Open Eyes Meditation Changed Their Lives

One of the surprising things I’ve learned about mindfulness over the years is that for many people, eyes-open meditation is a game changer. In fact, eye exercises in general, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation And Reprocessing) and yogic drishti, can have a wonderful effect on our mental health. And it’s not just me.

Indeed, it’s in the news today that GOOP co-owner Gweneth Paltrow has released a meditation app called Moments Of Space that is entirely about open-eyed meditation, which the actress claims has changed her life. I personally do not recommemd her app, but I most certainly do recommend the general practice of meditating with your eyes open. And Many of my meditation students tell me that meditating with their eyes open completely revolutionized their practice. But why?

The simple practice of controlling your gaze can have a profound effect on everything from concentration to anxiety. Indeed, over recent years, researchers have found many fascinating links between eye movements and mental health. For instance, the fact that holding your gaze steady can improve your concentration, and that thinking about a painful memory while repeatedly moving your eyes from side to side will make the memory easier to bear.

I fully believe that understanding the link between the eyes and mental health can help improve your quality of life. And in this guide I’ll share everything you need to know. If you’d like to experience it for yourself, simply watch the video below or read the instructions. And if you’d like to know more about the incredible science involved, then read below.

Guided Eyes-Open Meditation

Guided Meditation, Eyes Open - Gweneth Paltrow Said It Changed Her Life

  1. Sit comfortably with good posture. Close your eyes for a moment. Now open your eyes just a tiny bit so you can just see a slit of opening. Focus your gaze ever so slightly downwards.
  2. With your eyes in this position, take one deep breath in and out through your nose. Focus on your breath.
  3. Continuing to gaze in the same place, open your eyes a tiny bit more, and again take one deep breath, still focusing on your breath.
  4. Continue like this, gradually opening your eyes one step at a time, breathing deeply and focusing on breathing, until your eyes are fully open.
  5. Now gaze directly ahead of you and focus on whatever you are looking at. So you are now sitting, gazing straight ahead, focusing your mind on whatever you can see directly ahead of you. Continue to do this for as long as you choose, but I recommend a few minutes at least.
  6. Now, mostly for educational purposes, I am going to introduce the core concept of EMDR. While gazing straight ahead of you, bring to mind a problematic memory (because this is your first time, choose a memory that is somewhat unpleasant but not traumatic).
  7. While thinking of this problematic memory, move your eyes from side to side at a rate of one back-and-forth per second. Do this for fifteen seconds then stop. Look straight ahead for one minute, relaxing, and then repeat the process.
  8. If at any point during the EMDR stage you feel unpleasant sensations, be mindful of them and let them come and go as they will.
  9. When you’re ready to finish, sit still for a couple of minutes and just focus on breathing. 

Benefits of Open-Eyed Meditation

Moving your eyes in specific ways could have a considerable effect on your mental health. Research shows that saccades (jerky eye movements) are linked to mental illness, and that eye exercises like EMDR and Trataka (open eyes meditation) could reduce anxiety and depression and improve concentration. But why?

Part of the answer comes from the fact that there the eyes and brain are so profoundly connected. Thoughts and emotions cause eye movements and varying degrees of pupil dilation, and by moving our eyes in certain ways we can influence our thoughts and feelings.

For instance, holding your gaze still while focusing on an object (a technique used in Trataka or Candle Gazing meditation) can improve concentration, memory, and other cognitive processes. It’s unclear exactly why this happens. One possible reason is that neural activity is directly related to eye movements and, therefore, lack of eye movement reduces neural activity. 

Specific eye movement patterns can also improve mental health. For instance, in EMDR, we quickly and repeatedly move the eyes from side to side while thinking of a traumatic memory, and this has been shown in some studies to help with PTSD and other complications. It is believed that EMDR works because of the connection between the left and ride sides of the brain. In traumatic memories there is a cutting-off of the two brain hemispheres and this prevents the left side of the brain from self soothing the right side. When we practice EMDR we use bilateral eye movements to stimulate both sides of the brain while we focus on the traumatic thought. This reconnects the left and right brain hemispheres so we can process the memory in a healthier way.

There is also evidence that all our thoughts are sort-of encoded into the movements of our eyes. For instance, in a study by Tobias Loetscher and colleagues at the University of Zurich, it was found that you can predict the number someone is thinking of by measuring the dilation in their eyes. That same eye dilation also indicates the level of confidence a person feels in making a decision. Quite how this information can be used advantageously has yet to be determined, but I’m sure you will agree that it is fascinating. What we do know fkr certain is that open eyed meditations like Trataka are incredibly beneficial.

Fascinating Facts

  • Holding a painful memory in your mind while quickly moving your eyes from side to side makes the memory less painful (this is EMDR)
  • Maintaining fixed eye contact with another person creates a strong emotional reaction.
  • Saccadic eye movements (quick jerky movements of the gaze from one place to another) are linked with numerous mental health disorders
  • Holding your gaze straight and fixed for prolonged periods increases focus and concentration when practiced daily for a few weeks
  • Holding your gaze upwards and focusing on your Third Eye is a form of meditation called Shambhavi Mudra that is considered one of the most powerful of all mudras

Precautions and contraindications

Before trying the exercise above, make sure you consult with a professional healthcare provider. Also note that there is some controversy about EMDR because the central theories of the technique are considered by some to be unfalsifiable and unscientific.

Is It Better To Meditate With Your Eyes Open?

As a meditation teacher I can one hundred percent say that it is neither better nor worse to meditate with your eyes open, and it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Indeed, most of the eye movement exercises that we looked at above can be done with the eyes open or closed and they will work either way. 

The biggest difference between having your eyes open or closed is the amount of information your brain is subjected to. With your eyes open your brain is subjected to far more information than it is when your eyes are closed. But even this can be a blessing or a curse. Some people will find it easier to focus with their eyes closed because there are less distractions. Others will find that when their eyes are closed the lack of stimulation causes them to enter a dream-like state that prevents them from meditating.

Ultimately, it is up to you. I recommend that you experiment with meditating with your eyes, open, closed, and also open just a little bit (which is the style used in Buddhist zazen). It is, however, very important that you find the right method for you. As a meditation teacher I have seen many times that switching from eyes-closed to eyes-open meditation techniques can have a profound impact on a person’s meditation practice and on their life.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.

2 comments

  1. Your writing has a way of touching hearts, sparking minds, and transforming lives, leaving a lasting impact that reverberates far beyond the screen.

  2. Thank you for sharing your insights on the transformative power of open-eyed meditation. It’s fascinating to see how simple practices like controlling our gaze can have such profound effects on our mental health. Your exploration of the link between eye movements and mental well-being is enlightening, and I appreciate your commitment to sharing this knowledge with others. I look forward to diving deeper into your guide and exploring the benefits of this practice further.

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