I absolutely LOVE my “job”! There are days, like today, that I’m not even sure it should be called a “job”, because I am so fascinated by the human brain and its ability to change, adapt, and accommodate to things.
In the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to work with two young women who share a couple commonalities. Neither of them can keep both eyes “on” at the same time very well, and neither of them are able to use the two halves of their body appropriately in a reciprocal, alternating fashion using the correct muscles. Until you set up a condition that helps them “turn on” both eyes….
As a behavioral optometrist, I have learned over my 15-year career that vision is so much more than just two eyes and how clearly we can see with them. This is what I call “sight”. Our tag line says “Moving Beyond Sight” because ‘beyond sight’ is where the good stuff is…the stuff that allows us to change people’s lives! Vision is what the brain does with the two eyes to take in information, process it, and then direct the body in a response. This is true in every moment and aspect of life: reading, playing a video game, eating, talking, walking, working at a computer, or playing a sport, to name a few.
As an integrative optometrist, I have the chance to work with someone who specializes in the body and how it works neurologically when it is holding itself up in a chair to do computer work or read, or operating upright and walking or running, or trying to rest from all the day’s efforts. (To read more about this science, go to www.posturalrestoration.com.) Much like behavioral optometrists seek to optimize visual performance, my physical therapist partner’s viewpoint is all about maximizing the appropriate use of body muscles to breathe and move reciprocally with the least effort, and most efficiency. This means minimizing the asymmetrical movement tendencies naturally born from the physical asymmetry between our right and left (halves of our) bodies. I look at how a person’s ability to use the two bodies reciprocally can influence vision, and vice versa. As an optometrist I know from my education in pediatric development that the first four years of life are dominated by gross motor and visual development, each one interweaving with, and influencing the other. Why would we think this interweaving influence disappears after that?
These two young women have not been as successful as we hoped at learning to maximize the cooperation of their two bodies as just described. Now it is the lack of good eye teaming ability, or using both eyes together with balanced input, that is the hurdle to getting their right and left bodies to become reciprocal and more balanced. As I have been working with them on activities that help them “turn on” both eyes (be more binocular), the positive physical changes are immediately observable and then confirmed objectively by the physical therapist. Their gait becomes more symmetrical and the ability to balance their center of gravity over each leg is more equal. The women are able to feel the difference in their bodies, noting positive changes in neck/head tension and balance. Visual changes are also noticed. Most obvious is that they feel each eye is working more equal to the other. Until they are taught to override their embedded old patterns permanently, their brains will revert back to what it knows and block one eye and they will struggle to maintain those positive changes in both their bodies and visual systems. Long term change will come when we are able to teach the brain to make both eyes work together automatically.
I believe that only by working these two systems at the same time will we achieve a lasting effect, and it must happen not just while seated looking at a book, but also while upright defying gravity every day. We are fortunate to have two eyes and two bodies. Only if they work well together does the one person who owns them reap the reward of maximum performance in all aspects of life.
Thank you to M, A and their families for allowing me to participate in their lives. I am truly blessed by the opportunity to work with them and am a better clinician because of it!