I think the external eye muscles are involved in active focus

I was a bit hesitant at first to post this because of the anti-Bates sentiments of our beloved Eye Guru :wink:. But I’ve heard Jake say several times that he respects Doctor Bates himself, but what he actually dislikes, is the modern interpretation of the Bates method. Therefore, I think we should be able to discuss this here… :grin:

Anyway, I’ve been learning about the research and theories of Doctor Bates over the last few months. Bates proposed a radically different mechanism for accommodation. Unfortunately, he felt the need to completely reject the generally accepted theory about accommodation, put forward by Helmholtz, which states that accommodation is accomplished through the action of the ciliary muscle by changing the curvature of the lens. I think it’s because of this attitude that people now in turn reject Bates’ theory. But after reading Bates’ writings, I feel we should not be too quick to dismiss the possibility that the external eye muscles also play a role in accommodation. I think it’s quite plausible that both mechanisms are work here, complementing each other. After discovering active focus I’ve given this a lot of thought, because to me it really feels like active focus is not some action of the ciliary muscle but rather of the external eye muscles.

But first let me share the story of how I found active focus:

I was never able to find active focus by looking at text (or anything else) closeup. To me the difference between a tiny bit of blur and complete clarity is just too subtle (probably due in part to some uncorrected astigmatism). So I struggled with it a lot and was almost about to give up on active focus, when I suddenly found it by looking in the distance. I had stopped wearing glasses outdoors (perfectly doable at around -2.5D). Then one day I was able to get a big text sign at about 150 m distance to clear up from an indistinct grey smudge to blurry but readable text by (I don’t know how else to describe it) giving it a stern look… :sweat_smile: So I started to practice this with text, power lines, electricity pylons and fine tree branches. At first it took me several minutes and considerable effort each time, but after 2 or 3 days I could consistently do this at will. I then started to wear my normalized glasses outdoors and noticed active focus now happens almost automatically and leads to complete crisp clarity. Obviously, it is much easier with the glasses because the amount of blur to overcome is much smaller.

So, based on these experiences and the way active focus feels to me, I believe that active focus is accomplished by tensing the external eye muscles, specifically the 4 recti muscles. I think that for the following reasons:

  • I don’t believe the ciliary muscle can be controlled by any conscious effort. The external eye muscles however, can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously.
  • When there is no more ciliary muscle spasm, the ciliary muscle should be completely relaxed (and the lens as flat as it can get) when looking in the distance. Any remaining blur is then due to axial elongation of the eyeball. So, the only way to reduce the blur in this situation would be to shorten the eyeball.
  • It seems plausible that one should be able to shorten/flatten the eyeball to some degree by flexing the 4 recti muscles simultaneously, just as flexing both oblique muscles simultaneously (like tightening a belt) would slightly elongate the eyeball.
  • When pushing my active focus to the max (as I did when I first found it), sometimes my eyes move a bit in various directions. I figure this is due to unequal tension in the external eye muscles.
  • The first few days after I discovered active focus, I would get a dull ache around the eyes at the end of the day, from working those muscles so hard.

So, that’s my theory… I’m no ophthalmologist, optometrist, biologist or any other sort of expert, and all of this is just based on my subjective experiences. But I’m curious how other people here think about this.


It’s probably some variation of the above + more. Because there is still a visual information recalibration that happens in the brain. The best way to think about this is that the brain has maps in it, for each type of incoming sensory information (internal/visual/smell/etc…) And the brain constantly tries to realign the maps properly, which will in turn have an effect on our [insert bodily phenomenon that underlies active focus]. This is partly why Jake also strays away from bates method, and promotes being active, doing things like surfing and stuff, because this provides more information for the brain to work with to make changes.

Also, ciliary muscle is just the one that’s easy to talk about. Jake has acknowledged other mechanisms as well, such as choroidal thickening/thinning.

I’m of the opinion that external muscles themselves are not involved in active focus whatsoever, but external muscles have the potential to negatively impact active focus, and do things like contribute to astigmatism. In the same way that muscles themselves aren’t involved in anyway whatsoever with the breathing process itself, but it’ll be hard to breath properly if you have bad posture. Because based on my understanding the purpose of EOM (extraocular muscles) is to reposition the eye rather than change visual clarity itself. But the the three things most directly related to changing visual clarity itself are ciliary relaxation, choroidal thickening, and axial shortening (obviously for becoming more hyperopic/less myopic.) The base status of these 3 things actually change over time, and even if they didn’t, their temporary changes have a direct impact on accommodation. It could be that EOM has some impact on these 3 things but other than inducing some functional astigmatism, there doesn’t seem to be a clear connection to accommodation at all.

