Monday, April 7, 2014

Looking Upwards to Increase Happiness, and Calmness


We have all learned to cast our gaze downwards habitually for unfortunate reasons. I used to look at the floor every time I spoke to people. I would do it after I finished a sentence, or after the other person did. In fact, I would actually look at the ground around my feet for most of the conversation. Looking down is a submissive social signal that communicates politeness at best and inferiority at worst. Sadly, we all do this all the time, even when we are not in social situations. When we are by ourselves we often simulate social situations in our head and we end up looking down even when no one else is around. Looking down is probably associated neurologically with depression and anxiety through numerous neurological pathways. Our nervous systems are used to looking down, this means that even when we are sleeping we are looking down. In our waking life and even in our dreams we have programmed ourselves not to look up, stifling our happiness and well-being.  In order to overcome it there are two main things that we can do: 1) we can become accustomed to looking straight or looking up more often, 2) we can build the ocular muscles responsible for lifting the eyes.

There is a great way to determine if the eye muscles responsible for looking up have atrophied due to disuse. Use your index fingers to press the eyelids and eyelashes down, pinning them against the top of the cheek. You want to refrain from squinting, so purse the eyelids “wide shut.” Next look up with the eyes. Look all the way upward, straight up, up and to the left, and up and to the right. If this hurts, or feels uncomfortable to your eye muscles then you know that they are relatively weakened. The only way to strengthen them is to look up more often and to do this exercise.

Try to stop looking down when you talk to people. Try looking straight, even when not making eye contact. Then try looking upwards, above the eye line when in a conversation. You might be concerned that the other person will get puzzled or even angry. If you are not used to looking up, not used to breathing deeply when doing it, or if your eye muscles are weak, it is likely that the other person will be able to tell that it is unnatural for you. The only way for it to look natural is for you to practice it habitually. Pretend that you are using the ceiling or sky as a canvass to paint pictures of the topic of conversation. Looking up appears natural when you use the upper visual field to imagine things in the mind’s eye.

The more you look up the better you will feel. If you can breathe deeply while doing this your body will learn to relax while looking up more quickly. Spend time every day looking up, or looking toward the right and left corners of your visual field.  Like looking up, looking to the far right and left sides keeps you from squinting which is also healthy and helpful. Another great way to make looking up natural and to strengthen your ocular muscles is to lie down in front of the TV with your head near the TV and your toes far from it. Watch a program or two upside down at the top of your visual field. Completely refrain from squinting while you do this. Go to the mirror afterwards, and you might just notice that your eyes look fuller, happier and calmer.

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