phone between shoulder and ear, with the neck bearing the weight of the head. And our heads are heavy, about 11 pounds or 5 kg without hair. That constitutes roughly 8% of our body weight. Quite a lot of weight that our neck and shoulder muscles have to hold up there, all day long!
All of this sitting and slouching looking at the screen is creating muscle tension and weakness throughout the body, witnessed as bad posture and resulting lower back pain, neck stiffness, limited shoulder mobility or pain, tension headaches, migraines, jaw pain, TMJ, the list goes on. This in turn leads to an imbalanced posture from head to toe.
When looking at this from an eyesight perspective, it becomes obvious that some of the head tilts initiate from poor vision, e.g. craning the head forward when myopic, or tilting it back when presbyopia starts and the near point gets blurrier. But this also goes the other way. That is a whole new post, but just know that our head posture is a main contributor to astigmatism, and the angle or tilt of the head can directly be measured in the angle of your astigmatism. And staring at a screen up close for hours will most likely end in myopia.
Glasses are also a major reason for bad head posture and the resulting strain and pain. Are you tilting your head backwards when sitting at the computer? If you do, you probably wear bifocal or varifocal glasses. These lenses assume you are looking down when you are using the plus prescription in the lower part of the lens for near work, and straight ahead when looking at the distance. But the computer is straight ahead and near. To compensate, you need to crane your head backwards to access the lower part of the lens. This not only creates extraordinary neck tension, but starts or worsens any existing astigmatism.
The following therapy ball self massage sequence gets into the nooks and crannies of your tense muscles and fascia, the connective tissue which runs throughout your body. Its superficial layers are right under the skin, the deep layers in and between our muscles. The stiffer and harder the fascia, the more tense and stiff the muscles surrounded by it.
Start by breathing deeply into the belly five times, feeling it expand and collapse. Then let the breath ripple from the belly up into the chest on the inhale, letting it leave the body on a long exhale. Keep inhales and exhales equal in length. Continue this abdominal thoracic breath throughout the whole self massage sequence. It improves flood of blood and oxygen into your tissues and cells.
1. Place one of the balls at the lateral side of the neck. Test the waters by pressing the ball against the sternocleidomastoid muscle (the one you’ll use to turn your head backwards when changing lanes, tilt your head to the side and when looking down). If you feel tension there, spin the ball, winding up skin as you do. This alone stimulates the superficial fascia around the neck muscles, creating slide and glide between fascia and muscle which is important for smooth and pain-free movement.
2. Add some motion for a deeper tissue massage. Nod your head “yes” a few times, then “no”, turning it side to side.
3. Move the ball to another area on your neck and repeat.
4. Cup the ball in your hand and place it on the side of your jaw. The muscle you feel there is the masseter, the strongest muscle in the body. Turn your head slowly sideways as if saying half of a “no”, letting the ball crossfiber the masseter. This might be quite intense, so adjust the pressure with your hand or by leaning more or less into the ball. If you find a particularly tense spot, keep the ball on that area with sustained compression for a couple of breaths, then add a stretch by opening and closing the jaw.
5. Place the ball at your temple and roll it forward and back. You can also use sustained compression by just pressing it against one area, or spin the ball on the skin, gathering up superficial fascia. Remember to breathe deeply.
6. Repeat this on the other side. One side might need more attention than the other, because none of us is symmetrical.
7. Finish this tension tamer by gently drumming your fingers along the bony ridges of your eye sockets (above the eyebrows and along your cheek bones) and your temples.
For a quicker version (albeit without the spinning movement of the ball on the skin) you can massage jaw and temples at the same time by using the balls in the tote.
You can purchase The Yoga Tune Up® balls during a session at my practice, or by visiting yogatuneup.com Should you order online, make sure to get the smallest size for this exercise, or the starter kit with differently sized balls which come in handy when massaging your whole body.
Part Two of this stress relieving sequence will include the shoulders, upper back and chest for a complete release of “tech neck”. When working these areas, you will need floor or wall space.
Please remember that while self care through neck and head massage is really important in your journey to improve your eyesight, you need to address the origins and causes of your poor posture and eye strain at the computer as well. Be it by getting rid of varifocal lenses, an ergonomic makeover of your workstation, improving your proprioception through yoga or other movement practices, learning the Bates Method to recognize eye strain in the first place, practicing the Bates Method to improve your vision, blinking and breathing, daily exercise, relieving mental strain, or just taking frequent breaks.
In fact, as you have probably figured out by now, all of the above mentioned changes are important for good eyesight and a healthy body and mind. If you only address the tension but not the root causes, the tension will come back quickly and your eyesight will not improve. It might even get worse.