Have you ever noticed that your eyes have a mind of their own in yoga class? That you find yourself looking at other people, checking out your nails, or just feeling unsure of where to look? Does it make you uncomfortable?
There’s an easy solution for all of that. The ancient practice of drishti teaches us to focus our attention in ways that stabilize our poses. This benefits us on our mat, and off, because it makes us feel more centered, improves our concentration, and helps us see the world with clarity.
The word “drishti” is sanskrit for “gaze” or “vision”. To practice drishti, we focus our eyes, and then our intention, in a direction that grounds us, so that we can grow from a stable foundation.
I think of drishti as the roots of yoga poses. The pose is a seed that we plant, and the gaze keeps it firmly grounded. When the gaze is fractured, the pose is weak. When the gaze is focused, however, we have the foundation we need to grow in the pose.
Many yoga traditions have specific teachings about the practice of drishti, but I think it’s easiest to begin with simple guidance (I know this will drive the ashtangis crazy, so I’m just gonna apologize now!).
As you practice these tips, remember to always keep your attention strong, but your eyes soft. And don’t forget to breathe!
Here are a few suggestions for working with drishti on your mat:
1) In twists, look as far in the direction you are twisting as possible, while still keeping the eyes soft. Gaze with intention, but not strain.
2) In standing poses, such as Warrior poses and Triangle Pose, gaze up at the hand or hands, when arms are lifted. If this hurts your neck, gaze straight forward instead, with soft eyes (notice below that I am looking up, but Ryan is looking forward…both are correct!).
3) In backbends, the gaze is either at the nose, or between the eyebrows. Play around with it and figure out what feels right to you. Do not gaze so intently that you feel cross-eyed, but rather keep it soft, and move the eyes in the intended direction.
4) In balance poses, gaze at the nose, or at a stationery object in front of you (see Dancer Pose, below). Keep the eyes soft, and the mind quiet.
5) In hip openers and seated stretches, close your eyes an imagine you are looking inward. Pay attention to your breath and try to still your mind.
Some yogis believe that drishti is the cure for all suffering. The theory is that it is there is a disconnect between the seer, and the object being seen. When we learn to see with clarity, we realize that our suffering is not grounded in reality, and we become happy.
I still have a long way to go with my drishti practice, but I have noticed that it has helped me better understand the world around me. I am certain that the practice of drishti helps me cultivate more peace and harmony in my life, and for the people I love.
It’s National Yoga Month, for seventeen more days. I can’t think of a better time to get your drishti on…so go ahead, and give it a whirl! What we see, really is what we get out of life, so let’s all do our best to see it clearly.
Photos by Danny Ducovny, with Ryan Batiste modeling Trikonasana