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The Bates Method

Many members of the Association of Vision Educators utilize a form of vision education called The Bates Method, which is a form of vision training established by an ophthalmologist named Dr. William Horatio Bates in the early 20th century. The Bates Method addresses the underlying root causes of vision problems by replacing strain with relaxation and by replacing bad vision habits with correct vision habits.

For a detailed timeline of Dr. Bates’ personal and professional life, visit’s Timeline of William Horatio Bates.

William H Bates

Dr. Bates was an orthodox ophthalmologist in New York City, and considered an authority by members of his profession. In 1886 he introduced a new operation for relief of persistent deafness consisting of incising the eardrum membrane, an operation still in use today. In 1894, as a research physician, he discovered the astringent and hemostatic properties of the aqueous extract of the suprarenal capsule, later commercialized as adrenaline.

Dr. Bates was not satisfied with the prevailing theory of accommodation (how the eye focuses). The prevailing theory of accommodation was, and still is, that the curvature of the lens of the eye is the only part responsible for accommodation and that it is it’s inflexibility that causes failing sight. This happens to a large number of the population around the age of 40 and is commonly called “old age sight,” presbyopia, or farsightedness. But this term doesn’t apply to younger children who certainly cannot fall into this category, nor anyone who has not reached age 40. For the opposite problem we are told that the eyes are abnormally long or, in other words, it is a structural problem of the eyeball. This is commonly called myopia or nearsightedness. This still does not account for the fact that before the person had eye problems there was no structural problem.

For years Dr. Bates felt there was something wrong about the procedure of prescribing glasses to patients who came to him about their eyes. Why, he asked, if glasses are correct, must they continually be strengthened because the eyes, under their influence, have weakened? Logically, if a medicine is good, the dose should be weakened as the patient grows stronger.” Dr. Bates gave up his lucrative practice and went into the laboratory at Columbia University to study eyes as they had never been studied before. Disregarding all he had learned in textbooks, he experimented on eyes with an open mind. He ran experiments on animals and examined thousands of pairs of eyes. He never restricted himself to the usual eye examination room, but carried his retinoscope with him, inspecting the refractive state of eyes of both people and animals in many different situations. He refracted eyes of people when they were happy and sad, angry and afraid. Much of this time was spent with children attempting to discover the cause of eye disorders. His retinoscopic findings indicated that the refractive state of the eye was not the static condition textbooks reported, but varied tremendously with the emotional state.

He published an account of a little girl who developed temporary myopia when she lied to him. This fact seemed very significant to him as it was consistent with other findings of myopia that people tend to become myopic when apprehensive. Dr. Bates found that the eye is never constantly the same, that refractive error changed momentarily, that mental strain and tension increased it and relaxation decreased it. His conclusions were that imperfect sight was not possible without first a mental strain, that eyes are tough to what happens from the exterior, that they could mend rapidly from scratches, bumps, and even burns, but could be blinded by mental strain.

Dr. Bates discovered the cause of poor eyesight and developed this method of restoration and normalization of poor eyesight. Dr. Bates wrote “Perfect Eyesight Without Glasses”, a book outlining his discoveries as well as eleven years worth of monthly publications called “Better Eyesight” accounting personal findings and research with case histories.

For an audio version of the history of Dr. Bates and how the Bates Method differs from “eye exercises”, listen to Episode 2 of The Naked Eye Podcast by Nathan Oxenfeld.