It’s the first Monday of the month and that means it’s time to Ask a Yogini. Each month, I’ll answer a question about yoga – anything that you’re curious about. Chances are, if you have the question, someone else does too!
Disclaimer: While I am a certified yoga instructor, I am not your yoga instructor. Please exercise caution and honor your own body. These views are mine alone, based on my own experiences. Always consult a certified yoga instructor for additional guidance and assistance.
You’re on your mat, getting your yoga flow on. You start to move through some tricky postures. Maybe you’re trying to find your balance in tree pose or maybe you’re wobbling back and forth in Warrior III. Your yoga teacher reminds you to find your drishti and focus.
Find your what?
Drishti is often said to mean “gaze” or “view”. It actually comes from the root drsh in Sanskrit which means “to perceive” so its meaning (and application) goes a bit deeper than just our visual gaze.
It starts with our external gaze
Put simply, find one steady, unmoving point and fix your gaze there. This will help you stay upright when you’re trying to balance in various yoga poses by eliminating distractions. But can also help you move and maintain proper alignment. In fact, in Ashtanga yoga, each yoga posture has a specific drishti (there are nine different gazing points).
For example, in locust or bow pose, your drishti is the tip of your nose. You can think about gazing a few inches in front of your mat so that the back of your neck remains long.
Take a look a the picture below.
See how it looks like I’m trying to lift my chest by lifting my head? (Most of us have a tendency to try to lead the movement with our heads.) See how my neck looks like its crunched up? My gaze should be down, following the tip of my nose and about a foot ahead of me on the ground.
Cultivate your Mental Muscle
When our eyes wander, either because we’re scanning the room and checking out the other students or gazing out the window, we become distracted and our thoughts wander. Holding your gaze steady helps to steady your mind (and the thoughts in your mind). Our attention (and energy) flows to where our gaze is focused.
Drishti is part of the mental practice of yoga and builds your mental muscles. It helps you learn to hold your concentration on and off the mat, something that is beneficial in our attention deficit, instant update culture. During meditation practice, you turn your gaze inwards and focus on an internal drishti.
Ultimately, the practice of drishti can help you see the world as it really is. There’s a concept in yogic philosophy that our perception and interpretation of the world is colored and influenced by our experiences and the stories that we tell ourselves (or have been told). That we are layering veils on top of ourselves and obscuring the truth.
The idea of drishti is that eventually, you’ll be able to see through all those veils and see the real truth and meaning. To perceive the real truth.
How to do it
Your gaze should be soft – neutral and detached and not a hard gaze where your eyes are jutting out of your eye sockets and your face is clenched. Don’t force your gaze. You shouldn’t feel strained in any way, either mentally or physically. Instead, let your drishti develop naturally. It will take time and practice.
We have a tendency to focus on one point on the ground, particularly in standing postures. While this can help you to maintain your balance and focus, however, when you take your gaze down to the ground, your chest has a tendency to collapse and close off. Instead, keep your gaze at eye level or above.
Or, as one of my teachers once said, when you look down at the ground, we’re in our “thinking” brain and we want to try to get out of our thinking brain as much as possible. So, look up.
Are you familiar with drishti? Do you incorporate it into your yoga practice? What other questions do you have or topics you want to learn more about?
Come back on Wednesday to learn about tips and lessons on starting your yoga teaching practice.
In the meantime, check out these other yoga-related posts:
- What does Vinyasa mean?
- 8 benefits of yoga inversions
- 3 ways to use yoga blocks
- How to Incorporate Yoga into Your Daily Life
- Yoga for Runners Series
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