Ask a Yogini: What is Drishti?

 

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.

What is Drishti

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.

bow pose

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.

Dancers Pose

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:

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I try to use my drishti in my classes and it makes a big difference when I am focusing on it! My old yoga stuido (which was in a gym) had a mirrior in front and it was so disorienting. I would focus on everything going on in the mirror and not myself. Luckily I found a new studio (no mirriors) and I’ve really been able to work on this!
    Karen @karenlovestorun

  2. says

    This was so informative for me! I have never given my gaze in yoga any second thought. But it all makes sense. When I’m doing my rehab work that involves balance or stability, I always pick a focal point. Same with when I was a kid and figure skating…I had a focal point when doing spins. I love how yoga carries over into so many things!
    misszippy recently posted..A clear race schedule (for now)My Profile

  3. says

    I am familiar with the concept but never really knew it had a name. We used the concept a lot in gymnastics when we were trying to balance on a beam or something. I swear..yoga is a language all on it’s own. You are always teaching me something. :)
    katie recently posted..31 Days of MovementMy Profile

  4. says

    Oh yay this is so informative! I had no idea that there were actual drishti gazes associates with specific poses. That is really interesting! Also, I never made the connection between our gaze and our mental focus and perception. That is really cool!
    Britt@MyOwnBalance recently posted..Joyful JulyMy Profile

  5. says

    My gosh, this was soooo intriguing friend! I love what this positions means and what most of us do when in a standing position like this, using our thinking brain. I am blown away by all of your knowledge as a result of your training and yoga practice! I love it!! and I love this blog post series!!
    Jolene recently posted..A year later, yet so much more.My Profile

  6. says

    This is amazing. I can almost imagine exactly what it is and I’ve never done Yoga before. I guess it’s the way you can incorporate lessons and themes into other parts of life.
    I think I need to take yoga. Soon.
    Tamara recently posted..One Small Voice.My Profile

  7. says

    I thought of you today because I did yoga for the first time and MAN WAS THAT HARD!!! My friend had a P90x yoga video. We only made it halfway through. I can see that it’s so good for your balance & strength though. Admittedly I’ve been completely underestimating yoga!!
    jan recently posted..Pool TimeMy Profile

  8. says

    When I am not present on my mat, my drishti is ALL over the place and I can totally feel it in my practice, especially when we are doing standing poses (eagle). To get it together, I make sure to focus on my breath, find something in the room to focus on that isn’t moving, and just move forward. Great post! XOXO
    She Rocks Fitness recently posted..Recent Eats + Time To Start PackingMy Profile

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