Many of us have heard our yoga teacher say, “Find your drishti. Fix your gaze.” But did you know you had as many as nine options? Chances are that you’ve been practicing them all along. Regrettably, ‘Where’s the Clock in This Place Drishti,’ ‘Can My Neighbor Hold Bakasana Longer Than I Can Drishti’ and ‘Finding Inspiration in the Yoga Butt in Front of Me Drishti’ didn’t make the top nine. So where do you look, and what exactly are you supposed to be looking for?
Drishti, the Sanskrit term for sight, direction or focused gaze, is a tool used in asana practice, traditionally Ashtanga, to bring you closer to dharana (concentration) and pratyahara (sense withdrawal). Practicing drishti teaches you to control your wandering eyes, limit your intake of external stimuli and thus manage your mind instead of allowing it to manage you. These components of the eight limbs of yoga – asana, dharana and pratyahara - along with the others of yamas, niyamas, pranayama, and dhyana support the ultimate yoga goal of attaining enlightenment, or samadhi.
Not only does a fixed gaze limit visual stimuli and distraction, it also enhances your physical practice by preserving and directing your energy, enhancing alignment and even deepens a pose. Think about it. Low Lunge with an upward gaze lifts the chest, lengthens the spine, sinks the hips much more so than if we collapse the chest, hunch shoulders and look down at the toes. Downward Facing Dog’s drishti is the navel, encouraging the lifting up and back of the tailbone instead of rounding the spine to check out your pedicure.
Of course, no matter the direction in which we’re physically looking, drishti teaches us to hone the practice of looking inward. Drishti is a soft-focus gaze, not a piercing stare, with relaxed, possibly even gently blurred eyes. External data intake such as your reflection in the mirror and what others are doing is replaced by internal reflection. Starting to wonder if you need glasses? Let’s break down the drishtis and you’ll be seeing (or not-seeing) clearly in no time.
1. Thumb, or Angusthamadhye, as in Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute in Sun Salutation).
2. Tip of the nose, or Nasagre, as in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold). Also used frequently in inversions such as Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) and backbends such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel) and Ustrasana (Camel).
3. Hand, or Hastagre, as practiced in poses such as Trikonasana (Triangle) and Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended Side Angle) in which the hand directs the pose’s energetic reach.
4 and 5. Sideways to the right and sideways to the left, or Parsva drishti. Parsva drishti is potentially more ambiguous than other drishtis, as “sideways” can be up for interpretation. Generally the sideways gaze follows the direction as the head, ie, upward, level, downward, etc. Practiced in twists such as Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes), Marichyasana (Marichi’s Pose) and Bharadvajasana (Bharadvaja’s Twist).
6. Upward, or Urdhva drishti. This drishti and both Parsva drishtis ask you to gaze into infinity instead of at a specific part of your body. You may practice this drishti in Utkatasana (Chair pose) or Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I).
7. Navel, or Nabhichakra. The navel, also referred to as the magic circle, is the focal point for poses such as Adho Mukha Svanasasana (Downward Facing Dog).
8. Toes, or Padayoragre, as in Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) and Janusirsasana (Head to Knee pose).
9. The third eye, or Bhrumadhye. Here, eyes are halfway or fully closed and gazing toward the space between the eyebrows. Asanas include Matsyasana (Fish pose), Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior) as well as seated meditation.
So the next time your teacher instructs you to focus, to look, to gaze, ask yourself what it is that you now see.