Article by Emily Bowles
Yogis agree that one of the keys to finding your flow is found in the drishti. Drishti simply means “gaze”, and once you begin to direct your focus in your practice, everything clicks. The breath, body, and gaze can all be in alignment.
There is an art to the eye position in every yoga class. Each asana, or yoga posture, has a corresponding eye placement. Next time you’re in upward dog, attempt to set the gaze at the tip of the nose. This will help to focus the mind as you flow through sun salutations. In downward facing dog, gaze at the bellybutton. Setting a drishti will really take your practice to the next level.
Drishti is less about the body parts and external objects being focused on, and more about withdrawing the senses by directing the focus inward, so that the other distractions fall away. In ashtanga yoga, there are nine drishti points identified. The first is the tip of the nose, then the third eye, the navel, the hand, the foot, then far to the right, and far to the left, at the thumbs, and up to the sky.
You can practice developing drishti by a simple meditation using the points of ashtanga. This meditation is best practiced while seated upright.
- Begin by sitting up tall and ground down through the sit bones. Rest the gaze, and also keep the face soft and the neck relaxed. Inhale deeply, briefly hold the breath, then slowly exhale through the nostrils.
- Keep breathing in this pattern at your own rhythm, taking long and slow deep breaths. As you begin to center and your awareness moves deeper within, allow the gaze to drift to the tip of the nose. Feel the eyes cross, and then relax. Hold this for about a minute.
- Now, allow the awareness to move to the third eye point, in between the brow. Rest here for one minute.
- Next, bring your attention to the sacral chakra, at the belly, also known in Thai Chi as the Dantien. Look deep within this space. Allow the eyes to remain soft.
- Now bring the gaze to the thumbs. The thoughts stay quiet, the mind and face remain soft. Expand that awareness to include the whole hand. The breath keeps flowing smoothly.
- Glance at your big toes next. Wiggle them to totally connect with your whole foot.
- Without moving the head, drift your eyes fully to the right, like you can see your right ear.
- Stay soft and keep breathing. Now take that gaze all the way to the left.
- After another minute, guide the eyes to center, and look up at the sky. When you’ve completed a minute of this, close your eyes. Enjoy a moment of stillness, peace, and quiet, and allow your practice to settle in.
It was yogi Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who brought the drishti practice to Western yoga. The sixth limb of yoga is dharana, meaning “one-pointed attention”. It teaches us how to keep our awareness directed in the present moment. Practicing drishti aids in the development of concentrated attention.
It also promotes pratayahara. Pratyahara literally means, “control of ahara”, or “gaining mastery over external influences.” This involves sense withdrawel. Just as a turtle withdraws its limbs into the shell for safety, so one can withdraw the senses and travel deep within the mind to find peace.
Some of the benefits of pratyahara are:
- less reactionary state of being,
- less judgement of external noise and stimuli,
- better living in the now.
You’ll also be less likely to absorb any surrounding negative energies. The simple moment it takes to pause and breathe before responding to negativity spares you a ton.
Davidji says, “When you are in a state of body-centered restful awareness, the drishti ultimately becomes you…beyond space and time. It’s a beautiful and deeply centering and unifying experience.” This has proven true in my practice, and I wish you much joy in discovering your own inner focus. As always, namaste.
Emily Bowles is a Yoga Alliance certified Hatha yoga instructor—currently living and teaching in Northern California. She is a Reiki level II practitioner and essential oil wellness advocate, engaged in daily healing and self-liberation. She is about to release her first children’s book, and currently studying pre-med sciences to become a naturopathic physician. Emily maintains a personal core power and yin yoga practice, believing that all things are possible—yoga being the dance, the lifestyle, and the vehicle that bridges us closer together, to our higher selves, and to home. She wants to remind you that you must never give up. Your dreams are alive within, waiting on you to manifest the courage and make them real. ॐ