BATES' VISION TRAINING
156, 2014 May)
Dr. William Horatio Bates, M.D. (1860-1931), an ear, nose, and throat
specialist, was one of the leading ophthalmologists of his day in New
York City. His early medical record is impressive up until 1902, when
he suddenly vanished. He was found by accident by a fellow occulist in
1910 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he had been practising. He was
persuaded to return to New York, where he served as attending physician
in Harlem Hospital until 1922. Disenchanted with conventional medicine,
he began to question the use of glasses to correct vision problems.
In 1920, Dr. Bates self-published a book titled Cure of Imperfect
Eyesight by Treatment Without Glasses, based on an analysis of the
eyes of twenty thousand school children. Subsequent publications by
other authors have essentially been restatements of Dr. Bates' views.
Dr. Bates concluded that vision defects (refractive errors) were caused
because of weakness, or misuse of the six intrinsic eye muscles, which
prevented them from focusing the lens correctly. The defect was not in
the lens itself but in weak eye muscles caused by stress and strain
which, once removed, enabled the eye muscles to focus the lens
correctly. As a result of his research, Dr. Bates developed his theory
of "Accommodation", a term for the focusing process which takes place
within each eye when attention is shifted from one object to another at
It is well known in eye anatomy that this adjustment involves an
alteration in the shape of the lens. However, Dr. Bates disagreed
claiming that, "the lens is not a factor in Accommodation, and that
focusing is accomplished by an alteration in the entire length of the
eyeball brought about by two muscles on the outside of the eye".
Central to the Bates' system is "central fixation" –- learning to see
what is in the centre of vision, without staring. To achieve this, Dr.
Bates devised a series of exercises:
"Palming." The patient covers both eyes with his hands and tries to
think of "perfect black." When the patient is able to see a pure
blackness, there is an immediate improvement of sight.
The "shift" and the "swing". This involves moving the eye back and
forth so that one gets an illusion of an object "swinging" from side to
side. The shorter the shift, the greater the benefit.
After mastering the art of shifting and swinging, the patient finally
attains what Bates called the "universal swing".
Bates also recommended reading under adverse conditions — such as in
dim light, riding in a vehicle, or in bright sunlight. He also claimed
that the eyes can also be strengthened by looking directly at the sun
for a few moments so that the beneficial rays may bathe the retina — a
dangerous practice to say the least.
Dr. Bates was at odds with all contemporary optometrists who viewed him
as an eccentric. Although a few eye disorders do respond to exercises
prescribed by conventional eye doctors, these are confined to those
which involve the exterior muscles such as crossed eyes, or walled
eyes. Most eye defects are refractive errors due to the shape of the
eye, lens, or cornea, and no amount of shifting or swinging will
produce an organic change.
In 1926, Stories from the Clinic was published by Dr. Bates'
assistant, Emily C. Lierman. It was a collection of articles taken from
Bates' magazine called Better Eyesight. It represents the best evidence
in print to show that the success of the Bates' method relies solely on
With the Bates' method of Eye Vision Training as with all
pseudoscientific health fads, the real danger lies in neglecting
ailments which may require immediate medical attention before they lead
to permanent eye damage and blindness.
Other "vision therapists" claim to strengthen eyesight though a series
of exercises, coloured lights and lenses and "pinhole" glasses.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support their claims.
Bates, William H. 1920. Cure of Imperfect Eyesight by Treatment
Without Glasses. Central Fixation Publishing Co. New York.
Gardner, Martin. 1957. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.
Dover Publications Inc. New York.
Grow, Gerald. 1978. Improving Eyesight: The Bates Method. The Holistic
Kastner, Mark, and Burroughs, Hugh. 1993. Alternative Healing.
Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, California.
MacFayden, Ralph J. 1948. See Without Glasses. Random Hs.
Pollack, Philip. 1956. The Truth about Eye Exercises. Chilton
From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic &
Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.