Where our eyes are directed, our attention follows. When we get caught up in the outer appearance of things in class, our prana (vitality) flows out of us. Allowing the eyes to wander creates distractions that lead us further away from yoga. Control and focus of the attention are fundamental principles in our yoga practice. When we control and direct the focus, first of the eyes and then of the attention, we are using the yogic technique called Drishti.
How do you use sight in your practice?
Have you tried moving your gaze upwards in Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon) and then lost your balance? Have you looked across enviously at the shape another yogi has achieved in their backbend? Have you gazed back at your feet in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) and noticed the distance between your heels and the ground?
Sight is our primary sense. Half of the human brain is directly or indirectly devoted to processing visual information. Images provide the foundation of our worldly understanding. Naturally, sight is a significant part of our physical yoga practice. Today – and in your next classes – we invite you to examine and play with it.
In yoga, Drishti is the “focused gaze”. It is a tool used to develop concentration in our practice. Similar to our Ujjayi breath, practicing Drishti helps you reclaim control of the distracted mind through sight.
Traditionally, there are nine Drishtis. Each is a place to fix your gaze in certain poses.
the tip of your nose (e.g. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Upward-Facing Dog)
between your eyebrows (e.g. Matsyasana, Fish)
Nabi Chakra Drishti
your navel (e.g. Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward-Facing Dog)
your thumb (e.g. Utkatasana, Chair)
your hand (e.g. Utthita Trikonasana, Extended Triangle)
to your right (e.g. Parivrtta Anjaneyasana, Twisted Lunge)
to your left (e.g. Parivrtta Utkatasana, Twisted Chair)
your toes (e.g. Paschimottanasana, Seated Forward Bend)
upwards (e.g. Virabhadra, Warrior One)
However, it’s easy to mistake the technique for the goal. Before simply committing to always look at your navel in Down Dog, have a play with your Drishti.
Perhaps you start by noticing where your eyes wander in class. What impact does it have? If you bend your neck to watch your feet as you come down into Chaturanga Dandasana (Low Plank), you’re preventing your whole spine straightening. In Vriksasana (Tree Pose), you could be finding stability by “holding onto” something stable with your gaze.
You don’t have to be able to practice with your eyes shut, but why not have a play with it – just to see how it changes your pose.
In Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Seated Twist), you might feel as though fixing your gaze on the opposite wall deepens the pose. Try shutting your eyes and imagining the turn of your spine instead.
In Virabhadra II (Warrior Two), you’ll often hear that you should be able to see your front big toe, and your front knee should be pressed outwards. Try doing that without looking. Learn what it feels like, rather than what it looks like.
Perhaps try using the traditional Drishtis, and experiment with softening your gaze. Relax the muscles around your eyes and don’t focus too intently on your visual target. Notice how visual focus might change the part of your body you’re most conscious of.
With eyes shut or unfocused, your brain must build its perception of the outside would using other senses. Suddenly, your whole body is required to deliver sensory information.
Drishti is a powerful tool to develop your physical practice into a truly mindful experience. It delivers us away from cogitation, creating a true moving meditation.
We warmly encourage you to have a play with Drishti in your next class, and ask your teacher if you’re interested in learning more.