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21 Day Vision Challenge

Back in mid-January I decided I wanted to start a new program for vision improvement. It’s from the “Renewing your vision” chapter in a book entitled The Power Behind Your Eyes: Improving Your Eyesight with Integrated Vision Therapy, by Robert-Michael Kaplan. 51xw-IUNcGL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_It’s the kind of thing that occurs when I make new year’s resolutions and get a little carried away!

The Guidelines for the Twenty-One-Day Program are as follows:

• Obtain a weaker 20/40 prescription (I have been doing this for a couple of years now).

• Wear your lenses only during life-threatening situations. (This is very difficult because I can’t really see to do much of anything without lenses.)

• Eliminate all red meat and dairy products from your diet. ( I was already almost there. Just had to cut out the occasional sour cream and ice cream.)

• Use no added sugar or foods with sugar. (Sugar is everywhere, so this was also very difficult.) • Use no white-flour products. (No big problem.)

• Consume no alcohol or bottled or canned prepared drinks. (No problem.) • Use no cigarettes, tobacco, recreational drugs, caffeine drinks, or unnecessary medications. (also easy.)

• Wear a patch each day for twenty-one days for a maximum of four hours per day. (This one I interpreted to the current recommendations of my behavioral optometrist who told me to wear a bi-nasal patch. So I did that every day with occasional patching of my dominant eye.)

• Watch no late-night television (No problem.)

• Do not read for pleasure (novels, magazines) or do crossword puzzles. (This was tougher because I love to read. So I decided that all the reading had to be for information about vision therapy or health. That means I still did a fair amount of reading, but I justified it for the cause!)

• Take up singing, drawing, painting, sculpting, or writing. (I took up quilt piecing. It has become so addictive that one class wasn’t enough, I limited myself to two classes though–each once a month with two quilt blocks assigned for each class.)

•Play vision games each day. (Already committed to doing this!) • Eat grains, vegetables, legumes, and other healthy foods enriched with sea vegetables such as kelp, kombu, wakame, arame and hijiki. (OK, I must admit I didn’t get on board with the sea vegetables, but the rest of the eating plan was reasonable for me.)

• Keep a daily diary. (For this I started another program called Transform your Life through Handwriting by Vimala Rodgers. I probably didn’t keep adequate track of everything I should be doing as I journaled, but at least I wrote something every day. It’s a 40-day program.  I actually kept this up until March 30.)

• Exercise or move your body for at least fifteen minutes each day. (I figured that on the days I don’t do my 20 minutes of yoga, I do at least 15 minutes of housework.)

As if all of these guidelines weren’t challenge enough, I decided to combine this program with a diet program called The Virgin Diet by JJ Virgin. Basically you cut out the seven most problematic foods: gluten, eggs, sugar and artificial sweeteners, soy, corn, dairy and peanuts. I figured that since I was already on board with the dietary guidelines in the 21-day program, I might as well take it a step or two further. My biggest challenge is sugar, which is cut on either plan. The initial program for The Virgin Diet was also 21 days, so it seemed like the perfect compliment.

In actuality, it was pretty difficult, mostly in the diet area. It didn’t help that we celebrated 3 birthdays during that 21-day period. Finally on the evening of day 20, I had cake and ice cream with my family. I felt better  physically while I was on the program, but since my goal was to improve my vision, and I didn’t experience a great breakthrough, it was hard to stick to it. I’m not sure what kind of improvement would have enticed me to continue–maybe some degree of stereopsis? So, I returned to my regular, mostly-healthy diet and my regular vision therapy program.

Last month, I did a little experiment with taking really good eye-health supplement and a multi-vitamin, which improved how my eyes felt but was pretty expensive. (I’m noticing the difference without them though.) Next on the docket is a combination approach, something that I feel I can really follow long term.

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Developing Talented Eyes

I just finished reading a spell-binding book. It was first one in a stack of books I recently requested at my local public library. I have a habit of making such requests in bulk, and then realizing after I get the stack home that there’s no way I will ever read all of them before it’s time to return them. They either get renewed or quickly scanned as I move on to my next topic of interest.

