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MINDFULNESS AND GRATITUDE FOR YOUR AGING EYES

Most people say the gift of sight is their most valuable sense perception – and almost everyone experiences decline in visual function with aging. B One of the most common symptoms of aging is the decline in accommodation, the process by which the eye changes (accommodates) focus to maintain a clear image of objects at different distances. This decline often begins before age 50 years. Accommodation acts like an automatic reflex, but it can also be consciously controlled.

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MINDFULNESS AND GRATITUDE FOR YOUR AGING EYES

Most people say the gift of sight is their most valuable sense perception – and almost everyone experiences decline in visual function with aging.


One of the most common symptoms of aging is the decline in accommodation, the process by which the eye changes (accommodates) focus to maintain a clear image of objects at different distances. This decline often begins before age 50 years. Accommodation acts like an automatic reflex, but it can also be consciously controlled. It occurs by the contraction and relaxation of the tiny ciliary muscles attached to the lens. This allows the lens to change shape to focus on objects at varying distances from near to far. When functioning properly, this focusing process can occur almost instantaneously.


Presbyopia is the formal term for age-related decline in accommodation, leading to difficulty seeing small objects, especially up close. It results from the lens becoming harder, stiffer and less flexible with age. Symptoms include blurred vision, headaches and needing more light or magnification for close-up work. Reading and looking at a computer or phone cause the ciliary muscles to contract, changing the shape of your lens for near vision. When you look far away, the ciliary muscles relax. Repeated close work can cause symptoms associated with eye strain and tension in facial muscles. The added stress and muscle

tension of meeting deadlines can create neck pain, jaw clenching and muscle contraction throughout the body – all from the unskillful use of your eyes and your attention.


Here are some mindfulness practices for your eyes. They do not take the place of professional advice for eye problems, but they can help you manage stress-related symptoms associated with your eyes.


Simple gratitude

We hurry around all day being busy and ignoring the wonder of our sense of sight and the wisdom of our bodies. Try keeping a gratitude journal. Writing down three things (or more) for which you are grateful each day can increase your awareness of the many gifts in your life, including the gift of sight. You might use the question, “What went well today?” as a guide to these journal entries. When I do this regularly, I find my eyes are wide open to gratefulness for little things throughout my entire day.


Self massage

Begin this self-nurturing practice by removing your glasses or contacts and gazing at your hands, both the palms and the backs. See your hands as a visible continuation of all your family tree, including your parents, grandparents and all your ancestors. Recall the ways in which you have used your hands in acts of kindness and compassion. Then rub the palms together briskly until heat is generated. Placing the palms over your eyes, feel the selfkindness and compassion of caring for your eyes. Then use the fingertips to gently massage the muscles of the temples, forehead, face, scalp and neck.


Focusing near and far

A classic eye exercise from the yoga tradition involves alternating your visual focus between near and far objects. While reading or working at the computer, periodically rest your eyes by looking into the distance. This is one advantage of situating your workspace with a window view. Alternate your focus between a distant object and a near object, such as the thumbnail of your outstretched arm, keeping your focus on each object for a few seconds before shifting focus. See how close you can bring the thumbnail and maintain sharp focus. Stop there. Allow the eye and facial muscles to soften and relax in each position, far and near, before shifting. Allow the sense of relaxation to spread throughout your body. Practice for one to 10 minutes at least once daily as your time allows.


Mindfulness of your senses

To create a foundation of mindful awareness throughout your day, take a few minutes to formally sit and simply be aware of your breathing, your body and your senses. Sitting comfortably in a tall, dignified posture, feel the breath coming into and out of your body. Feel the sensations of the breath in the nose, back of the throat, chest and belly. Feel the physical tactile sensations of your body touching the chair and the floor. Open your senses wide to include sounds, tastes, smells and the sense of sight, whether your eyes are open or closed. Notice colors, shapes, light, shadow, moving objects and still objects, welcoming all of them into your visual field.


Cultivating mindfulness and gratitude can enrich your sense perceptions and your entire life. The gift of sight can be more deeply appreciated, even as it changes over time. I have recorded a five-minute audio version of the above exercises. You can access it on my Web page at mindbodystudio.org

DR. JOHN PATTERSON

Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

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