Bates' Eye Exercises
Ophthalmologist William H. Bates, M.D., popularized his program of eye exercises in the 1920 book, Perfect Sight Without Glasses. Bates had many followers, including the famous author, Aldous Huxley (Brave New World).
Bates claimed his method of natural vision improvement (the "Bates Method") could reverse refractive errors and other eye and vision problems by using relaxation techniques and eye exercises to restore the "natural habits" of seeing.
Though some people have claimed their eyesight has improved as the result of using the Bates Method, little scientific evidence supports (and most research refutes) Bates' theories about vision problems or the effectiveness of his treatment techniques. For example, Bates believed the external eye muscles were responsible for the eye's ability to change focus. Today, it is known that a muscle inside the eye is responsible.
As another example, Bates recommended an exercise called "sunning." As originally described, this exercise required staring at the sun with eyes wide open. Although Bates thought sunlight would relax the eye, scientific reports clearly indicate this not the case. Staring at the sun can lead to permanent vision loss. Most vision experts today believe that Bates' reports of improved vision from his exercises are explainable by the placebo effect, blur interpretation, squinting, and reporter bias.
Iowa Legal Action
In the 1990s, a new program of eye exercises that appears to be based in part on the Bates Method was introduced by a company called Vision Improvement Technologies, Inc. (VIT). In 2005, the Attorney General of Iowa filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against VIT, saying the company made "dramatic claims for its (See Clearly) product that could not be substantiated" and "used a combination of misleading and unfair marketing tactics to sell their kits." To comply with a court order, VIT halted sales of the See Clearly Method in November 2006.
Note that Bates' eye exercises and the See Clearly Method are very different from eye exercises called vision therapy. Vision therapy is scientifically proven and used successfully to treat certain misalignments of the eyes and eye-teaming deficiencies.