Eyestrain Look to the hills, says S.F. holistic practitioner

Instead of turning their eyes to the mountains, as Psalm 121 advises, the People of the Book are too often immersed in one. As a result, "the Jewish population [is more likely to wear] glasses than the rest of the population because we read more," said Meir Schneider.

"We think that what we normally do can't hurt us and that's incorrect." Instead, people need to "find a way to compensate for the normal assault on the body and incredible demands by loosening the body and helping it recuperate."

Born in Ukraine 46 years ago with cataracts and multiple vision problems, Schneider, who "used to see 20/2000" and was legally blind, has turned natural vision improvement into his life's mission. On Saturday, Sept. 16, the San Francisco holistic practitioner will join three other professionals at a daylong Natural Vision Improvement Symposium at the Lone Mountain campus of the University of San Francisco.

Schneider may be his own best advertisement. Moving to Israel at age 4, he underwent five unsuccessful eye operations as a child, both in the Jewish state and in Ukraine.

"The cataract surgeries ruined my lenses so much that 99 -1/4 percent of my lenses are scar tissues. I was considered legally blind and was reading Braille."

His parents were both deaf and Schneider "didn't want to stay in a place of handicap. I dreamed of a place out."

At age 17, he was shown a way out, through the Bates Method, a system of relaxing and retraining the eye muscles through exercises. Practicing the exercises 13 hours a day, he was able to read without glasses within 18 months. Today he reads without glasses and has an unrestricted driver's license. Yet his eyes are incurably damaged.

Schneider, who has a Ph.D in the healing arts, founded the Center for Self-Healing in San Francisco in 1980. He is the author of "The Handbook of Self-Healing" and "Self-Healing: My Life and Vision." He has also produced a videotape, "Yoga for Your Eyes" and travels throughout the world to give workshops.

His latest focus is on combating eyestrain exacerbated by computer use. Hence, Psalm 121: "I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come?"

The Psalmist had it right, according to Schneider. If computer users looked up from their computers toward the hills — or the bay — a bit more often, their eyes would be in better shape, not to mention their spirits.

The problem, pure and simple, is too much attention to fine print and screens and not enough to the big picture: hills, vistas, the spirit.

The cause — and the solution — may be as old as the Bible.

"Aside from problems that are genetic like my own and infections like we see in the Third World…there were no errors of refraction to the human population until literacy began," Schneider said. He cited such problems as near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism and "most cases of cross-eyedness."

The eye, he said, "doesn't strain to look from far but strains to look from near…Computers are an added strain."

While computer users are focusing on the screen, he said, they're straining the ciliary muscles and their sense of the periphery disappears. It's not that users lose their peripheral vision entirely, but "most people don't pay attention since so much attention is coming from the screen."

One of the results is that computer users may start seeing patterns of flashing lights or spots, commonly known as "floaters."

What to do? The eyes, too, need a Sabbath. Take vision breaks and look out the window, and if you can't work near a window, look up.

"Those floaters can be broken with eye exercises," he said. "To nurture your eyes, you need to give them a break. Pay attention to the periphery. Look far at a distance every half an hour for one minute. And every five minutes, look away from the computer for 15 seconds."

He recalled the story of a Baha'i official in Israel who was able to look out of his window and see Haifa and Mount Carmel. His vision was excellent. Then he moved up in stature in the religious organization and began working in a room with no window. "In two months, he needed glasses."

He also said that in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, where books were scarce and schoolboys in the cheder had to share them, vision problems were also less common.

Why? Because kids were reading the books upside down or looking at them at a distance, instead of straining at close range.

Lately, Schneider has been preaching his preventive messages at computer companies in Israel, saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

While much attention has been given to AIDS and cancer, he said, most human health problems, including arthritis and poor vision, are the result of "improper use of the body. With simple solutions, we can find a way to prevent degeneration…But one day we wake up and we can't do it anymore, and we go from specialist to specialist to fix our symptoms."

Instead, he prescribes more exercise and more time in nature.

"You'll feel better and your eyes will last much longer. You don't find any Bedouin with glasses and if you go to the bush people, for them being 20/20 is being blind. They have the same eyes. But they look far and near in a more balanced way. We have to go to nature to enjoy what we see. San Francisco is a beautiful city. We should invite people to break out of their routine. It will help them to be more productive for many years."

In addition to Schneider, the other participants in the seminar are Dr. August Reader, a San Francisco ophthalmologist who takes a holistic approach; Grace Halloran, a San Leandro practitioner who used the Bates Method and color therapy to deal with her own eye problems; and Tom Quackenbush, director of the Natural Vision Center of San Francisco.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].