IMO, the Trabecular Meshwork (search for it in the forums) is more interesting as it perhaps serves the antagonist role to ciliary muscles, in the same way biceps and triceps are antagonist. The trabecular Meshwork may be what actually underlies the phenomenon you were describing. Or it could just be that the ciliary muscle needs to not only do some relaxation, but also do some tightening for it to get going. In the same way if you worked out your biceps, you wouldn’t just stretch them, and you wouldn’t just flex them. You’d do both. It has two functions for a reason.


I’ve been of the belief that the external muscles are crucial to my form of active focus for quite some time. Earlier it was indirect evidence:

  • That AF would “disengage” when I looked around and take second or so to re-engage, consistent with the same muscles for looking around needed for AF
  • AF capability followed muscles, e.g. fatigue, the ability to “get in shape” leading to longer sustained periods, etc
  • The effect of all 4 directional external muscles pulling on the eyeball at once, like doing the same with a baloon, flattens out the front (decreasing cornea power) and squishes the eyeball (shortens distance to the retina), which seems like a plausible mechanic for altering the eye’s resting focus distance

However, more recently, I have gotten more direct evidence. I had my eyes examined with pupils dilated, which paralyzes the front of the eye. This includes the ciliary muscles, and sure enough, my ability to close focus diminished. However, I observed several things:

  • AF was totally unaffected. Whatever I’m doing for AF is not affected by the ciliary muscles being paralyzed
  • With effort, I can close focus up to a diopter, despite paralyzed ciliary muscles. It feels a lot like active focus, just in different parts of the eye.

I’m now thinking that the muscles can be used in two ways:

  • The directional muscles all engaging - this squishes the eyeball axially, I think this is my form of “active focus”
  • The obliques both engaging - this elongates the eyeball (think of a ring around a balloon squeezing), this is how I think I was able to close-accommodate without the ciliary muscles

Of course it’s just a theory, but it fits all of the evidence I’ve experienced with both Active Focus, and later, it’s reverse.


My main problem with that is those muscles are relatively strong (compared to the needed effect here), and also we talk about really small changes. I simply cannot imagine that such tight control as needed could be achieved with those muscles, especially since those are not developed for this task.

1 Like

I disagree. These are the same muscles used to look around. They are amazing in their quickness and accuracy. And since the eyeball naturally centers when the muscles relax, they need to engage precisely and with small granularity to hold the gaze to one side or any other direction non-centered.

Not only that, but there’s a reflex tied to the inner ears that cause these muscles to counter your head’s natural jiggle. Essentially the organic version of image stabilization. It does this via the fastest reflex in the body where the eye muscles in real time take signals from the inner ear and counter-rotate the eyeball, yielding stable views.

It’s this phenomenon that became clear when I did VR games for a while, if you don’t essentially have the VR headset cause the images projected to jiggle in the same way as your head, the eye/inner-ear stabilization works against you leading to fatigue quickly and significant discomfort, as well as an inability to keep focus on small details.

The eye muscles are amazing. What they do with rapid, accurate rotation of the eyes and with the image stabilization via inner-ear to eye-rotation capability is nothing short of astounding.


I wouldn’t be surprised if the increase in pressure from their engagement or decrease in pressure from their disengagement has some type of effect on vision, respectively in a negative and positive way,

But the idea that the muscles engagement contribute meaningfully to accomodate and/or change axial length in a way that doesn’t just induce functional astigmatism (and thus counteracting any potential positive benefit) seems hard for me to believe.

Having held and eaten various eyeball types, from that experience alone, I’m inclined to echo Halmadavid’s opinion here:

Before screen entered in our lives, most people didn’t progress above -2D. The close up activity was the handwriting in school, and some hobbies. So even if they had some myopia, progression stopped when moving to adult life. Those were the circumstances in Bates’ time.
Bates methods are training the muscles and actually in the last diopter that can come useful for convergence and divergence, and for any laziness developed by just popping on the glasses for clear vision or by developing tunnel vision. So it’s like learning to do the splits again or a backflip.
vs. AF - at least for me - is like a deep muscle that you cannot control like you can the EOMs. It’s more comparable to finding out how to move my ears…


Yeah… but they need to move the eyeball in mm precision. Maybe 0.1 mm precision. And they do that in the way they are intended to use. But for axial length change we are talking around 0.07 mm for 0.25 diopter change in a way that’s not their main function. It’s like trying to thread a needle using your biceps.

