Drishti: Ancient Yoga Technique for Balance, Vision, and Focus
Ever heard the saying, "Where your attention goes, energy flows"? This phrase is extremely helpful not only during yoga practice, but in life in general. When we practice yoga asana, our attention should be on the practice itself – our body, alignment, breathing, and connection to the divine. In life, it should be on present moment awareness.
Often, in yoga class we can become distracted by things like lululemon's new see through pants on the person in front of us, the clock on the wall, or even the hot guy in warrior pose – throwing our practice and balance way off.
It was best put by Guruji K. Pattabhi Jois who said, “Yoga is an internal practice, the rest is just a circus.”
What is a Drishti?
Drishti is an ancient yoga technique that focuses the eyes on a certain unmoving point in a particular posture. We see why this concept is so important in balancing postures, for example. If your attention is on another person or a moving object, we're more likely to fall out of the pose or become unstable and wobbly.
Have you ever been deeply immersed in a daydream and someone waves their hand in front of your face, yet your eyes stay fixed in one position? Your eyes are locked, but you're awareness is elsewhere. In those moments, we are beyond the sense of sight. The only difference is in yoga, it's a conscious decision – using discipline to keep the eyes in a fixed position (yet the awareness is vast).
Ways to Use a Drishti
We see drishti's used in many different forms. In the Ashtanga tradition, there are 9 points of focus for the eyes. For example, the tip of the nose in mountain pose, between the eyebrows and inward at the third eye point during meditation, the navel in downward-facing dog, the hand in Triangle Pose, the toes in seated forward bend, far to the right and left in spinal twists, the thumbs for the first movement in sun salutations, and up to the sky into infinity in Warrior I. These not only serve as exercise for the eyes, but also correct the postural alignment and organize our prana (energy).
During Bikram's yoga, I often hear teachers say, “Soft gaze on the horizon” – meaning imagine or visualize the horizon is in front of you (my favorite drishti!)
Trataka is an eye cleansing technique in Hatha Yoga that improves concentration and vision. It includes gazing at a candle flame until the eyes water – bathing and cleansing the eyes. It is also a way to become aware of unconscious urges and movements such as blinking.
Drishti for Kids
The minute I taught my kids drishti, their balancing abilities increased 10 fold (and so did their meditation practice). Kids have a tendency to twitch, wiggle, and move a lot during yoga and meditation. Drishti is one of the single most important tools to improve stillness. It also develops something called ekagraha or single-pointed focus, which is typically a challenge, not only for our eyes, but in everyday life.
My son said,"It's like having a staring contest with the wall." Funny, however, it's more like having a staring contest with yourself, yet it's not a wide-eyed piercing stare – it's a relaxed even slightly blurred gaze.
Ultimate Goal of Using a Drishti
Vedic expert Dr. David Frawley wrote, “Fixing the gaze…not only concentrates the mind but draws our energy inward along with it, extending the action of pratyahara, or the yogic internalization of the prana and the senses.”
Training your body to do what the mind tells it is very empowering. It also strengthens focus and discipline. Controlling our senses has been used for centuries as a way to transcend – transcend physical pain, transcend the five senses, transcend the illusion of separation, transcend to higher consciousness and oneness.
Drishti is prescribed in the The Yoga Sutra's of Patanjali to improve dharana (concentration) and pratyahara (sense withdrawal). These practices are a guide to ultimately reach samadhi or enlightenment.
So, whether you are trying to achieve such heights or just want to improve your balance – using a drishti is a powerful device toward both.