THE word "Relaxation" is much in evidence in these later days. Often it is used in earnest, but more commonly as a by word or a jest. Even a very little reading produces the consciousness that different writers have varying concepts of what it is, and how it may be produced. A medical dictionary says that relaxation is "a lessening of tension." The same book defines tension as "The condition of being stretched or strained." Again it speaks of "intra-ocular tension," for instance, as a normal condition. It defines the word Tense, as "Drawn tight; rigid." There is a difference therefore, between tense and tension, in that book. Commonly when a layman speaks of "tension", as it applies to the human body, he means a tenseness which is of the nature of the "Drawn tight; rigid" condition—not the "tension" which may be a normal condition. But dealing with such terse and technical definitions does not explain even as much as we ourselves know about the condition called "tension" because all of us have experienced the feeling of tension, as we also have experienced the feeling of relaxation. In Webster's Dictionary, tension is defined as "… straining or tensing; stretched to stiffness." And "Figuratively: extreme strain of mind;-as, the tension of suspense." It is easy to explain the condition of a tense muscle. How can a tense condition of the mind be explained? Relaxation is defined as "… abatement or remission, as of, tension …"
In short, the tension we are discussing is an improper or abnormal condition; the relaxation we are discussing is not an abnormal weakness, but is the proper condition, or what the. doctors call normal. To remember this is vital to a comprehension of the purpose of this endeavor, and a clear understanding of the mechanism of the technique. It is necessary only to release a function from the domination of an unnatural constraint; to encourage it to act in the manner which is in its power, ready at command. Much has been written about the process of relaxation, and the different ways in which it cars be carried out. This book is concerned only with the method and the special techniques discovered and taught by Dr. Bates. To make it clear, I will cite some established facts which support the explanations he has given of his own work.
Relaxation does not necessarily mean rest, which is physiological; but it certainly does involve psychological reactions. To correct abnormal function, it is necessary to utilize the power of autosuggestion. Those who succeed in this endeavor, do so because their minds accept and act upon the given suggestion. This means that in the conscious mind there is a feeling which acts as an order to the "unconscious" mechanism, of which the conscious mind is unaware. This is the process, referred to before, which has been described by a famous biologist as the relationship which exists between psychological and physiological processes. These relations are real, but their exact nature is unknown. They are of profound significance. They prove the objective importance of the spiritual activities which that biologist believes the research workers have failed to study. It is his belief that a knowledge of these processes will open a new world to the race.
The method of Dr. Bates is founded upon this established principle of conduct. It is of the same nature as procedures long used by psychologists and now being used by psychiatrists. It is an endeavor to divert some central control function from the abnormal habit which it has developed, and occupy itself in performing in its inherent normal manner. Such Procedures are in principle very simple. They are in common use in daily life by thoughtful people, consciously or unconsciously. One often sees some interested party trying to meet and offset the various kinds of abnormal central control reactions.
Perhaps it will help, in some measure, to make clear the factors involved in the Bates method, if we consider the theories underlying the ideas and the methods of approach of other workers in this field. One writer on the subject of relaxation, has analyzed and commented so frankly upon his own conception of the knowledge of other medical men concerning it, and their methods in treatment, that his exposition may be taken as an illustration of the possible explanation of the mechanism involved.
Dr. Weir-Mitchell was one of the leaders in medical practice in the latter part of the last century. He developed a system of rest, and relaxation, and special diet, which resulted in the recovery of normal health by debilitated patients who could not be cured in any other way. The before-mentioned writer's criticism of the work of Dr. Weir-Mitchell, and those medical men who followed his successful method, is that in their work there was a strange neglect of the underlying physiology. He makes a further comment, which is a truth well known to medical men, although he apparently thinks that it is not. That truth is, that a patient may be "relaxed" in the popular sense, or in what the above writer calls the sense of Dr. Weir-Mitchell, and may still remain tense in certain parts. The condition called eye-strain is a typical and quite prevalent illustration of what he refers to. That writer also asserts that laymen, and even neurologists, mistakenly believe that rest. change of scene, physical culture or various pleasures, may mean the same thing as relaxation.
