Bates Method

The Bates Method is a method of vision reeducation through relaxation of eyes and mind to regain normal, effortless eyesight. Which is comprised of both central clarity and expansive peripheral vision. And unlike what you might have heard, it’s quite the opposite of eye exercises!

The Bates Method is about changing your visual straining habits that caused your eyesight problem. The only way to see better permanently is to apply those natural, healthy habits all day. And this needs to be practiced by first even feeling the strain. Almost 100% of my clients are initially not even aware of the strain in their eyes and mind. So creating that awareness and attention is the first step, just like in any other transformational process.

The Bates Method defies the traditional belief that that vision problems are genetic or age-related and therefore unavoidable. Ophthalmologist Dr. William H. Bates has shown that eyesight is highly variable and can be improved as much as it can be worsened by conscious choice and unconscious habits. Consciously reversing the habits and choices you made to get your eyesight to were it is today is the key to success. This is not a quick fix! And unfortunately there is none (I will do a blog post about LASIK soon).

  1. Mental strain (which leads to strained and blurred vision)
  2. Wearing glasses (which manifest blurred vision in the eyes)
  3. Bad vision habits (which speed up the decline of the eyesight)
  4. Relaxation (mind and eyes)
  5. Movement
  6. Centralization
  7. Peripheral Awareness
  8. Fusion or Eye Teaming (Binocularity)
  9. Sunlight and Rest
  10. Blinking
  11. Breathing
  12. Vital Nutrients (Diet)

Dr. William Horatio Bates (1860-1931), a highly respected and successful ophthalmologist in New York, received his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York in 1885. In 1886 he introduced a new operation for relief of persistent deafness consisting of incising the eardrum membrane, an operation still in use today. He also discovered the astringent and hemostatic properties of the aqueous extract of the suprarenal gland, which would later be commercialized as adrenaline. He was driven by a desire to find cures for diseases by understanding the causes. Traditional medicine was and is to this day the practice of using surgery, prescriptions, and medications to treat symptoms when the disease has already been established. He wanted not just to cure diseases but learn how to prevent them.

But his initial work and teachings were following the traditional and accepted “treatment”:

“At the very beginning of my practice as an ophthalmologist, I noticed that patients with myopia often recovered their vision spontaneously. This was not a new observation. Every ophthalmologist had noted such cases, but it was customary to explain them away. If a case of myopia recovered, a mistake in diagnosis had been made….Instead of being explained away and ignored, it seemed to me that such facts ought to be investigated.”

Therefore his own curiosity led him to further investigate and question the traditional ophthalmologic teachings. Namely that only the lens is responsible for accommodation (focussing) of the eye and that eyesight, once faulty, cannot be restored without surgery or prescribing glasses to the patient.

The Professor

In addition to working in his private practice and at various New York hospitals, he served as instructor of ophthalmology at the New York Postgraduate Medical School and Hospital (1886 to 1891). After restoring the eyesight of several bespectacled, myopic (nearsighted) doctors at the New York Postgraduate Medical School and Hospital, he was expelled by the head of the school, Dr. Roosa. Like most of his peers, Dr. Roosa did not understand nor accept the cure Dr. Bates had demonstrated.

The Researcher

In 1896 he gave up his work in the New York hospitals to further his research at Columbia university, and later at the Physiological Laboratory of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. During the many years as a researcher he not only experimented with animals to prove his theory that the external and oblique eye muscles are responsible for accommodation, but tirelessly observed both animals and people’s eyesight with a retinoscope. This instrument allowed him to observe the refractive error during accommodation, independent from any subjective statements of his subjects.

In 1921 he published an article in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine. In this article he outlined his four year intense experiments of not being able to reproduce the results of the prevailing theory of accommodation through curvature of the lens alone (Helmholtz theory from 1855). And he had much better equipment than Helmholtz, who used light reflections on the cornea and lens surfaces to prove this theory. A theory that all modern optometry is still based on! Despite the fact that Dr. Bates proved to a live audience of eye doctors at a meeting of the Ophthalmological Section of the American Medical Association that the eye muscles create accommodation by changing the size of the eyeball.

