By Sara Calabro
Ever get that thing where your eyelid won’t stop twitching? Annoying, right? It comes on unexpectedly and makes it hard to concentrate on anything else.
Recently, AcuTake contributing writer Eric Kerr had this experience, known as myokymia in Western medical parlance. His eyelid had been twitching for three months straight! He suspected it was caused by excessive computer use, a likely theory given the known ramifications of too much screen time. These include eye pain and fatigue—which can cause involuntary spasms in the eyelids—as well as vision loss, dry eyes and headaches. The Western medical world now has a name for this, Computer Vision Syndrome.
Inspired to help others deal with their own computer-induced eye problems, Eric made this video on acupressure for eye health. All points mentioned in that video are highly recommended for anyone suffering from eye problems.
But when I heard Eric’s story and watched his video, it reminded of me an even simpler technique for reducing eye strain that one of my teachers shared with me while I was in acupuncture school.
The easy antidote for computer eyes
I wrote about this teacher last year in a piece on how to improve your posture.
Kiiko Matsumoto is a renowned Japanese acupuncturist known for her eccentric and humorous teaching style. Her words of wisdom often come in the form of off-handed remarks or seemingly irrelevant anecdotes. However, Kiiko’s comments are always purposeful and remarkably useful. Sold-out seminars with Kiiko are filled with furiously scribbling acupuncturists who are desperate to retain her barrage of priceless gems.
I’m going to share with you one of these gems for reducing eye strain caused by too much computer use.
One day, while working under Kiiko’s watch in the student clinic, I met an investment banker with chronic eye strain. He regularly worked 80-hour weeks, almost always in front of a computer. He said it was hard to keep his eyes open—not because he was sleepy but because his eyes felt so physically tired and weak, and occasionally even painful. He frequently had to rub and press his eyes because they felt so dry. Sometimes his vision was blurry.
I performed an acupuncture treatment on the patient that included many of the points mentioned in Eric Kerr’s video on acupressure for eye health. It looked similar to how Eric looked after giving himself acupuncture for his chronic eye twitching.
Kiiko approved of the treatment but pulled me aside before I was about to dismiss the patient. She told me to remember to tell him about the sky. Huh? She said that one of the best things chronic computer users can do to preserve their eyes is stare at the sky.
At first this seemed obvious. Looking at something other than the computer screen gives the eyes a much needed rest. No, Kiiko said. Tell him specifically to look at the sky.
Five Element acupuncture helps explain sky staring
Unfortunately, I never got the full story from Kiiko on why sky staring is so encouraged for heavy computer users with eye problems. After sharing her recommendation for my overworked banker, she quickly moved on to help other students unravel their patients’ puzzles. But I have a theory as to why this incredibly simple technique comes so highly recommended by such an experienced acupuncturist. Here goes:
In acupuncture, each sense is associated with a certain organ and meridian system. Sight goes with the Liver system, so any issues related to eye health are usually attributed, at least in part, to a Liver imbalance.
Additionally, chronic computer use often causes tension throughout the body. Sitting at a desk all day, often hunched over a keyboard, can lead to neck and shoulder tightness and poor posture. To boot, emotional tension runs high when you’re working long hours at a stressful job. Liver is the system that’s responsible for smooth flow throughout the body. This means it’s the system that is most directly affected by things that cause us to be less go-with-the-flow and more rigid.
When we’re tense and over using our eyes, it’s a double whammy on the Liver system. This, I believe, has to do with why Kiiko suggests staring at the sky as an antidote for computer-induced eye problems.
One of the concepts from which acupuncturists make diagnoses and develop treatment plans is that of the five elements. Each organ/meridian system is associated with a natural element. These elements are represented by colors, physical characteristics, and emotional tendencies. Human beings possess all of the elements but often one or several of the elements are over expressed (causing other elements to be under expressed). Balance in health and life is achieved when all elements are equally expressed.
That is a very gross oversimplification of Five Element acupuncture, but it helps explain a basic Five Element concept that relates to the benefits of looking at the sky.
To achieve balance among all five elements, each element must help the others along. And certain elements are especially important to the expression of other certain elements. For example, the Wood element is heavily influenced by the Water element. This is because Water precedes Wood in what’s known as the generation cycle, a clockwise procession of the elements (see picture at right).
Water nourishes Wood, meaning the Water element has to be balanced in order for the Wood element to be in balance. Wood needs to be right in order for the Fire element to be right. And so on.
So, looking at eye health from a Five Element perspective, if computer-induced eye problems are primarily a Liver issue, we’ll want to nourish the element that represents Liver. Liver’s element is Wood. As mentioned above, ensuring healthy expression of the Wood element requires paying attention to the Water element.
The sky is blue. The sky produces rain. It is an ideal manifestation of the Water element.
If you’re one of many people who spend a lot of time in front of a computer—or iPad, iPhone/BlackBerry or TV—look at the sky whenever you can. Great if you can actually get outside to do it, but even looking out your office window can be helpful.
While looking at the sky, meditate on what you’re doing. You’re strengthening your Water element so that it can nourish your overworked Wood element. Think of watering an old, dried out tree trunk and seeing it come back to life.
“Look at the sky” sounds simple but it can have profound effects on eye problems caused by too much computer use. Try it.
Featured photo by Lisa Comrie Gibson; photo of Eric Kerr by Eric Kerr; Five Element infographic by AcuTake
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