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A Holistic Optometrist
by Linda Cargill
Dr. Terrance Hohner says he learned what seeing was all about from Swami Vivekananda. An optometrist, Hohner was searching for ways to help his patients see better. But after reading the 19th century Hindu master, yoga teacher and writer, Hohner began to understand that there's more to the eye than the cornea, lens and retina.

"He talked about seeing a lot -- as a much more global process," Hohner said of Vivekananda, who left India to tour the U.S. from 1893 to 1900. "Not so much seeing with the physical eye but seeing to understand and seeing from a holistic point of view - seeing who we are and why we're here and where we're going."

His discovery of Vivekananda's writing in 1982 triggered his own spiritual journey, a path that led him into raja yoga, the science of meditation and an interest in mind-body balance. Hohner began incorporating those ideas into his optometric practice, making him one of the few optometrists in the U.S. to use a holistic approach to treating the eyes.

"Vivekananda was a master of teaching about balance and the importance of mind-body integration and enhancement," said Hohner, sitting in one of his two Portland-area offices. "That brought me face to face with eye relaxation techniques." Enthused by his discoveries, Hohner began applying the notions he learned from the swami to help his patients learn about "sattva" which, he explained, means "balance."

"It's the balance between over-activity and total lassitude," said Hohner, in his calm but energetic voice. "Learning balance and equilibrium promotes the best visual well-being and general health as well. To find your center, to find your balance -- that's what sattva is all about."

In his practice he often finds that emotional problems, stemming from lack of balance, can trigger eye disease. For instance, in chronic iritis, the iris becomes inflamed, often after emotional stress or exhaustion, causing intense pain and redness. Anti-inflammatory drugs can temporarily cure the ailment, but Hohner usually suggests other remedies to prevent re-occurrences. "I look at the whole person," he said. "How happy are they? Maybe they have a job where they're using their eyes intensively and they don't like it or they're pushing their eyes."

Stress may also cause conditions such as astigmatism, in which one or both eyes hold muscle tension. The formation of cataracts may be caused from poor ultra violet ray protection but also from a lack of certain nutrients, blood sugar imbalances or thyroid problems. When he finds that stress or diet is affecting the eyes, Hohner may refer a patient to alternative practitioners: exercise instructors, massage therapists, dietitians or yoga teachers. He may recommend a meditation retreat or counseling to relieve anxiety or depression.

Sometimes "acquired myopia" results from workstations that are poorly designed. "A lot of our work is ergonomics," he said. He may suggest a good chair, an adjustable keyboard and high-quality computer screen, as well as balanced lighting - indirect and spherical, not harsh. "We encourage windows where people can look up and out and re-focus and relax instead of being locked inside a small cubicle," he said.

Hohner has been practicing optometry in Oregon for the past 28 years. He has continued studying Vivekananda over the years, and last year published a book, along with his friend, Carolyn B. Kenny, entitled "The Chronology of Swami Vivekananda in the West." The book, published by Prana Press, is available through the Vedanta Society in Portland or through Hohner.

The renowned swami, who died in 1902, left behind many volumes in the form of lectures, letters and articles, some of which Hohner compiled. "He helped people go through their own personal healing," Hohner said. "They were stuck. They couldn't get through a certain thinking process. He helped them unravel the mysteries of ‘Why am I depressed?’ ‘Why am I feeling exhausted?’"

Hohner's book is about the Swami's journey in America and how he influenced 12 different circles of influence, including the scientific, philosophical, and literary communities. Only about 60 percent of what Vivekananda wrote has been collected, but another 40 percent has not yet been discovered. This summer he intends to set up a website for the second edition of the book aimed at collecting yet-unpublished letters, articles and notes relating to the writer from people across the U.S.

With a rueful smile that illuminated his boyish face, the father of two grown children noted that Western optometry has became focused on new diagnostic, corrective and surgical techniques. "We forgot,” he said, “about the most powerful tool of all: a relaxed and concentrated mind.”

Hohner, his colleague, optometrist Dr. Eric Freedle and their staff of skilled opticians, work from offices at 7850 SW Barbur Blvd. in Portland and 9830 SW McKenzie in Tigard. (503)639 8844