Photo of someone "palming", from Perfect Sight Without Glasses.
Bates suggested closing the eyes for minutes at a time to help bring about relaxation. He asserted that the relaxation could be deepened in most cases by "palming", or covering the closed eyes with the palms of the hands, without putting pressure on the eyeballs. If the covered eyes did not strain, he said, they would see "a field so black that it is impossible to remember, imagine, or see anything blacker", since light was excluded by the palms. However, he reported that some of his patients experienced "illusions of lights and colors" sometimes amounting to "kaleidoscopic appearances" as they "palmed", occurrences he attributed to his ubiquitous "strain" and that he claimed disappeared when one truly relaxed. This phenomenon, however, was almost certainly caused by Eigengrau or "dark light". In fact, even in conditions of perfect darkness, as inside a cave, neurons at every level of the visual system produce random background activity that is interpreted by the brain as patterns of light and color.
Bates placed importance on mental images, as he felt relaxation was the key to clarity of imagination as well as of actual sight. He claimed that one's poise could be gauged by the visual memory of black; that the darker it appeared in the mind, and the smaller the area of black that could be imagined, the more relaxed one was at the moment. He recommended that patients think of the top letter from an eye chart and then visualize progressively smaller black letters, and eventually a period or comma. But he emphasized his view that the clear visual memory of black "cannot be attained by any sort of effort", stating that "the memory is not the cause of the relaxation, but must be preceded by it," and cautioned against "concentrating" on black, as he regarded an attempt to "think of one thing only" as a strain.
While Bates preferred to have patients imagine something black, he also reported that some found objects of other colors easiest to visualize, and thus were benefited most by remembering those, because, he asserted, "the memory can never be perfect unless it is easy." Skeptics reason that the only benefit to eyesight gained from such techniques is itself imagined, and point out that familiar objects, including letters on an eye chart, can be recognized even when they appear less than clear.
Eye movement exercises
He thought that the manner of eye movement affected the sight. He suggested "shifting", or moving the eyes back and forth to get an illusion of objects "swinging" in the opposite direction. He believed that the smaller the area over which the "swing" was experienced, the greater was the benefit to sight. He also indicated that it was usually helpful to close the eyes and imagine something "swinging". By alternating actual and mental shifting over an image, Bates wrote, many patients were quickly able to shorten the "shift" to a point where they could "conceive and swing a letter the size of a period in a newspaper". One who mastered this would attain the "universal swing", Bates believed.
Perhaps finding Bates' concepts of "shifting" and "swinging" too complicated, some proponents of vision improvement, such as Bernarr Macfadden, suggested simply moving the eyes up and down, from side to side, and shifting one's gaze between a near-point and a far-point.
A burning-glass being used to focus sunlight on someone's eye, from Perfect Sight Without Glasses.
Bates believed that the eyes were benefited by exposure to sunlight. He stated that "persons with normal sight can look directly at the sun, or at the strongest artificial light, without injury or discomfort," and gave several examples of patients' vision purportedly improving after sungazing – this is at variance with the well-known risk of eye damage that can result from direct sunlight observation.
Bates said that, just as one should not attempt to run a marathon without training, one should not immediately look directly at the sun, but he suggested that it could be worked up to. He acknowledged that looking at the sun could have ill effects, but characterized them as being "always temporary" and in fact the effects of strain in response to sunlight. He wrote that he had cured people who believed that the sun had caused them permanent eye damage. In his magazine, Bates later suggested exposing only the white part of the eyeball to direct sunlight, and only for seconds at a time, after allowing the sun to shine on closed eyelids for a longer period.