My current passion is talent and genius. My original thought was that I should figure out what I’m missing as I teach my eyes how to work together properly. That usually means a lot of reading online and more books.

I’m not even sure where I came across the list, but I was so moved that I typed it on a sticky note on my computer and requested every book.

The list includes the following:

1. Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin

Image2. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by Daniel Coyle

3. Outliers: The Story of Success,  by Malcolm Gladwell (which I know I at least skimmed before)

4. The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong, by David Shenk

5. Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success, by Matthew Syed.

The first in my pile happened to be The Talent Code, which I found so mesmerizing that I finally took a few hours out and finished it. I have been applying the first fundamental all week in my vision therapy and as I have worked with my piano students. Coyle identifies three basic components that are necessary to unlock talent. They are: deep practice, ignition and master coaching.

Deep practice is not an unfamiliar concept, but it’s something I have tended to forget in the routine of doing vision therapy exercises as well as in teaching and learning other concepts. OF COURSE (visualize the head smack that accompanies this), deep practice is key to success. Why would anyone think otherwise? It’s just that it takes so much effort.

I was struck by the example given of a thirteen-year-old girl named Clarissa who demonstrated this principle in her clarinet practice. Coyle calls her the girl who did a month’s worth of practice in six minutes. I looked for the video on youtube and what came up was the trailer for the book. I didn’t find it on Coyle’s thetalentcode.com website either, even though someone had asked about it with no response.

Six minutes is a fairly random number, but I took it to heart. If a child can do it, so can I. So I concentrated on specific exercises for six minutes at a time and timed myself. I did it several times throughout the day. (This is instead of twenty minutes at one time–usually at the end of the day when I’m tired.) The next day I was dizzy. I don’t know if it was because of the concentrated practice or because I was dehydrated, but it felt like a shift anyway.

It’s a  shift I plan to continue to experience as I practice more deeply and apply principles of deep practice to my piano teaching and the quilting classes I’m taking. More on the other principles next time.

My Pet Peeve

Last night I went to a social event where we were all seated randomly and given conversation starters so we could get to know each other. One of them was “What is your pet peeve?” I didn’t share mine there but I will now because it’s the reason I started this blog in the first place. My pet peeve is that binocular vision disorders affect at least 10% of the population of the WORLD and no one seems to know there is a cure!  Indeed, it seems we are oblivious that it’s even a problem at all!

I didn’t share last night because 1. The pet peeves people were sharing were things like “I hate it when my children read the paper over my shoulder. . . “ and 2. I had already shared the most brave thing I had ever done and it effectively killed the conversation so I didn’t feel like a repeat performance was in order.  What was my conversation killer? I gave birth to my last four children at home, by choice, with a midwife. Yeah, that choice seemed better than risking a car birth trying to get to the hospital in time.  .  . So I chose to stay quiet yet again.

Monday I substituted in a 6th grade classroom for the morning. A couple of the children approached my desk and one girl asked if I have a glass eye. I kindly explained that my eyes don’t focus together but that I am doing vision therapy to teach them how. She seemed apologetic that she had even asked, but this is not a new thing for me. It happens a good percentage of the time in elementary classrooms. Sometimes I just hear them talking to each other about it, and other times they actually ask me. I could have taken it to the next level and had a little mini-class on strabismus, but I refrained—again. Not sure why except that I haven’t enjoyed drawing attention to my issues.

I could have also included my personal experience with my dad having a glass eye following cancer. It was difficult to tell his eye was not real. The prosthetic eye was painted by an artist and looked just like his other eye. The eye muscles performed the same way they did before, so the eyes actually moved together, giving a very normal appearance. People didn’t have a reason to ask if he had a glass eye, but the loss of vision was a difficult adjustment. Still, he didn’t complain, even when the cancer returned and claimed his life.

That would have been a little too much for the kids, but it certainly has shaped me and molded me into who I am today. I want to make him proud so I press on.

Do WHAT for two weeks?

