Soft Eyes, Soft Mind

One of the most useful and potent qigong practices that I know is dissolving tension around and behind the eyes. I don’t discuss it very much, however, even in my classes. I’ve always considered it a more advanced practice and only worth pursuing after learning many other qigong fundamentals. Recently I have changed my mind.

For me, and I suspect for many of you, a great deal of tension is carried in and around the eyes. I find that if I don’t work on relaxing my eyes first, none of my practice goes very well. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and I repeat it any chance I remember, even when I only have a minute to practice in between tasks. For something so important to my practice, I’ve decided I should share it, even if it’s a challenge.

Here’s an exercise to get you working with the eyes. Whenever you have a chance to pause, ideally somewhere relatively quiet (outdoors works quite well) with nothing immediately distracting you, close your eyes. First, try to feel the muscles around the eye sockets, paying as close attention to each part as possible. See if you can feel the tension there, whether strong or light. Sometimes you’ll feel a big section, but sometimes you can feel a small one, like maybe the muscles just between your eyes.

As you focus on one muscle area, try relaxing just that area. Sometimes it helps me to first tighten that area instead, just a bit, and then let it go. I find it’s often easier to locate a muscle by using it. So a little scrunch, and then release. Then move on to the next area, perhaps above your eyes. Try the outside corners, then the bottoms. Feel free to go around as many times as you like. You may find that tension released appears again as soon as you bring your mind to another area.

Here’s the second part. Open your eyes and look at whatever is in front of you. I find this part most useful if there’s a panorama of trees and rocks nearby, but a wide room will work just as well. When we look with our eyes, we tend to tighten them in various ways to see better, to focus on one object or another. That tree moving, that book on the shelf, that flower all draw our attention. But our vision is quite wide. You’ll easily notice if a person walks into your field of view off the side.

Have you ever noticed that looking at a photograph of a landscape can often be more beautiful than looking at the landscape yourself? This is because we can see the photograph as a whole, but when we normally look around we focus on single things instead.

Try this: relax your eyes in such a way as to see everything within your field of vision. Everything in your left and right periphery, up and down. The whole scene all at once, as though it were a photograph or a painting. The mind tends to rebel against this a bit, because you won’t be able to gather much information about any individual things in the scene before you, but stick with it. Soften the eyes.

When you’re looking straight ahead, can you see the sky above or the ceiling without moving your eyes? Can you direct your attention a bit without focusing on any one sight? Play with this. Notice how it affects the breathing. See if it can lead you to soften more of your body, if you have the time.

With these exercises, you can begin to tap into the powerful practice of dissolving the eyes. Try it at different times of day, when you’re waking up, or when you’re stressed from work. Learn about the muscles around the eyes (and perhaps behind the eyes) and how they affect your body and your mind.