Inside Yoga 290 (13/1/2020)
When practising yoga, whether it is yoga asanas (exercises) or dhayana (meditation) the eyes need something to look at, this is called drishti, a point of gaze or focus.
During yoga practice we seek to control the physical body through exercises, and keep the mind focused and quiet, with its attention on the body and breathing. This might be working out well, but it could be our eyes which are distracting us and making us unsteady, especially when it comes to the standing and balancing positions.
So to control our wayward and wandering eyes, and maintain our concentration, we give them a job to do, with a fixed point to focus on whether it is a part of our body or the ground, and whilst changing position our point of gaze or drishti will change.
So for example, in standing postures like the Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2) we are looking towards our front hand; or Triangle (Trikonasana) we look at the hand above us. And when in transition often the best place to look is at the floor at a mid-distance to keep the balance, in a similar way a ballet dancer who does a spin keeps his or her eyes on one point for as long as possible before a quick turn of the head to return to the same spot. In a similar way, we make sure our eyes know where to look, if in doubt, look at the ground. Do avoid staring off into the sky or roof, which as I am often standing facing people I teach I do see happen a lot… keep an eye on your eyes.
When seated we are less likely to lose our balance, but wandering eyes can be even more distracting. When entering a seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana) the drishti starts with the sky (upward and forward) and then moves to our feet, and then for some who are flexible and find their head down to their legs, the gaze becomes the point between the eyebrows (Ajna Chakra, also called the Third Eye), at this point the eyes might be closed but the gaze is on one point and it’s a forward looking gaze (roaming eyes behind closed eyelids can also be distracting), remembering that the position is a forward bend.
Another example of where our eyes can look the wrong way is the supported back bend (the modification of Urdhva Dhanurasana), where we lift onto our shoulders to form the back bend. Here the chin is meant to dip towards the chest, with the drishti towards our nose (and the chest), because it is so easy to let our eyes drift, looking upward past our head, and behind it, which then moves our chin away from our chest and possibly bringing weight onto our neck or twisting it, which we do not want to happen.
In the moving form of the sun salutation (Surya Namaskara) we keep our gaze on specific points, following the direction of movement. It helps to control the flow of movement and maintain balance, when moving from ground position of downward facing dog (Adhomukha Svanasana) up to standing Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1) we keep our eyes fixed on the floor ahead, and if stable in the Warrior we look upward to our hands above us… and if struggling we simply do not look up just continue to look at the ground ahead.
As a general guideline let your drishti move in the direction of the stretch, for example, in a seated twist turning to the left, you will look left across the shoulder.
Drishti is not just an external gaze, it is also our inner eye, with which we maintain our focus on what is happening within. For example, using our X-ray vision to maintain awareness of what our hips and back (in particular our spine) are doing, because being at the heart of our movement and stability it is important to be aware of them. It helps to ground us and also helps to maintain the connection with our own body and breathing, and with it our sense of self and being, because ultimately, yoga is defined as union; being united with our self. Don’t let our eyes throw us off this.
In general, these are the main points of drishti:
1 Tip of the nose (Nasagrai)
2 Between the eyebrows (Ajna chakra)
3 Hand (Hastagrai)
4 Toes (Padhayoragrai)
5 To the right or left (Parsva Drishti)
6 Thumbs (Angustha Ma Dyai)
7 Up to the sky (Urdhva or Antara Drishti)
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