That writer further maintains that in his own specific method of securing what he calls progressive relaxation, no suggestion is used. He claims that he trains the patient to use his own initiative. He tails his system a nervous re-education. His work involves the patient in an intricate and complicated experience and training, requiring a great deal of time and instruction. There must be developed a consciousness of the conditions of the various muscles of the body, and a trained judgment, able to estimate and control tension and relaxation. He claims that this education of the patient will ultimately develop into a trained condition of the muscles, in which they will automatically be kept in a correct state of relaxation. They will be managed by an automatic supervision of the central control, but there will be what is called an unconsciousness, or unawareness, of the process. He is confident that the condition which he describes may become permanent, and the patient can sustain a continual condition of normal relaxation. I believe that this is a fair description of that system, and full enough to make it clear. I offer it as a contrast to the method of Dr. Bates. I believe that a deliberate consideration of the technique and practice of such a method will help a patient to understand the mechanism of the method of Dr. Bates, which method is simple and direct, and free from such an intensive multiplication of intricate detail. In deals directly with the central control, by suggestion and autosuggestion, and is readily available, at any time and in an instant. It is in keeping with the principles of the work of medical men who are correcting and curing the different abnormal nerve tension conditions.
The special aim of this chapter is to make as clear as possible the meaning of the word "relaxation" as it applies to the mechanism of vision, and how the method of Dr. Bates functions in securing that specific condition.
The writer quoted above describes one of the effects which his method produces as a certain toneless appearance of the eyelids, in which they do not wink during a prolonged period, and there is no motion of the eyeball. Such a condition, artificially secured, is a direct interference with the normal automatic function of both the eyelid and the eyeball. Both of them, when normal, are in constant, automatic motion, of which there is no awareness in a normal individual. He describes a technique by which he teaches what he tails partial ocular relaxation. The patient is taught to stare, with open eyes, and let the eyes go so that they are not looking in any direction, but develop what that writer calls an extreme degree of relaxation. This extreme relaxation of the eyes, he writes, is soon terminated by a burning sensation, due to absence of normal winking and an unnatural dryness of the eyes. The patient is then directed to permit his eyes to wander about to a slight degree, and not to relax them so extremely. Winking follows, discomfort disappears and a relative rest is secured. The conclusion of that writer's description of this specific relaxation of the eyes, is a warning, which he thinks may be necessary, that this proceeding of his represents no attempt to help the patient to throw away his glasses. He then proceeds to put Dr. Bates in his "dog house", along with Dr. Weir-Mitchell and the psychologists who apparently do not understand his conception of the physiology and the psychology of relaxation-and probably could not understand why the procedure he has just described is not what most psychologists would call technical psychological suggestion.
The method described by the writer quoted above, involves an elaborate and difficult and extended course of nervous re-education. The patient must learn to localize tensions, when they occur during nervous irritability and excitement, and to relax them away. He must be trained to use his own initiative in this intricate and involved process.
The method of Dr. Bates is not an unproved theory, open to a mere academic discussion, or to be condemned as unwarranted and incorrect, and dismissed by the simple say-so of somebody's personal opinion. During twenty-five years of practical use, the value and power of this theory has been demonstrated. It is a simple method, which is founded on established principles in daily use by psychologists and psychiatrists. It has never been challenged, except by such unwarranted assertions as the one quoted above—merely unsupported, incredulous personal opinion.
By the method of Dr. Bates, relaxation is secured by directly influencing the central control which gives orders to every function in the body, and determines whether the conduct of those functions is to be normal or abnormal. It does not involve an argument with that central control. It is an initiative of the patient which constrains abnormal tension at its source, and diverts the attention of the controlling force, so that the organism is absorbed in some specific contemplation. This has the effect of displacing the improper functioning. The tension is thus removed, and the normal function asserts itself—that is relaxation.