1 Like

Nice! This is actually one of the things Doctor Bates observed and that led to his theory. Another factor was that he had patients who had their lens removed in cateract surgery, but despite that were able to accommodate afterwards.

The Bates method is not about training the muscles. It’s all about relaxing the eye muscles and the mind to relieve strain. I think therefore that palming and other Bates techniques are helpful to get rid of strain and muscle spasms.
I totally agree that conditions that lead to (progressive) myopia are much worse now then they were in his time. And AF as a means to reverse axial elongation is brilliant find! All I’m saying is that I’m wondering about the actual mechanism involved

That’s the thing though… Do we know for a fact that they’re not intended to be used for accommodation. Doctor Bates thought they were, and he was an MD and ophthalmologist. :slightly_smiling_face:

Thanks for pointing out the post on the Trabecular Meshwork. I didn’t know about that one yet. Interesting stuff…
Still, to me it feels like I’m flexing the EOM to clear up the blur. Maybe that’s not “true” AF then… :roll_eyes: I don’t know, since I haven’t found a description of AF yet that really makes me understand what it is and what it’s supposed to feel like. All I know is that the thing that I do works for me to clear up the blur… :sweat_smile:

1 Like

In my terminology - not talking about eyes exclusively - training a muscle includes both strengthening and relaxing / stretching. Training to get things in the right position…

1 Like

This is interesting to me because, along with myopia, I also have an issue with binocular diplopia due to a muscle weakness in one of my EOMs, not sure what one. I have a slight phoria in my R eye when I look upwards, or try to focus in the distance, which is a total pain and means I need a prism. Ophthalmologist told me there was nothing I could do about it, it will only get worse. However I feel like when I do some Bates exercises they are helping me gain a litte bit of control over it. Has anyone, as an adult, had any success reducing the need for prism?

1 Like

We don’t. Evolution doesn’t care about “intention”. It cares only about that can be done. In the case of the eye, it’s important to aim the eyes in the right direction, and focus at the correct distance, how you do that isn’t quite as important. In evolution, things that “just happen to work” become “by design” over generations :slight_smile:

Just like a dog can learn to walk on three legs (or two, after losing one or more legs), despite that not being the “intention” of the dog’s legs, we to can learn to accommodate in any way that works. Ciliary use and lens-based accommodation has significant advantages over squishing/squashing the eyeball, but isn’t the only way to change the eye’s optical capabilities. We all know how to squint to get better views, when you put a little pressure on the side of the eyeball through your eyelid with your finger, the world distorts and shifts.

I simply cannot believe that, given how strong the EoM’s are, that if they pull in the same intensity, that that cannot affect your vision. And I cannot see any evolutionary disadvantage to that that would result in inhibitors to prevent your EoM’s from being able to work in opposition. I can make my bicep really hard without my hand moving, for example, where is the evolutionary advantage to not allowing that for my eyeball muscles?

If it’s possible to use EoM’s to alter eyeball optical behavior, that could be considered an advantage evolutionarily, as you’re not limited to just what the lens/ciliary can do.

Again, evolution doesn’t care about “what makes sense” or what fits a neat theory on how the eyes work. All it cares about is if the “whatever you’re doing” gives you an edge (e.g. active focus allowing for better distant vision to see that lion stalking you).


Don’t take the word intention too literally. What halmadavid was referring to is function by form.
Things can’t function in ways that its form doesn’t allow it to do.

I’ve already shared my thoughts on EOM so I’m not going to repeat those.
There are other EOM related mechanisms.
If you’re evenly squeezing your eyeballs via EOM to induce better vision (which I’m doubtful is even possible), that’s not accommodation. And whether that leads to sustainable and/or long lasting vision improvement is up for people to self-experiment.

There is also the horse riding hard eyes soft eyes thread i’ve shared Horse Riding insight on eyes. I imagine what this does is manipulate how much your eyes are popped out vs popped in https://www.tabanmd.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Slide21-1-720x1024.jpg This too is not accommodation. Probably worth doing though since if soft eyes is truly moving your eyeballs back posteriorly (it also feels relaxing and probably relieves EOM tension), then what it’s doing is moving your whole eye back and thus moving your retina back, without actually changing your base accommodation abilities. That is, you aren’t changing the eye, just changing where it is located.

