Why You Look Up When Remembering

When you are trying to remember something, you instinctively might roll your eyes up toward the sky.  Ever wonder why you do this? There’s a real, physically based reason.

Rolling the eyes upward is an automatic response the body makes when trying to access lost or hidden information because doing so causes the production of alpha waves in the brain and your brain doesn’t have the images of the perceptual moment competing with the images of the mind. Producing alpha waves is physiologically linked to the eyes.  If you close your eyes and roll them upward, you will make even more alpha waves.

Alpha waves are present in the relaxed awareness of a daydreaming mind.  An alpha state is the intermediate ground between waking and sleeping and provides a bridge to the subconscious mind.  Alpha brainwaves allow for vivid, lucid imagery and can assist in creativity and insight.

Eye rolling has long been used as a meditation technique because it more quickly leads to an altered state of consciousness and the theta brain waves desired in deep meditation.

For some creative inspiration, a brief break in your day or during meditation, you can kick start your brain’s alpha waves by doing this simple but profound exercise which Anna Wise details in her book Awakening the Mind: A Guide to Harnessing the Power of Your Brainwaves:

  • With your eyes closed, inhale and gently raise your eyes to look toward the center of your forehead.
  • When you exhale, lower your eyes.
  • Again when you inhale, gently raise your eyes behind closed eyelids.
  • And when you exhale, lower your eyes again.
  • Repeat for three or four more breaths.

She suggests that some people may feel more natural doing just the opposite: looking up on the exhale and down on the inhale.  (I couldn’t do it at all this way!)

It is the movement of the eyes that causes the production of alpha waves.  So, don’t hold your eyes continuously up.  After a few minutes, the alpha producing quality of this exercise diminishes as habituation occurs. The eye muscles are delicate and easy to tire.  Be careful not to strain your eyes.

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  1. Stephen Gemmell Reply

    Hi Debbie. Fascinating. In NLP, this is known as eye accessing cues. Eyes up left (as in your picture above) represents visual recall (of something that actually happened). Up right and your just imagining or making it up. Left and right are for sounds (on the same recall/ imaginary basis). Down right for feelings and last, but not least, down left when you do an internal dialogue. Not sure what the wave implications are. 🙂 Take care, Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Well hello, Stephen! Hope you are well. Thanks for the interesting interpretations of eye movement per NLP (neurolinguistic programming). I will have to remember this and play with it some!

  2. Cool!
    There’s scientific evidence. This explains what’s going on for me in meditation. Ever since the mid 90’s when I go into deep meditation my closed eyeballs spontaneously roll up toward the top of my head. This was explained to me as a recapitulation of Kriya Yoga by my teacher, who is also into brain optimization. So now I know that it helps send me into alpha and theta state 🙂

    Thanks for the great info, again, sis! I love your research 🙂

  3. Debbie – even more benefits of meditation since many practices suggest looking up as you describe. I wonder if we go into this state when we are sleeping?

    Also, I guess eye rollers have a perfect excuse now when eye rolling:) Instead of a snarky look, boredom or a questionable eye roll, they can always plead, “just releasing some alpha waves” 🙂

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I like it! (They can still give a snarky look! That is just a fun word to say!)

  4. Wendy Irene Reply

    I had no idea that eye rolling has been used as a meditation technique. That is so interesting. I love to meditate for 10 minutes each day and am looking forward to trying the eye rolling technique. Have a great day!

  5. This is fascinating! There is so much research now about things like this, the mind/body connection, meditation effects, and so on. I had not heard this before. I stopped reading and tried it a few times. I will add this to belly breathing for a quick recentering technique.

    I also thought of my grandson. As an infant, whenever he began to breastfeed, his eyes would roll up. We thought he was in milk bliss. I guess he was!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Galen, I am so glad you found this helpful. I do it my meditation sessions, when I remember that is!

      I think that babies already instinctively know this and it accompanies milk bliss! 🙂

  6. Robert Spiller Reply

    Debbie, I found a you tube video that says that to get the most out of a visualization exercise, you start with your eyes rolled up. 2 questions

    1. Do you keep your eyes rolled up? In your article you said no, because your brain would get used to it…so do you just access the alpha state with a look up, and hold for a few seconds or what.

    2. Is there an eye movement to access Theta?

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Robert, while I am certainly no expert, I would say that you don’t want to keep the eyes rolled up as it would strain them and the benefit is in the movement upwards. I do not know about an eye movement to access theta. Sorry.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sunny, close your eyes. Without straining, focus on the area between your eyes right above your nose at eyebrow level. Hold here, in a relaxed way, as long as is comfortable through meditation practice.

  7. This is so interesting. When I sing, my eyes roll back sometimes. It was really embarrassing when I saw it in on video. I close my eyes when concentrating or really feeling a song, but sometimes the lids flutter open a little and my eyes are rolled up. It’s super weird looking, but I wonder if it might have to do with the brain waves?

    • Jess, it is interesting that this is just your natural tendency. I would bet that it does have to do with brainwaves.

  8. williamjacobs Reply

    I just memorized a random alphanumeric Dell service code. Rolling my eyes helps me do so.
    I then asked myself, why the heck do I do this? Is there anyone else that does this?

    Whoa. Thanks.

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