Throughout a yoga class our arms and legs are moving in all directions, we are up in downward dog, then down in happy baby. But where are our eyes supposed to look? Unfortunately, it’s not letting our gaze wander at our neighbour’s incredible headstand that they seem to hold forever, or the clock checking how long is left and most definitely not the toned bottom in front of you. Instead the aim is to find your Drishti.
The concept traditionally comes from Ashtanga practice but is an important tool in any asana to embrace the 5th and 6th limb of yoga Dharana (concentration) and Pratyahara (sense withdrawal). The term is a sanskrit word meaning sight, direction or focused gaze. By controlling the gaze, we can limit our external input and help manage the chatter of the mind. Yogi Gurus are not ignoring the fact that our minds are always busy with thoughts, so we need some tools to assist us. By embracing as many of the 8 Limbs of Yoga as we can such as Yama, Niyama, Asana, Dharana and Pratyahara the goal of achieving Samadhi or “enlightenment” becomes increasingly within reach. Even if we never reach Samadhi the journey to attaining this state of being is a joyful and blissful experience, so by focusing gently on the drishti we are enhancing our yoga practice. Drishti is the beginning of the practice of looking inward.
Fixing the gaze helps with preserving and directing energy and enhancing alignment. Each drishti is designed to assist in deepening a posture; aiming to soften the gaze with gentle relaxed eyes rather than holding a piercing stare. There are 9 main points of focus that the teacher will direct you to look in each pose.
1. Thumb, or Angusthamadhye, as in Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute in Sun Salutation).
5. Sideways to the left, or Parsva drishti, as in Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes)
As a beginner, there is a lot to take in. A whole new language to immerse into, postures to learn, muscles in your body you never knew existed and a whole new way of thinking by eliminating the ego from our thoughts and simply being present on the mat. Often the Drishti is something that will take time to bring into your practice as at first you will often need to look at the teacher or your body as your proprioception is not yet there. Once you feel you are ready to look inwards, give it a go and softly bring your gaze to drishti. Enjoy the feeling of mindfulness as your yoga journey deepens once more.