When your vision starts to go, the customary treatment is to begin wearing glasses. If your vision is bad enough, a corrective-lenses restriction is added to your driver's license. It's not often that someone with such a restriction is able to have it removed.
That's why retired pastor Harold Younger was hesitant to go to the DMV and tell them his once-failing eyesight had improved to 20-20 and that he no longer needed a restriction on his license. He says he just didn't have the nerve to tell them he'd managed to correct his vision through an alternative healing method that involves repetitive eye exercises.
But when he moved to a different state and got a new license, he decided to let them know that his need for corrective lenses was a thing of the past. The DMV agreed. That was in 1985, and Younger decided to share his secret by opening an alternative vision-correction school in Alabama. He'll be at the Unity Church of Memphis on October 18th for a workshop on the Bates Method of vision correction.
"The neat thing about the Bates Method is once you learn it, you don't have to get up every day and do the stuff," says Younger. "It lasts for the rest of your life. Once you get good vision habits back, you keep them. I've had good vision since 1985, and I don't do the exercises unless I'm teaching."
The exercises, which focus on relaxation and regaining the eyes' natural movement, include conscientious blinking and what Younger calls "shifting" -- allowing the eyes to follow an instrument that moves back and forth. Younger says once participants understand the concept of shifting, they can practice on picket fences or rows of cars.
Another Bates Method exercise is called palming, which is done by placing warm palms over closed eyes and concentrating on sending healing energy through the hands into the eyes.
"A lot of people don't understand palming because they don't understand the energy of the body," says Younger. "They don't believe in stuff like that. But the energy that we have in our hands is measurable by instruments. For instance, if you hurt yourself, what's the first thing you do? You put your hand on it because it makes it feel better. There's healing in the hands."
Bates Method teachers are no strangers to skepticism. Dr. William H. Bates, an early ophthalmologist and the founder of the method, was fired from a New York hospital when he released the findings of his research to the American Medical Association. The AMA refused to accept that poor vision could be improved to near-perfect.
Bates began his research in the 1890s. He found that people with good vision moved their eyes more than people with failing vision. He also found that most of his good-vision subjects had a more relaxed lifestyle. He used these principles to create a method whereby vision could be improved through exercises and relaxation techniques.
He believed that failing vision could likely be associated with stress. Even today, Bates Method teachers often refer their more anxious patients to counseling before allowing them to try the techniques.
"I've had a lot of students tell me about stressful things happening around the time they got glasses, like maybe their grandmother died or they lost a pet," says Younger.
Traditional theory says that people see about 10 percent with their mind and 90 percent with their eyes, but the Bates Method teaches the opposite, which correlates with the stress theory: If the mind is stressed out, it can't put as much work into good vision.
According to Younger, the Bates Method can benefit everybody, no matter how bad his or her vision. He says the method may not eliminate the need for glasses in everyone, but it can help reduce the amount of correction needed. He also recommends the method for people with 20-20 vision, as a form of prevention.
"I'm teaching a woman now who only has one eye, due to an accident a few years back," he says. "The vision in that eye is good, but she's interested in preserving that vision because she doesn't have anything to fall back on."
The key, he says, is determination. People who don't make a strong commitment to trading old vision habits for new ones may not see much improvement.
"It's not for everybody, at least not any more than becoming a vegetarian or lifting weights would be," he says.
Harold Younger's Bates Method workshop will be held Saturday, Oct. 18th, at 10 a.m. at the Unity Church of Memphis (2570 Kirby Rd.). Call 754-4241 to pre-register.
You can e-mail Bianca Phillips at bphillips@MemphisFlyer.com.