Brain, Hands and Eyes – Brendan Allen

Brain, Hands and Eyes


A legally blind man rebuilt his eyesight through movement, awareness and gently cupping his eyes with his hands.

This is one story from the The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of the Neuroplasticity written by Norman Doidge M.D. . It is a great book for many reasons. One reason is it explains the science of the neuroplastic changes behind some of what we experience and teach in Body Harmony. Another reason is it details some incredible changes that people have proved possible.
What I learnt from the blind man relates to a common statement heard when people talk or write about neuroplasticity:

‘Neurons that fire together, wire together’
The process the blind man used to rebuild his eyesight included movement and awareness explorations taught by Moshe Feldenkrais, who was greatly respected by Don McFarland, the founder of Body Harmony. The movements included getting in touch with subtle sensations of expansion and contraction in your hands as you inhale and exhale. This was called ‘the bell hand’. Another exploration was cupping ones hands gently over the eyes. There are more details to the movement explorations, however both the ‘bell hand’ and the eye cupping were intended to create deep relaxation of the eyes and all associated muscles.

For many activities we learn to use our hands and eyes at the same time. For example when we type, use tools, drive, play sports and create art. Learning these coordinated hand and eye activities causes the associated neurons to fire together and, as a result, wire together. The bell hand exercise appears to use these ‘wired together’ connections to help relax the eyes. In the book, the once blind man is quoted as saying “the neurological pathways that link hands and eyes are like a superhighway in the brain” and goes on to describe how he used that superhighway to help his eyes.

I remember Don McFarland emphasising the benefits of a gentle receptive gaze and a soft receptive touch. He also taught that tension in any part of our body, could limit our ability to soften our hands and receive our client. So recently, while attending a Body Harmony class led by Meredith Dolan in Merimbula, Australia, I experimented with relaxing my eyes when touching a person. I also tested softening my hands when observing a person. In both cases I experienced a change. My hands helped my eyes relax and receive; and my eyes helped my hands relax.
My invitation to you is to try this:

  • Next time you consciously observe a client, or anyone, take a breath and allow your hands to relax. Then notice how this changes your experience of your eyesight.
  • Also next time you are touching someone, allow your forehead to let go and your eyes to soften. Then notice how this changes your experience of your touch.

I hope you find this experiment as valuable as I did.

Yours in wonder

Brendan Allen