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Freedom From Glasses

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"Many doctors won't go into [natural eye care] because it will reduce their income," says Agarwal, who recently taught a weeklong series of classes in Woodstock under the aegis of the Matagiri Sri Aurobindo Center, Mount Tremper. "Eyes are a multimillion-dollar industry, from eyeglasses and artificial tears to contact lenses and Lasik surgery." Mainstream medical books say that presbyopia (the "over-40 syndrome") is a sign of aging. "We have countless cases where people have been able to get rid of their glasses," he says. "Many say, 'When I joined the camp I couldn't read the newspaper, and now I can.'" Agarwal himself is 70 and, following routines taught at the School for Perfect Vision, can read without glasses. Yet, perhaps even more than presbyopia, it's myopia that is a modern epidemic—thanks to the rise of smartphones, texting, iPads, and other in-your-face technology. "We have more near work these days—we read more, write more, watch more TV," says Agarwal. Some 90 percent of accountants wear glasses, while only 10 percent of farmers are nearsighted because they look at the horizon. Reams of studies show that function affects structure, but the textbooks continue to say, stubbornly, that myopia is genetic.

An Eye Rx Tailored to You

As practiced at the ashrams and in self-help books, the Bates Method has its followers and has helped many people. "It's great stuff, and I've integrated a lot of it into my own work," says Grossman, with one caveat. "The problem is that it's not individualized." Grossman practices integrative medicine, meaning that he tailors treatment to the specific person—and that he treats not only the symptoms but also the underlying causes behind them. "In the [mainstream] eye doctor world, two people with the same amount of nearsightedness will get the same prescription. In my world, I'm going to treat each of you differently—because the reasons why the nearsightedness occurred are going to be different." After wearing glasses since age eight, Grossman cured his own myopia in his 20s. With his patients, he always asks about the age of onset, which can be telling; myopia often develops in children after a big change in their lives, such as moving to a new town. "All of a sudden their world is totally different, and they become really shy." If he has a patient with glaucoma, which is damage to the optic nerve caused by a buildup of pressure inside the eye, he will ask if the patient has a lot of pressure in his life.

"I don't just stop with the physical. There's a body, mind, and spiritual aspect to all conditions," explains Grossman, who takes a lot of his cues from traditional Chinese medicine and practices acupuncture in addition to optometry. One of his patients developed a cataract in her right eye when her father was dying and she was going through a divorce. "In Chinese medicine, the right eye is associated with the father," says Grossman. "I gave her some nutritional and homeopathic things to do, but it was mostly emotional for her." The cataract cleared up after she was done grieving and her divorce was final. Another patient developed macular degeneration while she was taking care of an aging parent and neglecting herself. "Macular problems are about your retina not being nourished," says Grossman, who prescribed a diet rich in lutein (kale is the best food for the eyes, he notes) and also talked to the patient's therapist. Her eyes improved. In general, the kinds of questions that he asks—What went on in your life before you needed glasses? What did you not want to see in the world at that time?—are not what doctors typically want to know. But for Grossman, they're critical. "Some people somaticize things in their back, or in their gut. I get the people who somaticize things in their eyes."

Relaxing into Better Vision

For Nancy Neff, improving her eyesight was an exercise in letting go. After an initial eye exam, Grossman concluded that there was nothing organically wrong with her eyes; they simply held an enormous amount of tension. "I think that my vision problems started so early because I was a very sensitive, scared kid," says Neff. "My mother was always telling me to go faster, do more—I was in that fight-or-flight state." While Grossman instructed her in eye relaxation techniques, Neff's natural inclination was to struggle and strive, not to relax and let it happen. Yet she made progress, and she was gradually able to reduce her prescription. Then there was a long transition period during which she took her glasses off and put them on again several times during the day. "You want to break the addiction to glasses," she says. "There are lots of things you can do without them—clean your house, or take a walk around the neighborhood." Life without glasses and contacts was at first startling; Neff had to relearn how to see natural depth, which is hard to perceive behind glass. Colors were also more vibrant.

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