Drishti is our gazing point in a pose, in Ashtanga Yoga each pose has a specific gazing point, but the external sight is not what drishti is about. Drishti comes from the root drsh which means “to perceive”. . . so drishti is not just our sight, but our perceptions and understanding as well. I love this about yoga–what seems external or physical always has an inner depth–an inner meaning to it. Drishti relates to how we perceive our world. Using our yogic sight or drishti gazing through the happenings in our life seeing the real meaning–the lessons behind our circumstances.
On our mats, one of the key elements of the Ashtanga practice is the training of the mind to focus by use of gazing points. Drishti is for the mind. Drishti eliminates visual distractions and develops concentration. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who eyes were darting about? Did you feel as though they were listening to you?
The point of gaze has little to do with our external sight. Those of us with sight are easily distracted (fuzz on our toes, clock, what someone else looks like in a pose, body parts, or someone’s wardrobe choices . . .) these distractions pull us away from yoga. Where the gaze is directed our attention naturally follows and then so does our energy. Wherever we send our attention through our senses we also send our prana or energy. Practicing Drishti helps us to keep our energy in our body where we can use it, when we follow the aimless senses and mind we send much of our energy out of our body, when we are trying to focus on something and we take our gaze off our focus we lose our energy on what we are doing. Practicing Drishti will help you stay in “the zone”. Drishti develops focus–not only on our mats, but in life as well. Practicing drishti on our mats will help strengthen our ability to keep our focus no matter people or situations around us are swirling off our mats. You will be able to keep your focus on what you want to do in life without distractions–this keeps your energy (or prana) in your body, giving you the energy you need for your direction in life.
“Don’t look around to see where everyone else is, it won’t help!”
Might as well focus on your drishti–what someone else looks like in a posture won’t help you get there. When we look around to see how someone else looks in a posture, we don’t mean to . . . and we don’t want to . . . but we tend to build up little resentments when someone does well what we don’t–then we place another little veil between ourselves and others. So best to mind your own body 😉
Drishti is a nice way to “mind your own business” and this applies to off our mat as well (in the eastern cultures women keep themselves covered, minding the mens drishti for them, in the western cultures women show themselves so men must learn to mind their own drishtis . . . )
I went through a period of time a few years ago when I was doing a sutra study where my meditation practice was “minding my own business”. We create a lot of suffering for ourselves when we let our drishtis mind other people’s business–and we have no right to judge or give advice many times as we are not in that persons shoes and past karmas! So we will be much happier minding our drishtis and our own business 🙂
The Physical Benefits of Drishti
It’s been fun talking about the esoteric side of drishti, but there is a science behind it as well.
Using your drishti during asana will improve vision by exercising the eye muscles and increasing blood flow to the optic nerve. Drishti helps to align your head in neck in the poses; reaching upward into the sun salute, for example, the gaze is at your thumbs, this requires your arms to be in correct alignment, if your arms are behind your ears (stressing your shoulder joint) you won’t see your thumbs. Some positions may strengthen the neck as well (trikonasana gaze point). The gaze point for any asana is the one that most benefits the energetic movement of the asana. For example, back bending postures the gaze is downward toward our nose–this is not intuitive, usually back bending makes you want to look upward–however back bends energize your nervous system so looking downward is calming. And vice versa in forward bending postures the gaze is most often toward the toes; forward bending postures pull us inward so the gaze outward helps to keep us in balance.
But the main purpose of drishti is mind control. By training your eyes to not dart about the room during practice you will improve your concentration and therefore meditation. Your gaze should be a soft, hazy-out of focus gaze. There are 9 drishtis:
1. Nasagrai – nose tip, center of ida and pingala nadis, used most often (the nose drishti helps draw us inward –into our own body).
2. Broomadhya – Ajna Chakra, third eye
3. Nabi Chakra – Navel as in Adho Mukha Svanasana
4. Hastagrai – Hand as in Trikonasana
5. Padhayoragrai – Toes
6. Parsva Drishti – Far Right and
7. Parsva Drishti – Far left as in Ardha Matsyendrasana
8. Angusta Ma Dyai – Thumbs as in the start of Surya Namaskara
9. Urdhva Drishti – Up to the sky as in Utkatasana (sometimes called antara drishti–antara means inner gaze where we close our eyes and gaze upward to the light of the 3rd eye).
