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When the Yoga Journal team gathered in Boulder, Colorado last week, we were lucky enough to experience a class taught by our September/October cover star, Ingrid Yang, MD. During the class, Yang led us through foot exercises, grounding postures, and simple twists. I felt great—my body desperately needed this asana practice. Then, Yang started guiding us through an eye yoga practice.
As someone with very few eye issues (20/20 vision, baby), I felt confident. This was going to be the easiest thing ever—until it wasn’t. My eyes watered and twitched within seconds. Between thoughts of “wow, this is the most painful thing ever,” I would relieve myself with some quick blinks. (Side note: blinks have never felt so amazing.)
Why go through such a painful exercise? Yang told us that eye yoga is a great practice to do after spending all day staring at your screen, which we’re doing a lot of right now. Yet, the longer we stare at our screens, the more fatigued our eyes become. The short of it? We’re all walking around with very fatigued eyes, which is why eye yoga can be such a painful practice—we’re not used to exercising our eyes. Luckily, a regular eye yoga practice can change this. A 2016 study found that practicing eye yoga on a regular basis can dramatically reduce eye fatigue.
So what exactly does eye yoga consist of? Well, Yang asked us to keep our heads completely still for the duration of the movements. She then asked us to move our eyes up—staring at the sky—before moving our eyes to the right—as if trying to look over our right shoulders. Once she gave us a direction to look in, we held our gaze in that direction for what felt like eternity (upon further reflection, it was probably for around eight seconds). These directional gazes were repeated in all directions, including down and left, as well as along the diagonals (up-left, down-right, etc.).
I realized during this practice that my eyes are weaker than I thought (oops)—and I should probably spend more time working on them. I mean, they spend all day looking, reading, blinking, and (sometimes) crying. They definitely deserve some relief.
Don’t want to take my word for it? That’s fine. I also asked a few of my colleagues to share their experiences with eye yoga.
“When Ingrid first cued us in eye yoga, a funny thing happened: My eyes would not stay open,” says Erin Skarda, YJ’s digital director. “Again and again, as soon as I moved them—left, right, up, down, diagonal—my eyes started watering and my eyelids fluttered closed, unprompted. I thought it must be the sun. Surely, these simple movements would be much easier once inside. But no. I have tried Ingrid’s eye yoga practice daily with similar results—my eyes water, I start blinking uncontrollably, and I find myself contorting my face in an effort to keep them open. Why is this so hard?!”
See? It’s not just me. Others had a similar experience—including Tracy Middleton, YJ’s brand director.
“Looking to the side? Fine. Looking down? All good. Looking up? My eyes were watering, I couldn’t keep them open, and they physically ached. I’d like to blame it on the sun, but it’s more likely that I just rarely look up with such intensity (and ain’t that a metaphor for life)”
Ready to take on the challenge of eye yoga yourself? Check out these yoga practices for eye strain. And when you start realizing how hard eye yoga can be… hey, we warned you.