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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 24 times. You should hear inside your head sounds like a resonating drum.

Practice once every morning. At first, start with Technique 1 and complete with Techniques 7 and 8. After about a week or two of daily practice, add Technique 2, then Technique 3, and so on. Then practice all the Eight Techniques in that order in one session.

These simple techniques are highly effective. I have worn glasses since age 12. I practiced these exercises for a few months, just for fun, and was sent home from my last eye exam empty-handed, having been told I didn’t need them anymore. I promise we’re not going to stay glued to our screens forever, but while we are, I hope these exercises helps relieve some of that screen time strain.

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Unknown member
Jan 30

Sifu Kabinski, thank you for writing this, and I know this is an old article, but if you would be so kind to answer, I have a few questions.

On Counting Leaves should one increase each day by increments of 25? So you count from 50-75-100? Does this count as a few. Also, since it's Winter time where I'm at, would it be appropriate to count piano keys or anything else besides leaves? On this note, does it matter how clearly I see these leaves when I'm counting them? Furthermore, what kind of state should one be in when doing these exercises?

Again, thank you for writing this, and I appreciate your testimony about the improvement of your eyesight. If…

Sifu Molly Kubinski
Sifu Molly Kubinski
Jan 31
Replying to

Nope. No typo. If you don't have any indoor plants during winter, just skip the exercise and do any of the other seven until you can count leaves again in the spring. Have a great day!

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