The Sanskrit word drishti means to “gaze” or “view”. Drishti comes from the root drsh which means “to see”, “to understand” or “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. As we use this month to learn or focus on the drishti practice of ashtanga yoga remember drishti also relates to how we perceive our world. Using our yogic sight or drishti gazing through the illusions of life seeing what is real, saving ourselves and others suffering.
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, the real looking is inward. Those of us with sight are easily distracted (fuzz on our toes, clock, what someone else looks like in a pose . . .) these distractions pull us away from yoga. Where the gaze is directed our attention naturally follows. Practicing Drishti helps us to keep our focus not only on our mats, but in life as well. Practicing drishti on our mat will help strengthen our ability to keep our focus internal no matter what the people around us are doing–this ability will also then follow us off our mat; you will be able to keep your focus on what you want to do in life without being pulled by other people or situations occurring around you–this keeps your energy (or prana) in your body, giving you more energy.
“Don’t look around to see where everyone else is, it won’t help!”
Focusing on your drishti will save you a lot of suffering! When our eyes wonder in class, we tend to compare ourselves to where someone else is in their practice, causing us suffering, or we tend to look at our abdomen in Sarvangasana causing us suffering . . . or we think we are a good yogi since our head is on the floor–this too causes suffering! Practice this off your mat as well, one of the best ways to remain at peace is to “mind your own business”.
Using your drishti during asana will improve vision by exercising the eye muscles and the optic nerve while it increases blood flow. Some positions may strengthen the neck (trikonasana gaze point). 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, and as a general rule of thumb, let your gaze move in the direction of the pose. The proper gaze point for any asana is the one that most benefits the energetic movement of the asana. 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!
There are 9 drishtis:
- Nasagrai – nose tip, center of ida and pingala nadis, used most often (the nose drishti helps draw us inward –into our own body).
- Broomadhya – Ajna Chakra, third eye
- Nabi Chakra – Navel as in Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Hastagrai – Hand as in Trikonasana
- Padhayoragrai – Toes
- Parsva Drishti – Far Right and
- Parsva Drishti – Far left as in Ardha Matsyendrasana
- Angusta Ma Dyai – Thumbs as in the start of Surya Namaskara
- 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. 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.
Drishti is also commonly used in meditation to focus and concentrate the mind. The most useful drishti points are the breath and the third eye center. External focal points can also be used, such as the tip of the nose, 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.
Remember drishti in a broader context; of having the proper view or perspective of one’s life. By developing the ability to adapt one’s perspective to accommodate the continuous change in the world, we can avoid the unnecessary attachments that cause us suffering. 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)|