When I was 16 I took a defensive driving course with a highly intense instructor and, since I grew up in Colorado, part of the course included lessons on how to drive in the snow, particularly what to do when your car spins out on ice. To my horror, the lesson meant driving at a section of flooded parking lot at high speeds and when the wheels hit the water the instructor would yank the steering wheel to spin the car out of control. He would then proceed to scream “Look where you want to go! Look where you want to go! Look where you want to go!” while I white knuckle clenched the wheel bulging my eyes out at the orange cones I was meant to drive through. Phew, that was intense, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Our body, our mind, and all our instincts take us where we are looking both immediately and long term, even in the midst of chaos and especially if we maintain that focus.
Learning to control and focus our attention is a fundamental aspect of yoga practice. We’ve explored how breath awareness aids to calm the mind and bring our attention into various parts of the body, the subtleties of dynamic movements and ultimately into the present moment. Similarly, where our gaze is directed our attention follows. When practicing asanas in class we can easily be distracted by letting our eyes wander around the room. To reduce this type of distraction as well as deepen alignment of mind and body we practice gazing at specific points in each posture. When we control and direct the focus, firstly the eyes and then the attention, we are using the yogic technique called drishti.
The practice of drishti gives us a technique with which to develop single-pointed concentration of attention. But remember, the point of attention is not merely a physical spot but rather everything about this one present moment you are experiencing, and seeing the unity (yoga) in all its aspects. The eyes should not be intense and hard, but rather soft and steady, balancing inward and outward gazing. If you find your mind is really latching on to the visual stimulation around you, soften the gaze even more. If you find your mind is wandering or becoming sleepy, sharpen the gaze.
Balancing postures particularly show us the power of focused attention and drishti gazing. We see immediately when the attention is lost because we fall out of the posture. No need to feel discouraged by falling out of a balancing posture, they are challenging and also require physical strength. I encourage you to see balancing postures as playful exciting moments that test and develop the limits of your focusing abilities.
In Sanskrit drishti means gaze, but it also means vision, point of view or wisdom. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written 2000 years ago, say we must practice Yoga in order to lift the veil of avidya, misperception. In other words, we inherently see the world in a false light as a result of various mental obstacles. Practicing yoga helps us overcome these obstacles and have a clear, true perspective of the world, vidya. In every asana (posture), the prescribed drishti assists concentration, aids movement, and helps orient the pranic (energetic) body, but drishti is also a technique for seeing the Divine everywhere—and thus for seeing correctly the world around us.
COMMON ASANAS AND ASSOCIATED DRISHTI GAZE POINT:
Meditation – gaze toward third eye (Ajna) chakra, Broomadhya Drishti
Samasthitih (equal standing) – gaze off tip of nose, Nasagrai Drishti
Urdhva Hastasana (hands to sky) – gaze up a the thumbs, Angusta Ma Dyai Drishti
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog) – gaze at navel, Nabi Chakra Drishti
Trigkonasana (Triangle Pose) – gaze at hand, Hastagrai Drishti
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) – gazing up to infinity, Urdvha Drishti
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) – gas at hand, Hastagrai Drishti
Forward Folds – gaze to big toes, Pahavoragrai Drishti
*If this creates tension in the neck, best to gaze down and lengthen back of neck.
Twisting – gaze as far as we can in the direction of the twist, Parsva Drishti
Vriksasana (tree pose) – gaze at fixed point on ground or off tip of nose
Yoga Mala, Sri K Pattabhi Jois
“Eye of the Beholder” David Life