Suggestion is defined as. "The presentation of an idea, especially indirectly, as through association of ideas; a bringing before the mind for consideration, action, solution, or the like."
Psychological suggestion is defined as: "The action of one idea upon another, resulting in the connected appearance in consciousness, as in the processes of association. The entrance. into the mind of an idea or intimation, originated by some external fact or word, which tends to produce an automatic response or reaction."
In the medical dictionary, autosuggestion is defined as: "The spontaneous occurrence to the mind of ideas derived from impressions received in the hypnotic state. Also the peculiar mental state often occurring after accidents, in which suggestions are easily received, so that the slightest injury to a part induces an hysterical paralysis or other disability. The latter state is also called traumatic suggestion."
In Webster s dictionary, autosuggestion is defined as: "Self-suggestion, as distinguished from suggestion coming from another. Autosuggestion is characteristic of certain mental conditions in which expectant belief tends to produce disturbances of function of one or more organs."
It will be noted that the medical dictionary confines its explanation to a hypnotic autosuggestion. It states specifically however, that the spontaneous occurrence in the mind of the idea is derived from impressions received. It also states that suggestions can influence the mind when it is in the peculiar mental state often occurring after accidents, and can produce an hysterical paralysis or other disabilities.
Webster s dictionary makes the distinction that an autosuggestion does not come from another. It then goes on to say that the autosuggestion may be a characteristic of certain mental conditions.
Both of the dictionaries explain that an autosuggestion has the power "to produce disturbances of function of one or more organs, hysterical paralysis or other disability." It does not seem to have occurred to either of them that the same influence might he used to correct the said "functional disturbances, hysterical paralysis or other disability." But the medical profession knows that the mental conditions which both of the dictionaries describe, have been deliberately produced, and have been used by medical men for long years. They are being used to counteract and correct the described "disturbances of function of one or more organs, hysterical paralysis and other disability." It is well known in the medical profession that in certain cases there is an actual hysterical paralysis, and an actual disturbance of function, which disappears when a damage suit is decided. Some of those cases could not be cured in any other way. Some of them are cured when the suspense is ended, even when the decision is a disappointment. The mental condition which produced the dysfunction, is displaced by the new mental attitude, and the result is a different reaction, which permits the return of normal function.
May I diverge for a specific purpose? Westinghouse, whose genius devised the airbrake which is used on trains all over the world, was prompted by an autosuggestion when a boy. The train he was traveling on was stopped. Two freight trains had had a head-on collision on the track. It was explained to him that both engineers had seen the impending collision, but there had not been time for the brakemen to climb from car to car and put on by hand, the separate brakes on each car. The idea which was aroused in his mind, was that the engineer should have at his control an automatic brake which would act on all the cars at the same instant. His efforts to devise an automatic mechanical brake, or a brake worked by steam, proved to him that he must find something else. One day he read that the drills used to burrow the tunnels in the Swiss Alps were operated by the power of compressed air.
His genius told him that this would suit his purpose. His father was an inventor. But nothing that young Westinghouse said, to his father, or to anyone else, aroused an autosuggestion kindred to the one that was dominating his own mind. Commodore Vanderbilt, himself an executive genius, declared: "Young man, I have no time for fools." Westinghouse finally secured the money to equip one train with brakes operated by compressed air. The first time they were used on a passenger train, the train stopped so suddenly that the people were thrown from their seats.
Besides the illustration here of the operation of an autosuggestion, there occurs to me what seems like a fair analogy. The great mass of those who are wearing spectacles, are analogous to the trains that had to get along with hand brakes. Most of them would be helpless without the artificial device which they are using instead of using their own eyes—just as the engineer was helplessly dependent upon the separate brakes on each different car in the train.
Autosuggestion is a mental reaction which is in constant operation. Generally the process goes on entirely outside of our own awareness. It is "Why We Behave Like Human Beings." It has been expressed differently in the words, "The highest intellectual function is simply a response to stimuli." Unconsciously we react to something in our environment, and the result is a decision formulated in our consciousness. When that happens, it is called autosuggestion. Coué explained clearly that most of the suggestions constantly being received from our environment are simply merged into our mentality, and produce no apparent specific reaction. In order to influence the current automatic mental conduct, it is necessary to make a specific impression on the mind, strong enough to modify its behavior.
