After a day spent hunched over your computer, it probably isn’t just your back and your neck that feel strained. Your eyes feel that way, too. In fact, it may take a moment for them to focus on anything in the distance. Blurred vision is just one of the hallmarks of strained eyes, which can be a major annoyance, but it doesn’t have to become a lifelong issue—providing you know how to prevent it. And that’s where yoga for eyes comes in. But let’s discuss digital eye strain, first.
What exactly is digital eye strain?
Lilli Link, MD, an internal medicine physician and functional medicine practitioner with Parsley Health, describes eye strain as a condition that arises when one stares at a fixed point for an extended period of time. This might be your computer screen, phone, book, or even the road on long drives. She compares the feeling of eye strain to trying to hold a dumbbell in one position, rather than lifting it up and down.
“Eventually, your muscles, which need to be used to get your lens in the precise position to see clearly at that distance, start to fatigue,” and the lenses of your eyes get stuck in that one point of contraction, Dr. Link explains. “Then, when you look up, they have trouble relaxing.… Everything looks a blur because your lens is not easily accommodating to the new shape it needs [to be in] after spending so many hours in one position.”
What does digital eye strain actually feel like?
Specifically, strained eyes usually feel sore, heavy, and tired. They may be red, dry, or itchy, because looking at a screen tends to reduce how frequently we blink. Contact lens wearers may be particularly susceptible to digital eye strain, according to a 2018 review on the subject, because contacts can contribute to general eye dryness, which exacerbates the symptoms of eye strain. Luckily, the review also found that simply taking out contacts will help alleviate your discomfort.
And, as mentioned previously, strained eyes are also indicated by blurred or double vision. Dr. Link notes that headaches, as well as back and neck pain, may accompany eye strain, but she adds that these symptoms can also reflect the kind of overall body strain that comes with sitting for hours at a time.
What should you do if you think your eyes are strained?
Luckily, eye strain neither leads to impaired vision nor indicates a more serious condition, Dr. Link says. That said, it never hurts to get in touch with your provider if you think your eyes are strained—you may need new glasses or contacts prescription or if your eyes are chronically dry (which could be a sign of another health issue). And, for the record, if headaches are your main concern but you can’t pinpoint the cause, Dr. Link says you should definitely talk to your doctor. (Want a professional opinion on your symptoms? Schedule a free consultation with a Parsley Health advisor to find out if Parsley Health is a fit for you.)
Otherwise, she says it’s relatively easy to know when you’re dealing with digital eye strain and not something else: “If [the symptoms occur] only at the end of the day and they go away, and on the weekends they’re better, you can be pretty sure that it’s just eye strain.” In those cases, she recommends treating your eyes at home.
How to treat eye strain (yes, yoga for eyes):
An ocular yoga practice (or, yoga for eyes) consists of routines in which you exercise your eyes by looking side to side, in circles, or up and down (note: using only the eyes). While research suggests that these regimens may help alleviate eye fatigue, you need to commit a half-hour, five days a week in order to see results. Trying to fit more exercise into your busy schedule? You can! Here are simple, easy, and fast options that Dr. Link recommends to her patients dealing with digital eye strain:
1. The 20-20-20 rule
The 20-20-20 rule is looking (fixing your eyes) at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Doing so forces your eyes to focus on a new point that’s farther away than, say, your computer, which snaps them out of that “stuck” position Dr. Link described earlier. It’s likely that your posture will also correct itself in the process, which could help reduce the physical discomfort that comes with desk work. Research has found this method to be highly effective at reducing the symptoms of eye strain—and it comes recommended by the American Optometric Association.
2. Individual yoga for eyes
Dr. Link recommends an exercise that works one eye at a time, using three points of focus: Cover one eye but keep it open. Hold a pencil in front of your uncovered eye and focus on it. After looking at the pencil, find a point that’s a few feet away and direct your gaze there. Finally, find a distant object to focus on. Shift your focus between these three points five to 10 times, then switch eyes. While doing this exercise, she explains, “[you’re] working the ciliary muscles that control that lens. You’re exercising it and stretching it as you would any other muscle.” As far as quick fixes for eye strain go, you don’t get much quicker—or more efficient—than this.
Bottom line: Show your eyes the care they deserve.
Like any other part of your body, your eyes could benefit from a regular workout, if for no other reason than to prevent a little temporary discomfort and blurred vision at the end of your workdays. The next time you notice your eyes starting to itch or your long-distance vision blurring, perform one of the yoga for eyes exercises above. Not only will you give yourself a well-deserved break, but your eyes will feel better, too.