Today we’re looking at our second two categories of vision training.
Last week we talked about the four categories of vision. The reason those came up is that March, in the United States, is “save your vision” month, and whenever people think about vision, very often they confuse vision with eyesight. As we discussed last week, vision is more complicated, in that it is inclusive of multiple categories of skills, four to speak of. The four categories we talked about last week, number one is visual resolution, which is your ability to see things clearly, both up close, at a distance, and in different lighting conditions. Secondly then, is eye movements, how well can you move your eyes, do you practice moving your eyes through full ranges of motion, and also how accurately can you move your eyes. Third then, is depth judgment of depth perception, so how well can I see where things are in relationship to one another. Then finally, we have peripheral awareness, which is how well can I see everything I’m not looking at.
Now sports scientists, vision scientists around the world say each of these four categories are super important. The need for skills in each of these categories is apparent. Let’s say I’m an older person, and I’m having difficulty navigating through my house. One of the reasons people have difficulty navigating their environment is because they lose peripheral awareness. As peripheral awareness goes away, it compromises your balance, you’re more likely to fall. So regardless of the person that we’re working with, in Z-Health at least, we say “hey, vision we need to look at all four categories of skill, and give you ways to amplify those because they’re all important.”
Last week we talked about eye movements and we talked about depth judgment, we gave you a simple exercise for each one. This week then, we want to talk about visual resolution, meaning how clearly can I see things, and then also give you some ideas about working on expanding your peripheral awareness.
To work on visual resolution, we’re going to do a simple little drill with what we call a “letter ball”, it’s a very complicated name, it’s a ball with some letters on it. Now, you can make these as big as you want, or as small as you want. Now obviously, whenever we’re working on visual resolution, the whole idea here is how clearly can I see what it is that I’m looking at. So we do a lot of different drills in Z-Health utilizing letter balls, but I’m going to give you just a couple of the simple of examples. First thing to do, get yourself a tennis ball, write some letters on it, but I want you to write them large enough and dark enough that you can see them clearly in normal lighting. That’s an important piece, so large enough and dark enough that you can see them in normal lighting.
Now, once you have the ball, if you are comfortable playing catch or tossing the ball, that’s a great way to start. However, if you are uncomfortable with tossing and catching, first thing you’re going to do is look at one of the letters and just move the ball around. Now, that’s a lot like the eye movement drill that we did last week, but that’s actually where we start most people, because if your eyes aren’t comfortable in motion, the likelihood of you wanting to track a moving object and being able to see it clearly as your eyes are moving decreases. So you start by building better eye movements, as your eye movements improve, that should help to improve your resolution.
Let’s say that you’ve gotten past that, what are some ways that you can work on visual resolution with your letter ball. Well first of all, like I said, choose a ball that’s kind of bright, use a darker color, make sure that you have large letters that are bold. Once you have that, start playing catch with yourself. You can play catch with someone else, but it’s just easier to take this to work, pull it out on your breaks, and just play catch. Now, your goal as you’re playing catch with yourself is to focus on one of the letters. So if I throw the ball up and I see the letter “H” at the top, I’m going to track that as far as I can, hopefully all the way down into my hand. Now if the ball’s rotating, I’m going to switch my eyes to the next letter, and again, I’m trying to keep it as clear as possible.
The way that I progress this, now obviously I can start to throw the ball against the wall. I can play catch with other people, but giving yourself a small portion of a ball to focus on, and trying to identify the letter is a great way to tell your brain “hey, activate, we want you to pay attention” and that will often help to improve your visual resolution. Now, as you get better with the larger letters, make yourself a second tennis ball. One can of balls, really cheap. All right, your second one going to make much smaller letters. You start off with the same process, making sure you can follow the letters as the ball’s in motion, and then you start off playing catch, again tracking, and utilizing your eyes, trying to maintain as much clarity as possible on your target.
Once you’ve mastered that, the next thing that you’d want to do is begin doing that in dim lighting. So rather than being in a nice bright office building like this, or being outside in the bright sunlight, play letter ball catch with yourself in dim lighting conditions. So in the morning, or toward dusk. Because as you increase the level of darkness, it requires your eyes to improve what’s called contrast sensitivity, and it is trainable. Something that’s been looked at through the research, so if you begin that process, the contrast sensitivity will also help improve your visual resolution.
So, super simple, plus it’s pretty fun, I like doing that. Now, because I’m trying to keep this super simple and give you ways in which to work on your eyes that is not cumbersome, we’re actually going to stick with the same exact tool as we begin working on our fourth category of exercises, which is called peripheral awareness. Now peripheral awareness, as I mentioned, is your ability to see everything that you’re not looking at. So if I’m staring at the camera, how much of the ceiling I can see, the floor, the walls around me is my peripheral field. And one of the things that we’ve learned at this point in the visual sciences, is that your ability to see in the periphery can be trained. What you have to do is tell your brain that it’s important.
So the way that we get people to do this at home is very simple. You’re going to start off with the same letter ball that you’ve been using, let’s say I’m using the large letter ball, and let’s say I’m playing catch. Right, I’m following the letter and trying to maintain good visual acuity. If that’s too fast, then I go slower by just moving the ball with my hand. As this improves, the way that you begin working on peripheral awareness is you utilize that favorite device in most homes called the television. The way that I typically have people do this is I say “position the television to your left side or to your right side, basically straight out from your arm” and the goal here is as you’re playing letter ball catch, you also are going to pay attention to what is happening on the screen.
This actually is very easy, because most scene changes now in the movies or whatever, the scene changes about every two seconds. So you can actually go “now, now, now” as you’re seeing the scene change, while also doing letter ball. So what that’s training you to do is maintain awareness of what’s called foveal vision, where you’re working your visual resolution, and you’re tracking an object, but you’re also giving yourself some stimulus in the periphery.
Now, obviously if I put the TV on my right side, at some point I’m going to have to turn around and put it on my left side, because training the right side of my peripheral field is not the same thing as training the left side. You can then do something really clever called getting in a lunge position or even kneeling, and if you knee and have the TV up above you, you can then start to train your vertical dimensions as well.
So it’s a simple way, like I said to work on your peripheral awareness while you’re also training other skills. I recommend that you leave the peripheral awareness work until then end if you’re following the progression of these last two blogs. Because you do want to work through your eye movements, depth judgment, and visual resolution first, and get some clarity with those before we start adding in the peripheral awareness, because sometimes it’s just too much to pay attention to.
So that’s it guys, four simple exercises to help maintain the health of your entire visual system. Again, if March is “save your vision month”, we’re going to say let’s make 2017 “save your vision year”.
Give these exercises a shot, if you have any questions, let us know. Otherwise, good luck.