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The Shaolin Eight Eye Exercises

Woman in red shirt in office leaning on laptop keyboard
Are your eyes feeling a bit like this lately?

I screen, you screen, we all screen for…screen time? As our world has become increasingly connected in the past decade, I’ve always prided myself in being able to limit my daily screen time. Watching so many people sit, walk, or sadly drive with their faces glued to their phones, I would pat myself on the back that I was content to watch a flower or a bird, rather than endless scrolling hours of social media.

My oh my, I’m eating crow now. I get a screen time update from Apple every week telling me that my screen time is up seven million percent. But what choice do I have? Between maintaining marketing for Selby Acupuncture, responding to more texts and email than I’ve ever received, and teaching and learning via online platforms, I’m doing the best I can with the current circumstances. So don’t beat yourself up if those screen time notifications are giving you pangs of guilt, you’re doing the best you can too.

But oh boy, my eyes are tired. In Chinese medicine, we say that long staring consumes liver blood. The very same liver blood that our organs need to function optimally. The good news is that all is not lost. There is qigong for your eyes, no joke! Meet the Shaolin Eight Eye Exercises. These are simple techniques that can be performed almost anywhere, sitting our standing, that nourish your eyes and work their muscles. Reproduced below are all eight of the exercises, taken from a 2004 question and answer article on Grandmaster Wong’s website:

Technique 1 — Counting Leaves: Stand a comfortable distance from a tree or plant and count its green leaves with your eyes. Start with 50 leaves, then gradually increase the number to 300, increasing a few leaves after a few days.

Technique 2 — Rolling Stars: With the eyes open, roll both eyeballs in big circles (as big as possible) 10 times one side, and then 10 times the other side.

Technique 3 — Angry Eyes: Open both eyes as big as possible, then shut them as tightly as possible. Repeat about 10 times.

Technique 4 — Far and Near: Stare at a distant object, like a cloud, a tree or a faraway mountain, for a few seconds, then stare at a nearby object, like the tip of your nose or some grains of sand on your feet, for a few seconds. Repeat about 10 times.

Technique 5 — Focusing One: Gently stare at a point about 5 to 10 feet in front of you with steady eyes as long as you can, which may range from a few seconds to a few minutes. At first your eyes will become tired or painful, and tears may roll down. This is part of the training or recovery process. Initially when your staring time is short, you may repeat the exercise a few times, but as your eyesight improves gradually you can stare at the point for many minutes comfortably and steadily.

Technique 6 — Nourishing Spirit: Gently close your eyes and let your chi (energy) nourish your eyes and spirit. At first your eyes may feel itchy. This is a good sign indicating that chi is working on your eye problems. As you progress, you will find your eyes restful and your mind fresh. (Note: “Nourishing Spirit” may appear similar to but is actually different from “Standing Meditation”. But students need not worry about the differences.)

Technique 7 — Point Massage: Massage the face with both palms and then using your fingers massage energy points around the eyes, at the base of the nose, at the temples (here, use the base of the palms to massage) and behind the ears. If you do not know where the energy points are, just massage the face, round the eyes, nose and ears.

Technique 8 — Heavenly Drum. Close your ears firmly with your palms and strike the back of your head with your fingers 2