Bates Method International

Techniques: The Head Swing

The Head Swing is a little more difficult to practise successfully compared to the Long Swing. The reason for this lies in the nature of the movement.

To explain: as with the Long Swing the desired movement is to allow the eyes to slide easily across the surfaces that are in front of you. It's a slightly strange request, because naturally the eyes and mind prefer to regard objects and take them in, not move on in every instant. The problem with regarding objects and taking them in only arises when eyes have become impaired in some way and looking at objects has become habitually an experience of getting stuck: a process of forcing the vision or staring. In this condition it feels very awkward to move on easily and so we use these techniques to help the sight back to being free and fluid.

In addition, the eyes constantly compensate for any movement of the head and body - as you move or walk along your head may go through many continuous subtle shifts of angle, whether turning to the left or right, or just tilting slightly with each step. Every one of these movements is assessed and adjusted automatically by the visual system, making it possible to track objects that are changing their position in relation to you.

What's needed with the Head Swing

With the Head Swing it's necessary to learn how to let the eyes rest and not constantly adjust for the movement of the head. The reason the Long Swing is easier for this is because the movement that turns your eyes in the Long Swing is located further down the body - in the legs and hips, whereas with the Head Swing the movement takes place through the neck, making the movement in very close proximity to the eyes.

Tools to help

As with the Long Swing there are various ways in which people have found assistance through the use of pointers or with the conceptual equivalent. Here are a few that you may find useful:

  • A physical pointer
    Similar to the use in the Long Swing, this can be applied in the same ways, as a point to look directly at, or beyond, or to split the point (gate technique). Use a knitting needle or a stick. I have two orchestral conductor batons that are wonderfully light for this.
  • Nose pencil
    Imagine your nose is very long and touches the surface of everything you a looking at. Draw an unbroken line from one side of the room to the other. Slowly. Follow the point with your eyes.
  • Nose brush/nose feather
    Some people find the 'pencil' too rigid and are helped more with a softer concept. Touching your visual field lightly with your eyes can make it easier to keep moving.
  • Third eye
    Imagine your Third Eye just in the middle of your forehead, picture it as being unable to turn in a socket so it always has to look directly out of your face. Imagine you are looking out of this eye and your two physical eyes just follow along.
  • Busy bugs
    As you look at the surface of your visual field imagine a small bug crawling along exactly where you are looking. This is great for showing just how slow you can go.
  • Scooters, bicycles, cars etc.
    Any object that moves and you can imagine it can be of assistance, the main thing is to keep your head and nose directly facing it - at least for the purposes of the head swing.
  • Real moving things
    This can be a fun game - using real cars or crowds of people all moving around, just pick one, follow it/him/her with your nose (turning your head, not literally snifing the ground where they walked!) and notice the way in which the rest of the world moves in the opposite direction.

The Head Swing

To make this as effective as possible, sun and palm first.

Sitting comfortably with your eyes closed, turn your head easily to the left and open your eyes. Regard a point on the surface of your visual field in the direction your nose is pointing. Imagine touching it with a finger/nose pencil, or whatever method you find most helpful.

Slowly and gently turn your head to the right, allowing the head and eyes to remain in alignment at all times. This can take some getting used to and it's helpful if you can have an observer give you independent feedback. The following images show examples of what to look for:

Bates student learning the head swing

In this first image the student is looking directly ahead, the vision is attentive and focused on the distant surfaces in the room.

Second image of Bates student learning head swing

Here the head swing continues with the eyes and head still in alignment

Example of eyes and head going out of alignment

Here is an example where the eyes have drifted ahead which indicates exertion of the eye muscles. While this sort of movement is quite normal in everyday use, for the purposes of learning how to relax the eyes it's important to let the head do as much of the movement as possible. See if you can go gently enough to notice exactly when your eyes start to jump in on the act!

Getting the movement going

As objects pass under your central gaze, notice them and let go of them. As you move to the right, objects in your right visual field move to the centre, cross it, and then move to the left visual field.

When you get to the far right, move in the opposite direction to the left - and all movements described above are reversed.

The sensation of movement in the visual field can come easily or can be difficult - for some people it can take many weeks to get it really going. The essential feature to understand is that the experience of movement is not only natural, but the more you see the movement the more it indicates that your eyes and mind are relaxing.

Once you've done a few passes, try it again with the eyes closed, remembering however much you can of the objects in your visual field: where they are and how they move from one field to the other in the opposite direction of the movement of your head.

It's not a race and not a test, there is no requirement to remember everything perfectly. Being gentle with yourself is the guaranteed method of making all of these things become very easy.

Open your eyes and carry on with the Head Swing. Once you know it well it's very quick to apply at any time during the day: waiting for the bus, on the phone, washing the dishes, talking to your boss.

Or perhaps not the last one!


If you'd like to try out another angle on the head swing (or optical swing), the Vision Games section has a example to try which uses animation on the screen to help get you started.

Vision Games

Movement Games

Photographs © 15 Second Art Ltd