addition to the geniculo-calcarine, there is a separate "second visual"
pathway. This "second" pathway is sub-cortical, allows for the direct
visual control of movement, and for the most part operates outside
of conscious awareness. A practical technique derived from the Feldenkrais Method of psychophysical education is presented to enable the
reader to experience an improvement in the workings of this pathway
for himself or herself.
of the visual system in humans and animals up to the early and middle
part of this century concentrated on the eyes, he visual cortex, and
the neural structures between them. It is this part of he visual
system that allows the brain to receive photic information from the
environment and to enable us to "see," in the usual sense.
More recent research has uncovered a second visual pathway that leads
to a sub-cortical area of the brain.
The visual cortex is primarily concerned with what might be called
the cognitive aspects of vision. It is this part of the brain that
allows us to name and talk about objects that we perceive visually.
If enough of this area, or the nervous paths leading to it, is damaged,
The sub-cortical visual area, on the other hand, appears to be concerned
more with visual control of movement.
If we consider vision from an evolutionary standpoint, we can get
some idea of the importance of vision in relationship to movement.
For millions of years our animal and human ancestors depended on effective
vision for survival. The fox chasing the rabbit, or the cheetah the
gazelle, must be able to translate visual cues instantly into proper
movement to obtain food. Conversely, the rabbit or gazelle needs to
do the same to survive. Tree-dwelling primates must be able to judge
the exact location and position of a branch to avoid falling during
How does the brain translate visual cues into movement? Experiments
performed on those with damage to the visual cortex suggest that there
is a subsystem within the visual system that works to organize movement,
and that it functions outside of our usual, conscious awareness.
Subjects with damage to the visual cortex were presented with a target
outside of their functioning visual area. Unable to "see" the target,
and thus to describe or name it, they were nevertheless able to point
at it with considerable accuracy.
This phenomenon was originally called "blindsight," and the direct
visual/motor link has been called "instrumental vision"6 or "ambient
The neural pathways that are thought to mediate this instrumental
or ambient vision in man lead from the retina to the superior colliculus.
A number of investigators have noted that connection between vision,
movement and posture, and optometric contributions to this field
have been described in such books as Total Vision and Eye Power.
In the early 1980s I developed a series of techniques that are intended
to improve the functioning of this second visual system. In initial
experiments, first with myself and later with small groups of people,
I found that the techniques could enhance the judgment of distance,
posture, eye-body coordination, and the overall quality of vision.
Also, excess muscular tension and pain associated with it, especially
in the neck and shoulders, would often be reduced.
In constructing my techniques to improve visual functioning, I found
four ideas useful as guiding principles.
The first principle is that there is an ongoing relationship between
vision, kinesthesis and proprioception. To this end, I continuously
remind the trainee to attend to what he sees, and at the same time
to attend to his body. Improvement is produced by simultaneously paying
attention to what is felt and to what is seen. I usually ask the trainee
to move his attention through his body, feeling, for example, how
the pressure on the soles of his feet changes, what he can feel in
his ankles, then knees, hips, shoulders, or neck. This heightened
proprioceptive awareness improves both vision and movement.
The second principle is that as we see, we construct an internal visual/kinesthetic
map of the environment and we then act on this map. Thus, while the
trainee is performing a technique, I ask him to consciously pay attention
to an external target, then to close hi eyes and visualize the target's
position, and then finally to open his eyes and compare the position
of the imaginary target with the position of the real target. Learning,
or improvement, occurs when the trainee discerns a discrepancy between
The third principle is that vision is maximized when we are aware
of the total visual field. To accomplish this, I ask the trainee to
direct his eyes toward the target and also to pay attention to his
peripheral vision while he is moving.
The fourth principle is that to enhance vision we should differentiate
the movements of the eyes and the body. This differentiation, or the
ability to move parts of the body independently of each other, is
an application of a human developmental process.
The first principle, the visual/kinesthetic connection, has been verified
by experimenters. Human volunteers, wearing inverting prisms, manage
to right their perceptual world fairly quickly if given the chance
to actively move in and though the environment. Experiments with young
animals have shown that functional blindness can result if they are
deprived of the chance to manipulate or actively explore the environment.
Moshe Feldenkrais, who originated the system of psychophysical education
that bears his name, propounded the second principle, the importance
of proper internal visual/kinesthetic maps for good action. In constructing
his system of psychophysical education, he stated that we direct ourselves
to move in accordance with our physical self-image, which is a map
of the physical body stored in the brain. This map is learned, as
we grow from infant to adult, through exploring the environment and
gaining greater experiential knowledge about our own bodies. Feldenkrais
stated that this internal map frequently does not match reality, and
that actions taken on the basis of it will often go awry, just as
a person using an inaccurate road map may end up at some place other
than his intended destination. I have extended this idea to include
not only proprioception but exteroception.
Experimenters have also come to the conclusion that visual perception
may consist, at least partly, of constructing an internal map of the
The third principle, that we should be aware of our whole visual field
as we move, comes from the idea that peripheral vision, as opposed
to central vision, is the seat of visual control of movement.
The fourth principle, of differentiating the movement of he eyes from
that of other parts of the body, is a general principle describing
developmental learning. A newborn child has almost completely undifferentiated
movements, being able to either contract all of his flexor muscles,
and so roll up into a ball, or to contract his extensor muscles in
the opposite movement. Learning to sit, crawl, roll over, walk and
run, then, are accomplished by increasingly finer differentiations
of the various muscles.
The technique that follow, taken from my workbook, The Use of he
Eyes in Movement, [which is now availabe in the audio set Total
Body Vision] is a practical demonstration of he application of
these principles. It is one of 11 techniques in the book. To do the
technique you will need an eye patch and a yardstick.