If you’re doing anything else with EOM that improves your vision what you’re actually doing is addressing imbalances that are giving you functional astigmatism and therefore reducing your functional astigmatism.

Otherwise, It is highly improbably that the EOM has any relation to accommodation. Its form dictates that its only function is moving the eye around.

P.S. don’t get too lost in that type of evolutionary rhetoric. Evolution not only doesn’t care about things that happen to work. It neither cares about whether something is evolutionarily adaptive. All evolution is a quick way to refer to mutation propagation. As long as a species is reproducing, it will mutate and thus evolve. Whether or not the mutations are adaptive or disadvantageous, these mutations will propagate as long as the species carrying those mutations reproduces.

1 Like

Regardless of whether it’s called “accommodation”, if it changes the focal position (either by moving the retina closer to be closer to the lens/cornea, or altering the cornea/lens shape to move the focus point back), it has the same effect :slight_smile: Stuff in the distance gets sharper and more in focus. Honestly I don’t care what we call it, I just know that AF makes stuff sharper when at the edge of blur :slight_smile:

As far as astigmatism and EOM, my understanding of what astigmatism is (both with eyes and other optics), is that light focuses at a different distance along one axis of incoming light vs another. How that often happens with the eye is the cornea deviates from being completely symmetrical around it’s axis to being “stretched” in one axis more than another, essentially having some “cylinder” applied to it’s optical properties.

If EOM’s are not applying their pulls symmetrically, then that should induce astigmatism. If they are balanced, it should not (or at least, it should result in a “X” shaped astigmatism pattern for bright pinpoints, which is what I, indeed, see after heavy AF use, especially when looking at stars).

There is a theory that regular astigmatism is sometimes caused by looking in one direction off of the “neutral” eye direction for long periods of time (e.g. looking down and to the right for long periods over hundreds of hours, e.g. when typing something from a paper to the side of the keyboard). This requires EOM’s to hold the eye to one side, and thus pulls on the cornea in that direction (hold a balloon to your belly, then pull towards your belly with a hand on the side of the balloon, what happens to the front of the balloon?), which over time tends to stretch the cornea in that direction causing cornea-based astigmatism.

It was learning about this that made me initially think AF “fixed” myopia due to stress applied to the cornea to flatten it, temporarily with AF, then over time as the cornea gets permanently reshaped with a flatter profile. I’m still up on the air as to whether I still believe that or believe the “squishing/squashing” of the eyeball with the EOM’s induce actual eyeball shape change instead (or maybe it’s both?)


As a follow up, one of the first things I noticed when using AF extensively for the first time at the start of my EM journey, was that distant green stoplights at the edge of blur had a slight “X” smear to them. I had never seen that before with traffic lights (though that partly might be due to overprescription) It wasn’t until I learned about EOM’s being possibly involved and how that could change the cornea shape slightly from round to slightly diamond-shape, that I had an explanation for that phenomenon. It’s one of the early pieces of evidence I had that in my case, AF might be involving the EOMs.


I personally have no experience with it. But Doctor Bates claims to have cured even severe cases of strabismus by his methods. I know there are specific techniques for this, but since it’s not something I have to deal with fortunately, I don’t know the specifics.

Pretty controvertial. Proper AF in my personal experience is triggered by tiny, automatic adjustments in accomodation, probably happening in ciliary body of eyes.
What you described is correct anyway but I wouldn’t call it AF. Maybe a clear flash.
No matter the name of the change in accomodation those kind of better acuity in vision are what leads us to a better eyesight.

As a 35 years myope and 21 months trying to improve myopia I can say that AF and CF become easier after months and months of practice, experience.
Now AF and CF are closer in patterns and experiences. In the beginning they were pretty different.

That said extrinsic muscles do have a role in accomodation in my opinion.
Pretty easy tense and release can revail this, just playing in a funny way with face muscles changes vision acuity, briefly but for sure it happens; yawning; stretching the neck… all these kind of things could lead to better vision.
Thus ciliary and extrinsic muscles both work in accomodation.
Bates is right about eyes tension leading to poor vision.
Jake is right about all info he gives.

I always need scientific evidences or references, many (not all) of Bates ideas are science based as well.

The matter is that this journey is not a flat journey and all techniques are not applyable to all cases of myopia. This often creates confusion and discrepances in too many ideas.

Sorry for the rant :sweat_smile:

1 Like