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Sunday, July 25, 2010


Lawyers, like other professionals, read a lot. For the vast majority of us reading is an effortful process which engages and tenses our eye muscles. According to John Medina, Ph.D., in order to recognize each word, we must first decode it visually by turning each letter into a picture and then putting all the individual letter-pictures together. We then have to remember what the word means, and this can vary depending on the context in which it is used in a given sentence. Now consider the fact that we are struggling to understand and accurately retain the meaning not just of sentences, but of whole pages of dry, technical and complex material when we read. On top of that much of the reading and writing we do is on a computer screen. Hours of watching words on a glowing screen tends to cause eye strain. The typical lawyer does not stop reading from his computer screen every hour to rest his eyes, walk around and stretch.
Neuropsychologist Les Fehmi, Ph.D. is an expert on attentional styles. For forty years he has spent his career researching how people pay attention, and the consequences of their attentional style. Dr. Fehmi says the most prevalent form of attention in our society is the narrow kind. By narrow he means we select out one object to really focus on and put in the foreground of consciousness while pushing all other objects away and into the background of our consciousness. For example when a lawyer is reading or writing on a computer screen he is rigidly focusing on the content of the screen while expending energy to exclude every other internal sensation and external perception.
To get his brief done before his lunch appointment he ignores the growling in his empty stomach, the sounds of cars honking, ringing phones and voices in conversation from other cubicles, and the fear in his gut that he’s going to lose the hearing and lose the client or his job. To stay in narrow focus he may be forcibly twisting the flesh on his forehead or driving the bottom of one foot into the floor with his calf contracted without even noticing. His attention is riveted to the words on the screen to the point where he’s not diffusing any of his attention to his internal or external world
Dr. Fehmi says narrow focus is a rigid form of attention which requires a great deal of mental energy. In our ancestors it was associated with scanning of the environment for survival threats like saber tooth tigers and was associated with fear. This form of attention triggers the release of adrenalin, tenses the muscles and traps fear in the muscles. Much of the tension is stored in the eye muscles. Chronic tension in the eye muscles from narrow attention can cause vision restriction, eye twitching and headaches.
Dr. Fehmi recommends two different strategies for easing the tension in your eye muscles. One is to take breaks to soothe your eyes and release the tension. There are specific eye muscle massages you can do to release the tension. You can find these on the Internet or consult an optometrist. There is a Tibetan Buddhist form of yoga called Kum-Nye which has a number of different self-massages for the eyes. These involve using gentle pressure above and below the eyes in the eye sockets, the forehead and cheek bone areas.
The second method he recommends is to open up and diffuse your mental focus to take in everything in your internal and external world and the space around those objects. This is called open focus. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxes your muscles and allows for effortless concentration and activity. Dr. Fehmi has been working on Open Focus Therapy for the past forty years. Using this therapy he has helped children and college students with reading disorders, ADHD and ADD. In my next blog article I will discuss the details of open focus attentional retraining. The benefits of open focus go way behind relaxing the eyes and include relief of anxiety and depression.
Tags: Releasing Muscle Tension, Vision Health

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