Today I’m doing an experiment on myself. Who better? I am going without contacts or glasses all day long. Crazy! Why would I do that? Well, the idea goes back about 25 years to a conversation my husband and I had with a young couple we were friends with at the time. He was experimenting with a program for vision improvement. I don’t remember the name of it now, but the idea is the same as I have experienced in the programs I have studied. The premise is that as you go without correction to your eyesight, your vision improves. At the time I thought he was totally insane and affirmed that there was no way I could possibly survive without my -6 prescription lenses.

Fast forward 20+ years and I began looking into the possibility of natural vision improvement. I figured that if I could fix my feet (a story for another blog) I should be able to fix my eyes. Over the years I had tried out a couple of programs on a short-term basis but found the demands (in money and time) too extensive with my young family. About 3 years ago I purchased The Program for Better Vision by Martin Sussman as well as Rebuild Your Vision by Orlin G. Sorensen. I worked on each of these programs fairly diligently for the time periods suggested initially and was disappointed with my fairly minimal results.

To be fair, I did get some results. I worked with my regular optometrist (as suggested in the programs) to decrease my prescription strength. He was open to giving me trial contact lenses in ever-changing strengths over the course of several months but I didn’t achieve 20/20 vision with the weaker lenses. I did, however, get rid of the reading glasses I had succumbed to just prior to ordering the programs. It became a compromise for me. I was willing to have my distance vision be a little bit blurred in order to see clearly to read. In addition, I had been wearing toric lenses for my astigmatism in both eyes and I was able to get rid of that correction altogether and use standard soft contacts. My optometrist was actually amazed and said it shouldn’t have been possible.

At about that time I began reading more about achieving 3D vision or in other words, stereovision. I had been doing some exercises in my vision improvement programs that encourage eye teaming and they were very difficult for me. I became concerned when I started seeing double and sought out the assistance of a developmental optometrist recommended to me by my friend. She was in vision therapy at the time for her amblyopia (better known as “lazy eye”). She and my neighbor, whose daughter was in vision therapy, both told me about Sue Barry’s book Fixing my Gaze. My neighbor gave me her copy to read and it has been an inspiration to me ever since!

Over the course of the past 18 months, while I have been in vision therapy I have set aside the natural vision improvement courses. Generally speaking, optometrists don’t find these programs particularly effective. So I almost fell off my chair last week when Dr. Davies suggested I might want to go without contacts (or glasses) for two weeks. He had measured the curvature of my eyes and found it to be in the normal range. He indicated that he thought perhaps I was never near-sighted at all, but had been overcorrected for my whole life. WOW! (Side note: I am now wearing -4.5 and -5 lenses so going without is pretty challenging).

I got my first pair of glasses at the age of 2 years 11 months. I had woken up from a nap and suddenly my eyes were crossed. My mom freaked out and took me to our family opthamologist. This is the same doctor who performed eye surgery on my cross-eyed younger brother. Standard procedure at the time (and even now) is to prescribe bifocals. The lenses straighten the eyes but do nothing for actual binocular function. I wore bifocals until I was 15 and could finally get contact lenses. My eyes looked pretty straight most of the time until the last few years.

I’m not sure I can do two weeks, but I can start with the majority of a day. I put on my full strength glasses to drive my son to school and took them off when I got home. I adjusted the computer screen so I can see to write, but I still have a headache from craning my neck. (Obviously more adjustments need to be made.) So, if I indeed do have glasses-induced near-sightedness, how long will it take for my eyes to do what they are naturally meant to do, and see the world clearly? I’ll keep you posted!

Why I’m still on this road

I have avoided posting for some time because I have been in frustration mode regarding my lack of progress in vision therapy. I have been screaming on the inside (and sometimes I have actually said it) that I don’t want to be the poster child for vision therapy. Well, guess what folks? I am. I just am. And I recognize that acceptance of who I am is one of the steps to healing. My children successfully completed vision therapy months ago but I have not yet seen the transformation I am after.