The gaze points are not to be directly looked at, but rather gazed beyond–and some gaze points you will not see, for example if your head is all the way to your knee or shin in paschimattanasana you will not be able to see your toes but you still gaze in the direction of your toes.
To keep it simple here are a few tips to help you remember where your drishti is:
- most forward bending postures the gaze is toes–although many prefer the nose gaze here
- most backward bending postures the gaze is our nose (or i like to cue ‘down your cheeks’ to help keep from crossing your eyes).
- twisting postures have a side drishti, your eyes look out the corner of your eyes in the direction you are twisting–its like a yoga pose for your eyes . . .
- inversions are nose drishti
Other Areas in Yoga Drishti is Used
Drishti is also commonly used in meditation to focus and concentrate the mind. Internal drishti points are the breath and the third eye center. External focal points can also be used, such as a candle or mandala.
If you find closing your eyes during meditation leads you to focusing on the dramas or perplexities of life, re-establish an outer gaze. On the other hand, if the outer gaze becomes a distraction to your concentration, perhaps an inner-directed correction is necessary.
In bhakti (devotional) yoga, drishti is used in a slightly different way: a constant loving and longing gaze is turned toward the concept, name or image of God.
And in our ashtanga practice, gazing is not the same as looking, looking is dual, there is a looker and an object being looked at. Gazing in contrast is “looking” beyond the mundane objects, gazing toward that hazy realm of perception beyond the clearly focused. If you are “looking” at the tip of your nose for the Nasagrai Drishti, then your eyes will cross, if you are gazing toward the tip of your nose, your eyes will not cross.
Remember drishti in a broader context; of having perspective of one’s life. Think of your drishti as giving you x-ray vision to see through the illusions of life.
When we view the world and others with our yogi vision (or yogi eyes) we don’t see differences or separation we see Love.
|Uttana Padasana (inhale reach up)||Angusta Ma Dyai (thumb)|
|Uttanasana (exhale forward bend)||Nasagrai (nose)|
|(inhale head up)||Nasagrai|
|Chaturanga Dandasana||Nasagrai Head forward|
|Urdhva Mukha Svanasana||Nasagrai|
|Adho Mukha Svanasana||Nabi Chakra|
|Utthita Trikonasana||Hastagrai (hand)|
|Parivritta Trikonasana||Hastagrai (hand)|
|Utthita Parsvakonasana||Hastagrai (hand)|
|Parivritta Parsvakonasana||Hastagrai (hand)|
|Prasarita Padottanasana A||Nasagrai|
|Prasarita Padottanasana B||Nasagrai|
|Prasarita Padottanasana C||Nasagrai|
|Prasarita Padottanasana D||Nasagrai|
|Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana||Padhayoragrai (toes)
|Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana||Nasagrai|
|Primary Series – Yoga Chikitsa|
|Paschimattanasana A & B||Padhayoragrai (toes)|
|Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana||Padhayoragrai (toes)|
|Triang Mukhaekapada Paschimattanasana||Padhayoragrai (toes)|
|Janu Sirsasana A / B / C||Padhayoragrai (toes)|
|Marichyasana A||Padhayoragrai (toes)|
|Marichyasana B||Nasagrai (nose)|
|Marichyasana C||Parsva (side)|
|Marichyasana D||Parsva (side)|
|Kurmasana||Broomadhya (ajna chakra)|
|Upavistha Konasana – balanced||Urdhva|
|Supta Padangusthasana||Padhayoragrai (toes) /
|Ubhaya Padangusthasana||Antara (upward)|
|Urdhva Mukha Paschimattanasana||Padhayoragrai (toes)|
|Setu Bandhasana||Nasagrai (nose)|
|Urdhva Dhanurasana||Nasagrai (nose)|
|Tolasana – Utpluthih||Nasagrai|
|Intermediate Series – Nadi Sodhana|
|Eka Pada Sirsasana||Nasagrai|
|Dwi Pada Sirsasana||Nasagrai|
|Gomukhasana||Nasagrai / Urdhva|
|Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana||Nasagrai / Parsva|
|Mukta Hasta Sirsasana||Nasagrai|
|Baddha Hasta Sirsasana||Nasagrai|
|Urdhva Dhanurasana||Nasagrai (nose)|