This is accomplished by the method of Dr. Bates, when the condition of eyestrain is relieved. The dysfunction has been replaced by a normal function, because a strong enough impression has been made on the mind to prevent the continuance of the wrong habit that was present. The whole includes the parts. When the mind has been relaxed, in relieving eyestrain, every other part and function of the body is relaxed also.
In a previous chapter, there is a reference to a report presented to a scientific association, signed by four medical practitioners of high standing. They had cured one of their number of a gastric ulcer, uncured by seventeen years of medical treatment. The cure was accomplished by suggestion. They had then cured thirty-two other cases by the same means. The treatment used was similar to the practices of the Bates method.
In my own practice, I have records of the cure of two cases of epilepsy, each of over five years' standing, and both have been free from attacks for over a year now. They were both using luminal continuously, when they came, and having constant attacks. The luminal was discontinued, at once and permanently. The treatment was principally relaxation with the use of phonograph music and directed mental attitudes in the office, with similar practices regularly at home. The same success was secured in several cases of extreme nervous disturbances, and one case of extreme chronic stuttering. The point here is, that these different abnormal conditions of the nervous system were cured by relaxing the tension which was present in the mind, and by the methods used for the cure of eyestrain.
It is not possible to correct any abnormal function by individual effort without enlisting the co-operation of the control center in the brain. We cannot direct the functions of our organisms. We do not even understand their mechanisms. We can secure results only by influencing the conduct of the control center through the impulses of our emotions. For the purpose of securing relaxation of the tension commonly called eyestrain, the emotion necessary is an earnest desire for normal vision, and a confidence in the method suggested. With that conviction in the mind, we have begun the autosuggestion which will effect the realization of our desire.
Relaxation is not to be secured by demanding it. In other words, it is not possible to make an astigmatic eye see clearly by simply ordering it to do so. In practice, such an effort increases the dysfunction. By trying to force the eye to see, a conflict is introduced between the will and the automatic mechanism which the will does not even understand. One does not expect to slow the fast beating of the heart by giving it an order. A thoughtful person does not try to relax and quiet an excited individual by simply commanding silence. We endeavor to divert and persuade these abnormal reactions. The practices which have been described in previous chapters serve to relax the mind in just the same manner—by securing the compliance, and the spontaneous support, of the mechanism which has been at fault.
Emile Coué had success beyond all others in teaching those who were troubled by functional disturbances to cure themselves. His work was founded on the realization that our thoughts control our will. He may have learned it from Proverbs, where it is written: "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." Wherefore, if the thought in our mind is that we cannot see, our will cannot overcome that domination. Coué taught his patients to replace wrong thoughts with right thoughts. Instead of being sure that the ailment could not get well, he persuaded their minds to believe that there was power in their bodies to correct the fault. From various sources the knowledge is accumulating, that disordered functions are consequent upon some lack in the mind of that normal conduct which is what Dr. Bates meant, and what psychologists mean, when they use the word relaxation.
There is in psychology and in physiology, just as truly as there is in the spiritual life, a state of mind which has been called "the peace that passeth all understanding." We can possess this peace, even though our conscious minds do not know how our subconscious minds can give it to us. If we want it earnestly, we can surely have it. With that perfect relaxation, there is always perfect vision. The millions around us who have constantly fine sight, owe it to their relaxation. In previous chapters I have described specific practices which will enable those who are interested, to learn how to relax their minds, and relieve the eyestrain that is disturbing their vision. They must have the individual initiative, and having put their hand to the plow, they must work with that faith, without which man accomplishes nothing. Those who carry on that way, always succeed. I know this, because I have been over that road myself; and I have seen in my work many wonderful cases, which were not miracles, but were manifestations of the power of the nature that is in us, and is ready to work.