Why am I on this journey? Well, it started when I became aware that it’s possible to train our eyes to see in new ways and the road was paved as I read Susan Barry’s entrancing book Fixing my Gaze. As I read, I realized that I was about the age she was when she began vision therapy and I had been doing some of the exercises she describes in the book. “I can do this too!” I said to myself. I wanted to experience the utter amazement she describes as she sees with new eyes. One of my favorite examples is the following:

“I rushed out of the classroom building to grab a quick lunch, and I was startled by my view of falling snow. The large wet flakes were floating about me in a graceful, three-dimensional dance. In the past, snowflakes appeared to fall in one plane slightly in front of me. Now I felt myself in the midst of the snowfall among all the snowflakes. Overcome with happiness, I forgot all about lunch and stood quite still, completely mesmerized by the enveloping snow.”

Barry relates many additional instances of seeing the world in a whole new way and shares the experiences of others who have also learned to see in 3D. My deepest desire is to join their ranks!

I had a little glimpse of it several months ago when I was talking to my daughter in her bedroom one evening. I was lying on the bottom bunk of her bed looking up and the bars of the upper bunk seemed to be popping out at me. I stared at the sight for a long time in wonder. It sounds odd to someone who has stereovision, but to me it was a miraculous sight. I haven’t had more of these breakthrough moments, but I plan to soon!

Improving vision naturally!

I have studied many programs and books on natural vision improvement over the past two years. These books and courses in vision improvement have many common characteristics. Most admit that what they teach contradicts what your eye doctor will tell you about vision. They also include eye exercises of various types. In my experience, the only doctors who will give you eye exercises are developmental optometrists. They specialize in functional vision improvement. That means they can help you teach your eyes to work better together, but do not advocate improvement in visual acuity (distance vision). In contrast, the natural vision improvement programs teach that you can completely rid yourself of glasses or contact lenses.

Each program begins with a discussion of the eye’s structure and the function of each part of the eye. Most also provide a list of terms with definitions. One common misconception that is often addressed is that we are born with certain eye challenges. However, vision is actually a learned process. Some of us don’t develop all the visual skills we need and so we find other ways of coping or accommodating for the visual deficit. Visual development depends on the experiences and environment of each individual. Good early visual skills can be damaged later by stress, poor nutrition and aging. Some people don’t develop good visual skills early on, others are compromised by excessive exposure to fluorescent lighting or hours of computer eyestrain. And most significant for me: some people see in 3D while others view the world as basically flat.

Since vision is a learned skill, it can also be improved through practice and teaching, which is the foundation of all vision therapy. One of my favorite books on improving your vision is: Improve your vision without glasses or contact lenses: a new program of therapeutic eye exercises. It’s by the American Vision Institute: Dr. Beresford, Dr. Muris, Dr. Allen and Dr. Young. I like it because it gave me a technique none of the other programs suggested, one that I knew I could incorporate into my life rather easily. It’s called “a year of traffic lights.” The suggestion is to do eye exercises at each stop light. The authors presuppose that the average person will stop at approximately ten lights per day for about 2 minutes at each light, providing about 20 minutes for practicing eye exercises. That’s what my vision therapist recommends anyway. It means that I can do a little extra, depending on how much travel I do that day.

They simplify the exercises down to “Seven new visual habits.”

Habit #1: Pumping. Other programs call this near/far focusing. The specific details of this exercise vary, but the basic idea is the same. It’s even one I have done at my doctor’s office in a manner specific to my eye issues. Focus on the smallest detail of an object about 6 inches away and then rhythmically change focus to something more than 15 feet away. Choose a different object each time you focus in the distance, while the near object stays stationary.

Habit #2: Tromboning. My doctor actually called one of the exercises in his office by this name. There are various names given for this technique, but the basis is the same.; Hold an object (finger, thumb, pen, etc.) at arm’s length in front of you and slowly bring it toward you until it touches the tip of your nose. Then move it slowly back out to arms length, like a musician playing a trombone. You should keep it in focus, not seeing double, while breathing slowly in and out with the movement.

Habit #3: Clock rotations. Start by looking at a far object directly ahead. While keeping head and shoulders still, look to the far left, as if looking at the 9:00 on your giant clock. Stretch for a couple of seconds, not looking at anything in particular, then return to far object at the center. Repeat for 10:00, 11:00, etc. all the way around the clock. Do it slowly. This stretches the extraocular muscles.