His research work showed that the refractive error was greatly influenced by emotions. For instance, it was much larger when the subject was lying. Basically any emotional state greatly affected the eyesight. Even when looking at a foreign object such as printed material in a foreign language his subjects always showed a refractive error. In layman terms, this means that there was a temporary blur even when people had perfect eyesight.

Dr. Bates concluded what is now confirmed by neuroscientific research: Emotions and mental strain translate into body tension. And for a lot of people this body tension manifest as eye strain which in turn creates vision problems. Relaxation of the mind on the other hand, improves the eyesight. Traditional medicine is still not accepting this fact, and treat eyesight challenges as if the eyes were a separate entity from our brains and bodies.

The Educator

In 1902 Dr. Bates moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota implementing his method to prevent myopia in school children and their teachers. Part of his teachings included daily, relaxed reading of the Snellen eye chart. He continued this work in New York Schools when he moved back to the Big Apple in 1910.

The Good Samaritan

From 1911 to 1923 Bates worked at the Harlem Hospital Clinic, offering several free clinic days per week to help less affluent people improve their eyesight. Emily Lierman started assisting him in the clinic after she improved her vision using his methods. They continued the free clinic at their private practice, and married in 1928.

The Self Improvement Guru

Of course Dr. Bates wouldn’t have called himself that back then. But there is a funny story about his own eyesight. Like so many others in his 50s, he started to have problems with reading and other near-vision tasks but never thought his method would help with presbyopia (old age sight).

He believed that his method would work only for myopia (nearsightedness). When a friend pointed out to him that the fact that he wore reading glasses wasn’t making sense if his theory was based on strain causing eyesight problems (not age), Bates found himself in a conundrum. And decided to work on his own eyesight. Teaching a minister friend to use the retinoscope, he found out that his eyes adjusted to the distance when he was making an effort to read. Only when he relaxed his mind without making an effort (see my post on “trying”) the type cleared up.

It took him almost a year to be able to read microscopic type (2 pt type size) at 4 inches from his eyes. He claimed that it never took him that long to have his patients to the same.

The Publisher

In 1919 Bates began to publish the Better Eyesight Magazines and continued to do so until his death in 1931. In this monthly magazine he wrote in detail about his research, case histories, clinic stories as well as how he treated his patients for specific conditions. The original magazines are very hard to get, but Esther of Vision of Joy has done the monumental work of turning them into a searchable PDF, which you can download here for a donation of $29.95. In 1920 he published his book Perfect Sight Without Glasses (sometimes called The Cure of Imperfect Sight by Treatment Without Glasses), which can be downloaded here as a free PDF or read it here online, organized by chapters. Emily contributed the book Stories from the Clinic in 1926.

How to study and practice the Bates Method

The revised and abridged 1943 version of the book called Better Eyesight Without Glasses is missing a lot of the original texts. The same applies to the heavily edited version of the magazines, the paperback Better Eyesight: The Complete Magazines of William H. Bates, published in 2000 by Thomas R. Quackenbush. If you want to truly study and fully understand the Bates Method, read the original book and the original magazines, see paragraph above.

While you can accomplish a lot by studying the books, it’s not easy to become aware of eyestrain and other poor vision habits by yourself. You will have more and faster success with the help of a teacher. That said, I encourage my students to read Dr. Bates’ original teachings, but it’s not necessary to be successful in improving your eyesight.

My teaching lineage connect directly to Dr. Bates: My teacher, Margaret Montgomery, who has been teaching the Bates Method since 1985, was taught by Evelyn B. Sage in London, who was trained by Madeleine Fousset, a student of Dr. Bates.

In addition to the Bates method, I am trained in working with binocularity challenges (something Bates didn’t really address) such as strabismus, amblyopia and diplopia. I also include breath practices, massage techniques, yoga and nutrition into my teachings if appropriate.

Claudia Muehlenweg has helped thousands of people enhance their natural eyesight and overall well-being. She is deeply passionate about reconnecting clients with their purpose, confidence, and freedom.
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