Drishti is a term said multiple times during a yoga class, but how does it actually affect our practice, both physically and mentally? Why is it so important on the mat? And how can we use drishti outside of a yoga class? It’s actually pretty straightforward.
Drishti is the Sanskrit word for focused gaze. Settle your eyes on one point in each pose. Sounds easy enough, right? Not exactly.
The human mind wants to take in everything around us. The easiest way to do that is through the eyes. When eyes start looking around we take in shapes and colors. The ego mind then starts to judge: I love the color of those yoga pants. I wish I could do dancer like that. I need a manicure. I’ll never be that flexible.
As soon as judgment comes up, yoga practice is over. By continually bringing attention back to a gazing point, attention is drawn inward. This is when asana becomes a practice of yoga, because it helps the practitioner withdraw the senses (pratyahara) and come to a state of concentration (dharana).
Here are some tips to find drishti on the mat:
Choose one spot. In each pose you come into, settle your eyes. Pick one spot. It doesn’t matter if that spot is not centered perfectly in front of you. It doesn’t matter if the spot is a part of your body or out of the windows. Just choose a single place to focus your eyes, and stay disciplined enough to hold that gaze.
There are traditional drishti points for each pose, such as Nasagram drishti (tip of the nose) and Nabhi chakra drishti (navel). Many of these points are on your own physical body. If you are not comfortable with drishti yet, choose any spot, and stay committed to keeping your eyes still. If you are ready, start to explore the more traditional gazing points.
Bring softness to your gaze. When first focusing on drishti, it is tempting to lock your eyes so fiercely your eyes start to water or you don’t let yourself blink. Work on softening your gaze so that it is comfortable, yet steady. Imagine your drishti comes from the back of your head, your mind’s eye, rather than the front of your head.
Focus on drishti during transitions. We all intuitively know that holding our eyes still will help maintain balance. Too often, practitioners hold a steady gaze during a balancing pose, such as garudasana (eagle). As soon as the teacher calls to switch sides, eyes go everywhere–to the floor, to the water bottle, to the towel or clothing. Commit to keeping your eyes focused during transitions. This alone will bring a sense of seamlessness to your practice, bringing you closer to a moving meditation.
Drishti has benefits off the mat as well. In Sanskrit, drishti also refers to a vision of our outer world and inner selves. This can be interpreted as seeing things as they really are, without our judgments, perceptions, or opinions attached. We can also use drishti to draw our vision inward, to see ourselves as we really are, and set goals for the future.
There are many interpretations on drishti off the mat. Here are a few:
Set your intention. “Keep your eyes on the prize,” is a quote we often hear when we are working towards a goal. People instinctively know that when you focus your attention on something, you are more likely to achieve it. People often do this by creating vision boards or journaling about what they would like to see in the future. By setting your eyes and focus on something tangible, you are able to concentrate on what you want to accomplish.
Let go of some intensity. Drishti reminds us to use a soft gaze, rather than laser focus. When we put on blinders and intensely focus on something, the risk of burnout is high. But when we set our intention and give ourselves space to see the big picture, we are more likely to meet that goal.
Change your outlook. Our attitude towards life is often determined by what we focus on. People who spend all their time focusing on their problems will never run out of problems. In contrast, people who focus on what they are grateful for continuously find new pleasantries in their lives. If you are working on changing your outlook, start to notice how you spend your free time. Do you find yourself listening to friends complain, watch TV dramas, and fret over the problems in your life? Try out a complaint-free day, reading instead of watching TV, and making a list of all the amazing things in your life. Small acts each day will begin to shift your vision of your own life.
Drishti is a powerful tool that can be used in all areas of our lives. On the mat, it can help stabilize the body and quiet the mind. Off the mat, drishti can bring us closer to our goals and true inner nature.
Begin to notice when your eyes are darting all over. Is fear coming up? Judgment? Stress? When this happens, steady your focus, take a deep breath, and let drishti do its work.