For good action, the visual system must be able to locate an object
in space in relation to the body. In order to do this, the brain utilizes
information not only from the eyes but also from the kinesthetic sense
- that is, from the sensations of movement of the body. Thus, to a
certain degree, we see with our whole body and not just with our eyes.
In the following technique, we will explore and improve this function
of the self.
Now, take your yardstick and prop it up so that it is vertical and
the top of the stick is just below eye level when you are standing.
Arrange the stick and its props so that it is two or three feet in
front of a bland wall. Cover your non-dominant eye with the eye patch
and stand about five or six feet away from the stick in such a way
that an imaginary line drawn from your eye through the stick to the
wall meets the wall at a right angle. Put some object on the floor
by one of your feet to mark your place so that you can o the whole
technique without changing your position relative to the stick.
Take your place facing the stick and fixate your dominant eye on the
top of the stick. While you fixate the stick, begin to shift your
weight toward the side of the eye that is open and the come back to
center. Continue to shift your weight to one side like this and attend
to scanning your complete body.
Make sure that you continue to face straight toward the yardstick
and just move your weight from one side to the other. Do not allow
your body to turn to the side.
As you scan your body, notice how your weight shifts from the middle,
over to one foot, and then back to the middle. Feel how the pressure
shifts on the soles of your feet. Notice your knees. Do they bend
at all as you shift your weight? How do your hips move? Your shoulders?
Can you feel your eye moving? Does you breathing continue at a normal
pace? As you move, be aware of your peripheral vision. Notice what
you can see all around the edges of your visual field as you move.
After you have done this for one to two minutes, continue to shift
your weight as before, but close your eyes and look at the yardstick
in your imagination. Shift your weight toward the side of the eye
that is open and then back to center about five or six times, and
then stop and open your eyes. Are you still looking at the yardstick?
Repeat this sequence several times until the position of the imaginary
stick coincides with the position of the real stick when you open
Now begin to shift your weight to the other side, away from the side
of the eye that is open. As before, notice how your body moves and
how the pressure changes on the soles of your feet. Continue to move
like this for one or two minute, keeping your eye on the top corner
of the yardstick.
Continue to shift your weight, but now close your eyes and look at
the stick in your imagination. As before, go back and forth several
times with your eyes closed and then stop, open your eyes, and check
to see if the position of the imaginary stick coincides with the position
of the real stick. Repeat this several times.
Now combine the two previous movements and begin to shift your weight
left and right, and keep your eye on the yardstick. Continue for one
to two minutes and notice how your body moves and how your weight
shifts form one foot to the other and back. Can you watch the stick
and pay attention to the sensations of movements and weight shifting
at the same time? Remember to pay attention to what you can see with
your peripheral vision from time to time.
Now continue the previous movement, but close your eyes and track
the yardstick in your imagination. As before, make five or six moves
with your eyes closed and then stop moving, open your eyes, and notice
if you are actually looking at the yardstick. Be sure to pay attention
to the sensations of movement in your body as you track the imaginary
stick. Repeat this sequence five or six times and then stop.
Take off your eye patch and look around. Look at objects up close
and at a distance. Look with one eye open, then the other, then with
both eyes open. How does the world look? Close your eyes and direct
your attention to your eyes and face. Which eye feels bigger? Move
your closed eyes a little bit from side to side. Does one eye feel
as if it moves more easily?
By observing the mismatches and changes, you cement the learning that
has occurred and begin to function at an enhanced level of visual/kinesthetic
Patch your dominant eye. Return to the place that you marked on the
floor and repeat the previous movements with the non-dominant eye
open and watching the stick. Do you learn with the non-dominant eye
as fast as with the dominant eye? After you have finished working
with the non-dominant eye, take off the patch and view the world again.
Now return to your place on the floor several feet away from the yardstick.
With both eyes, look at the top of the stick and begin to shift your
weight left and right. Watch the stick and notice how your weight
shifts left and right on the soles of your feet and how your body
moves. Continue to look at the stick and be aware of how far you can
see to the left and right and up and down.
After two or three minutes, continue to move, but close your eyes
and track the stick in your imagination. After shifting your weight
several times with your eyes closed, stop, open your eyes, and note
if your are really looking at the stick. Repeat this sequence several
times until the position of the imaginary stick and the position of
the real stick coincide.
Now, shift your weight form left to right a few times with your eyes
closed while watching the imaginary stick, and then stop moving, with
your weight in the middle. Keeping your eyes closed, step forward
and grasp the yardstick.
Make a single grasp and stop, and then open your eyes. If you don't
reach the stick on your first try, go back to your place on the floor,
shift your weight left and right with your eyes open, and then closed,
and then again attempt to grasp the stick. Be sure to start from the
same place on the floor each time.
As you go for the yardstick, do not make any special effort to hit
it. Have the attitude that you would have if your eyes were open.
If you proceed in this way, you should find that it is easy to grasp
After you have grasped the yardstick several times, return to your
place and shift your weight left and right a few times with your eyes
open, and then closed. Is there any change in your internal representation
of the stick-that is, is the imaginary stick that you see with your
closed different in any way?
Walk around and look at the world as you move. Has your perception
of it changed?
If you try this technique again, stand a little further away from
the yardstick and, at the end, try to grasp the stick from this increased
distance. How far away can you start and still grasp the stick?
I have found that utilizing these techniques over a period of time
often results in improved binocularity, eye/body coordination, appreciation
of colors, and overall visual ability, as experienced by both myself
and my clients. I believe that techniques of this sort can be a valuable
addition to optometric vision therapy programs.