How To Take Mindful Care Of Your Eyes

What part of you works from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you fall asleep again at night? Even while you’re binge-watching a series or killing time on your phone, they’re quietly doing their job: your eyes.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
how to rest your eyes
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

We all know how important it is to take breaks from our busy lives, and find pockets of mindfulness in our routines to rest weary, overactive minds. While it’s easier to acknowledge that working hard can leave us feeling mentally or emotionally fatigued, we take for granted that physical parts of our bodies need rest too. In this article, explore how to rest your eyes.

Why Resting Your Eyes Is Important

With most of us doing so much of our work in front of laptops and computer screens, our eyes may be quietly working harder than we ever give them credit for – and incurring huge amounts of strain day to day. We expose our eyes to endless harsh, pixelated screens, we subject them to lack of sleep and squinting and scrolling, and they dutifully endure allergies, bright fluorescent light and even air conditioning.

Your Eyes Need A Break

Mild discomfort, tired or scratchy eyes, irritation, headaches, and even blurry vision are all clues that your eyes have been pushed past their limits. Eye strain (or asthenopia) is a temporary condition, but it can interact with other health concerns, making them worse.

It’s not hard to imagine that staring at a bright phone screen in bed late at night will exacerbate insomnia or nightmares, or that regular TV marathons could have something to do with an ongoing migraine problem. If you routinely experience exhausted eyes due to prolonged screen time, you may even have what the American Optometric Association calls digital eye strain, or DES.

We don’t tend to appreciate that eyes can become worn out, but the truth is that there are tiny muscles in our pupils that can get fatigued and overworked, just like any other muscle in the body. The eye constricts for near vision using the ciliary muscles, which dilate and relax to focus on objects in the distance. The extraocular muscles allow the movement of the eyes from side to side, which explains why prolonged reading can lead to eye exhaustion.

How To Rest Your Eyes

If you already meditate or have a daily mindfulness practice, why not spare a thought for these delicate yet ultra-hard-working parts of the body? There are several quick and easy eye relaxation techniques that can reduce eye tension and strain, leaving you fresh and bright-eyed, quite literally. Best of all, these techniques can be combined with a mindfulness practice or even used to extend and enrich meditation.

In the following, we are explaining three of these eyes resting practices. Discover guided audio mediation for eye relaxation below, too.

  1. Somatic Movement: Restful Eyes Margaret Rinaldi 26:52
  2. Eye Relaxation Andrew Johnson 3:09
  3. Mindful Seeing For Being Present Donna Rucinski Harrington 2:15
  4. Rest Your Eyes & Calm Your Nervous System Dayana 27:59
  5. Mindfulness of Sight Peter Radcliffe 3:38
  6. Finding Stillness Beth Budesheim 12:06
  7. Meditation For Sleep - Mindfulness Of The Eyes The BioMedical Institute of Yoga and Meditation 9:47
  8. Guided Practice For Healthy Eyes And Greater Vision Stasia Bliss 16:27

Bookmark the playlist for later here.

Use Your Palms

This is a quick and simple technique for relieving eye strain during the day. Your eyes are constantly taking in visual data and sending it to your brain for processing. While closing them for a few moments will certainly give them a rest, you can take this further by cupping your hands over your eyes so that the heel of each palm is pressing gently into your eye socket.

Now apply soft pressure – like the slightest massage for the eyes. Focus your eyes into the black, middle distance and relax, breathing deeply. You may see blotches of color and feel your eyes twitch beneath your eyelids. Keep gazing softly into the darkness until all these colors and shapes fade into black. You are essentially resetting your vision and lubricating your eyes, preventing muscle strain and dryness.

Make it mindful: Use this palming technique as you warm up for a seated or laying down mediation. Find your breath, get comfortable in your position, and allow your eyes – and every other part of your body – to come to rest.

The 20:20:20 Rule

Many optometrists have an easy rule of thumb to remind you to take sufficient eye breaks during the day:

For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away for 20 seconds and let your eyes settle on an object around 20 feet away from you.

Gazing into the distance this way lets your eye muscles release, decreasing your chance of eye strain. This can be a lifesaver when you’re poring over tiny text on a dimly lit screen, or working with small details or objects close to your face.

Make it mindful: Whether it’s work emails, social media or a particularly distracting online rabbit hole you’ve fallen into, gazing off into the distance doesn’t just give your eyes a break, it opens a window for you to do a mindful check in with yourself and come more fully to the present. Twenty seconds is the perfect length of time to do a quick body scan, and at the same time make a gentle inquiry into your mental and emotional state.

A few deep breaths can slow your heart rate and allow you to self-regulate. Do some tight shoulders need a little stretch? Are you dehydrated, distracted, or slouching? Checking in with yourself as you give your eyes a momentary break lets you give everything else a quick pause and reset, too.

You might like to extend this into a full (albeit brief) meditative practice. Choose an object in the distance to focus on and take your time exploring its every visual aspect – notice its shape, color, texture, size. Let the entire world vanish around you as you immerse yourself in full but relaxed contemplation of this single object.

You can use any ordinary object as a kind of “visual mantra.” If you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the object in front of you, and let those thoughts go for the moment. Andrea Wachter has written a wonderful article about what to do when thoughts arise during mediation that might help you to stay present.

In doing this mini meditation several times a day, you are anchoring both body and mind in the present, and giving yourself a moment to discharge stress.

Use Your Eyes Wisely

The harsh blue backlighting of laptops and smartphones is incredibly aggravating to our eyes – especially late at night. Our ancestors evolved in a world lit by natural light that rose and fell with the sun and with the seasons, and consequently every one of us possesses intricate light-sensitive mechanisms that cue us to wake or sleep, to be active or to relax. Routinely overusing our eyes can teach us to ignore our body’s signals that it needs to rest and recuperate. But with a little conscious effort, we can become reacquainted not only with our body’s limitations, but with our natural rhythms.

Read more: Explore what makes a healthy evening routine.

Make it mindful: Whether you’re using your eyes to read, work or gaze at a screen, try to bring a little more mindfulness to how you’re feeling. Where is your body holding tension? What is needed right here, right now? How are your energy levels?

Your eyes follow your intention and focus. A very important question is, what are you really using them for? Take a moment to notice where you are straining or forcing, and why. Tired eyes may be your body’s way of asking you to step away from overwork or mindless social media use.

As humans we rely so tremendously on our sense of sight that it can ironically become invisible to us. Resting the eyes is an excellent way to be more mindful of what we ordinarily take for granted. As we rest our physical eyes, we instead turn our “eye” of conscious awareness inwards to see what we can discover within.

Meditation. Free.