Habit #4: Eye Rolls. Slowly roll eyes in a complete circle one way then the other. Aim for coordination and control as you stretch the extraocular muscles. This should never be done violently or with any jerking. You don’t want to see flashes of light because that signals stress to the retina. The goal is to develop smooth, controlled eye movements. If it makes you dizzy to do clock rotations and eye rolls, you can cover your eyes with your hands to do them with your eyes open underneath. (You probably don’t want to cover your eyes at the traffic light, howeverJ.)

Habit #5: Slow Blinking. Inhale and blink normally. Close eyes as you exhale, relax and slowly blow the air out. The object is to just relax, slow blinking in time to your slow breathing.

Habit #6: Squeeze Blinking. Squeeze eyelids tightly shut and hold to a count of three. Open wide and blink a few times then keep repeating. This produces more tear fluid to refresh the eyes. Isolate the eyelid muscles as you repeat this exercise.

Habit #7: Blur Zoning. This also has various names (magic pencil, etc.). Slowly run your gaze around the edge of a blurred object, following the outlines. Myopes (nearsighted individualsl) will look at a far object while hyperopes (far-sighted people) or presbyopes (those who need reading glasses) will look at a near object. (Choose what is blurry for you.) Study the smallest detail you can see and work to determine the exact shape, working on smaller and smaller details. Avoid squinting as you calmly pick out more details.

ROTATE techniques at each stoplight. They can also be done during TV commercials, or when reading or talking on the phone. You can also do them while walking or weight lifting (during whatever exercise you do.)

These seven techniques are found in various forms in most of the programs I have studied. Improve your vision also includes sixteen booster techniques which range from positive (power) thinking to chart scanning to acupressure, light therapy and palming. My favorite is the last one: aversion therapy. It is suggested that after you have adapted to a weaker prescription you smash the previous pair. You get out all the negative feelings and commit to better vision. I probably couldn’t really smash a perfectly good pair of glasses, so I would choose to donate them to someone less fortunate instead. ( If you keep the frames, they recommend that you wrap the lenses in adhesive tape and put them in a plastic bag before smashing them so pieces of glass don’t fly everywhere.)

Several times in the course of this book, readers are encouraged to use the techniques under the care of a behavioral optometrist. The authors share the address for COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development) and OEP (Optometric Extension Program Foundation). There are no phone numbers or website information, probably because the book was published in 1996. Searchers can now find answers regarding vision therapy on the COVD and OEP websites. This is one of the few books or programs which suggests working with a behavioral optometrist. I have found it a helpful starting place in my quest for better vision.

Ready, Get SET, Go!

One of the activities my eye doctor has recommended is a game called SET. It’s a card game and the skills needed to play it use both sides of the brain. Integrating both sides of my brain as I work toward stereovision is what I’m all about! I’m ordering my copy of the game TODAY so I can play it with my family. Meanwhile, I found some fun online versions and I have become quite obsessed.

The first one is connected to the SET game website:http://www.setgame.com/set/puzzle_frame.htm. It’s a New York Times daily puzzle and you can enter to win a prize. I don’t know what you win, but I enter just for fun anyway:) I like this one because there is only one daily puzzle and when I have completed it, I feel a sense of accomplishment. The other online version I found is at http://thebreretons.com/setgame/. This one is really dangerous because when you complete the puzzle (i.e. identify six sets), it congratulates you and asks if you want to play again. It actually never ends and has become rather addictive for me. I sometimes get stuck and just have to click away from the site. (And when I’m not stuck I have to do the same thing!) The good news is that I am getting pretty good at it, so hopefully that means it’s helping my brain rewire:)

The game has been around for about 38 years and has won 29 best game awards. I am surprised I had never heard of it before! Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“Set is a real-time card game designed by Marsha Falco in 1974 and published by Set Enterprises in 1991. The deck consists of 81 cards varying in four features: number (one, two, or three); symbol (diamond, squiggle, oval); shading (solid, striped, or open); and color (red, green, or purple).[1] Each possible combination of features (e.g., a card with three striped green diamonds) appears precisely once in the deck.”

The online versions provides a random grouping of 12 cards to make sets from. I’m looking forward to playing it as a card game with my family!