“Oh yogi, do not practice the asana without dhristi…”
Vāmana Ṛṣi Yoga Korunta
Ever wonder why you keep falling out of Ardha Chandrasana when the person next to you is steadily balancing in it? Do your eyes wander around the room while flowing through Surya Namaskar B or while holding a seated pose? Have you ever admired a fellow yogi for their ability to hold Utkatasana for what seems like infinite breaths?
Well yogis, I am here to help you balance steadier and hold poses longer through a heightened level of concentration and self-awareness. To achieve this kind of control in your asana practice, you must utilize what is called Drishti. Simply put, Drishti is a focal point that is gazed upon during practice, allowing external stimuli to melt away and enabling a single-pointed focus to occur. With a soft gaze you look beyond the outer appearances of what you see to the inner essence of it; you transcend the physical realm and dive into the spiritual one. You don’t stare at it; you stare into it.
When you transfix your eyes and hold them still, your mind becomes still. You begin to enter into the moving meditation of asana, obtaining a stronger sense of what your physical body is doing and at the same time letting it just simply be the way it is. You flow from one pose to the next with ease while experiencing a level of sense withdrawal. You stop thinking and you just become one with the present moment.
What You See Is What You Focus On
Every day you rely so much on what you see. Think about how many times you find your day interrupted by something or someone you look at.
When you drive to work in the morning, your focus should be on the road, but the moment you see a billboard or a jogger, your favorite restaurant or a tree in full bloom, you are distracted. Your thoughts and focus shift to something else, almost instantaneously, leading you to who knows where in your mind. The road melts away, and you are absorbed by everything else except driving. It’s amazing you get safely to your destination at all despite these diversions.
In addition, you are constantly using your eyes to make judgements, both good and bad. Walking down the street, you espy a beautiful woman in her business suit, with long locks of shiny, dark hair, and then you either happily compliment her as she walks by or you sulk in your thoughts of how ugly you feel compared to her.
You are emotionally affected by the things you see as well. Taking a hike in the woods, you see litter remnants of those who camped out there. They left their garbage of beer bottles, food wrappers and plastic containers. As you collect the trash and place it in the proper bins, you are filled with various emotions. Perhaps you are full of anger and rage, completely appalled by how anyone could treat our planet with such disrespect. You may even feel sadness and doom or even helpless to the fact that there are numerous of corporations who choose greed and profit over preserving the beauty of Mother Nature.
Regardless of the judgements or emotions you experience in instances like these, you are instantly hindered from the present moment. Your mind begin to wander, and instead of focusing on what is happening in the here and now, you lose yourself in unnecessary thoughts. Yes, you live in a world of constant disruptions! So how can you remain focused with all these external influences?
One way is to harness the power of Drishti. This gazing technique is a powerful tool to keep you aware of what is transpiring right now in front of you as opposed to losing yourself in the abyss of the mind. It is ok to notice and observe what is visible to you as you experience each present moment, but the goal is to not let it control you. Use Drishti to help you appreciate and be aware of each precious, passing moment. Let what does not serve your betterment be obsolete.
Especially during your yoga practice, if you are not utilizing Drishti, your eyes wander around the room, leading you to make judgements about how beautiful his Adho Mukha Vrksasana is or become jealous of how gracefully she enters into Kapotasana. These inessential distractions and judgements lead to self-doubt and frustration.
In addition, wandering eyes lead to a wandering mind. Instead of being present in each pose, you are thinking about everything and anything else. When your mind is distracted during asana, you can not fully reap the benefits of this moving meditation.
The point of asana practice is NOT to be perfect. Whatever else going on around you is simply that-it is what is going on around you. It is out of your control. The true practice of yoga, however, is paying attention to what is happening inside of you. Quiet the mind with Drishti and begin to see how in control you actually are!
The 9 Drishtis For Asana
Throughout your Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Hatha practices you will use most, if not all, of the 9 Drishtis. Let’s take a brief look at each of them so you can start to see the positive effects of this wonderful tool!
Hand~Look toward the hand in poses like Trikonasana (Triangle) and Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle).
Tip of the nose~There are many poses in which you gaze at the tip of the nose like Chaturanga Dandasana and most standing forward folds.
Foot~For seated forward folds like Pascimottanasana and Janu Sirsasana, gaze at the foot.
Sideways to the right and left~This gaze is more open to interpretation because there isn’t an exact point to look at. The gaze follows the direction the head moves and you fix your eyes on a non-moving point after the head has fully rotated. Therefore, this Drishti is used when practicing twists.
- Upward~Again, you are being asked to look beyond space and not at a specific part of the body. This is where you focus in poses like Utkatasana (Chair) and Virabhadrasana I. However, you can also look at the thumb in these poses.
Thumb~Look at your thumbs when you raise your hands above your head at the beginning and end of your Sun Salutations (Urdhva Hastasana).
Navel~In Downward Dog, the best place to look is the navel, but if this hurts your neck, you can gaze at the nose instead.
Third Eye~In poses like Purvottanasana (Upward Plank) and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel), gaze at the third eye. Also, gaze here during meditation and some pranayam exercises.
The Goal of Drishti in Asana
When practicing Drishti during asana, although it appears that you are looking at a non-moving point on your body, on the wall in front of you or out the window, your aim should be looking beyond the focal point into the energetic planes. This allows you to begin to grasp the purpose and power of this tool. Gazing in this way helps you to begin working your practice from the inside out. When you can deepen your concentration and awareness both in your body and in your mind, you can experience sense withdrawal and stillness of the mind.
You hold poses longer with ease.
You balance on one foot or upside down more effortlessly.
You feel the internal benefits of the poses.
You allow yourself to exist in the present moment, taking the focus away from any judgements or thoughts you may have.
You realize what lies beyond the poses and inside you.
You become aware of how resilient and peaceful you truly are.
You understand that what you practice on the mat applies directly to what you practice off the mat.
You gain control of your body and mind while experiencing asana as a moving meditation.
It becomes clear that transformation begins inside of you; if you want to change what is happening in your life, you must first look within.
You just be.