Drishti drishti (update) for 2020

Originally posted in our TOPIC OF THE MONTHs, AUGUST 2011
Drishti update 2020 –  Setting our Drishti for the new year (instead of a resolution).  Drishti is our vision for our life.

Our drishti is closely tied to how you perceive what you are thinking, which effects your emotions.  Managing our emotions and how we perceive what has happened to us in our life is a big upside to yoga that most people are not aware of.  

Two people can go through the exact same trauma and one person may be more stressed or negatively effected if they perceived it as something harmful or detrimental vs. something to grow or learn from.  If we grow and learn from our challenging experiences in life it is very enriching to our lives — it develops our Resilience.  Everyone is going to have challenges in their life, learning how to be resilient — or grow from challenges will help you handle life with more ease and grace.

Brain Connections

Our thalamus effects how our brain perceives — the thalamus receives signals from our senses (all except our nose/smell) then sends these sensations to our cerebral cortex for interpretation.  But it is the thalamus that is most responsible for our perception not the cerebral cortex.  The thalamus acts as a gate filtering which information from various channels (eyes, ears, touch, taste) is allowed to be relayed to the cerebral cortex for processing.  Our thalamus sets our perception.

The thalamus has connections with the cerebral cortex and together they set our consciousness.

Damage to your thalamus leaves you in a coma.  It has also been found that people with schizophrenia have decreased connectivity between their thalamus and the prefrontal cortex.  We want to keep our thalamus healthy and connected to stay sane!
https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/new-role-discovered-thalamus

So how do we keep our thalamus healthy and connected?  The Gamma brain waives modulate our perception and consciousness, which are similar functions to the thalamus so it seems to me there is a connection between the thalamus and gamma brain waves.

By encouraging gamma brain waves we get better communication between our thalamus and cortex.  When we have better connections we have better integration of our life’s experiences because we perceived them as food for growth.  

How do we encourage gamma brain waves — or better brain wave connections between our thalamus and cortex?  I have learned of a few ways over the years!

#1 is perception!  Your perception can effect your brain waves.  How are you perceiving your life?  If you perceive your life as being a vehicle for higher consciousness you may be encouraging gamma brain waves.

  • Meditate and visualize your life as a vehicle for higher consciousness, how can you make your life a vehicle for higher consciousness?

#2 is Bhastrika — the breathing exercise that is like a bellows.

  • I’ve decided bhastrika is one of my favorite pranayamas 🙂 

#3 Heart wave coherence — 

We know our heart rhythm is effected by our mood — and our heart rhythm effects how our brain operates – as we learned from HeartMath about coming into “coherence”.  Here is a reminder of what we learned from HeartMath:

  • When under stress our heart rhythm (using heart monitors) is erratic and disordered — these erratic signals travel on the neurons from the heart to the brain limiting our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions.
  • In contrast the more ordered and stable patterns of the heart’s input to the brain has the opposite effect – it facilities higher cognitive functioning that not only benefits the entire body but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform. 

#4 Perhaps our drishti has something to do with our thalamus health ….

Drishti or looking place is about perception — not just looking.  Drishti means perception!  Our drishti in yoga may help us perceive more clearly.

So now onto my classic Drishti talk 🙂

 Drishti Gazing points

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 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 for growth behind our circumstances.

On our mats, one of the 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 — and perhaps better communications between your thalamus and cortex.  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 drishti 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 — along with blood flow, neuronal flow, increased white blood cells, increased lymphatic flow and more. 

The drishti looking places also have some benefit according to the Yoga Yajnavalka. 

In the Yoga Yajnavlkya (version translated by A.G. Mohan) on the verses about pranayama, Yajnavlkya explains that by focusing our mind on certain points in the body it gives us control over the energy movement in our body.  He names three distinct places to put your attention —- These three points just happen to be three of our nine drishti points (outlined below) in our Ashtanga practice:

  • Nose Tip = energy control
  • Navel = removes all diseases
  • Big Toes = body attains lightness

Practicing Drishti helps us to keep our energy in our control.   When we follow the aimless senses — and mind — we send much of our energy away from what we are working on.  For example off the mat; when we are trying to focus on a task at hand (like writing this little piece), and we take our gaze off what we are doing (I stop looking at what I am writing to look outside :), we stop what we are doing to engage the mind in something else losing our flow (my mind wanders to that beautiful landscape . . . hence I lose the flow of what I am writing as my mind conjures up some dream).  

Practicing Drishti will help you stay in “the flow 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 what people or situations are swirling around us off our mats.   You will be better equipped 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 power you need for your direction in life.

“Don’t look around to see where everyone else is, it won’t help!”

Might as well put your eyes on your drishti — what someone else looks like in a posture won’t help you get there.  It only distracts you from your own internal yoga.  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 sometimes we build up little resentments about what our body can not do — 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.  I went through a period of time a few years ago in 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 as we are not in that persons shoes and past karmas!  So we will be much happier minding our drishtis and our own business . . .  

And then there is the “other” drishti I play around with as I have traveled through different cultures over the years . . . In the eastern cultures women keep themselves covered, minding the mens drishti for them . . . in the western cultures this behavior is not part of our culture so men must learn to mind their own drishtis — especially in yoga classes with woman wearing yoga clothes designed by men . .

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 resting the eye muscles and increasing blood flow to the optic nerve.  

A brief eye anatomy

We do not actually see with our eyes . . . We see with the part of our brain that is capable of interpreting the visual signals sent from the eye.  Information is transmitted from the eyes to the brain via our optic nerve.  These nerves exit the back of the eye at what is known as the “optic disc”.  Each optic nerve is fed blood by the ophthalmic artery.  Loss of blood supply to the optic nerve or the optic disc results in slowly deteriorating vision and glaucoma.

Turns out yoga in general is good for your eyes!  Relaxing your eyes while you softly gaze is one of the best ways to improve blood flow to the optic nerve.  Relaxation and deep breathing exercises benefit the optic nerve as well as the rest of your body.  This emphasizes the importance of a soft relaxed gaze.  It turns out eye health is greatly related to stress levels. 

Just a side note on eyes and blood pressure:
Much information abounds about high blood pressure effecting your eyes, so too beware if your blood pressure is too low.  People who take blood pressure meds may experience eye problems — at night blood pressure naturally falls, so too for those on blood pressure meds — the natural reduction in blood pressure that comes when we sleep coupled with blood pressure lowering medications usually means the optic nerve does not receive enough blood flow all night long.  Practicing drishti — even in a meditation practice that does not have asana may help mitigate some of these side effects.
References:  
http://www.drpasswater.com/nutrition_library/abel_2.html      
http://www.drpasswater.com/nutrition_library/abel_1.html

In addition to yoga, there are lifestyle factors that can keep your eyes healthy as you age, before I go over those I had to laugh at what I found on WebMD:  
“Most of the factors that influence the chances for developing glaucoma are beyond your control, but there are things you can do to protect yourself with early diagnosis.”   I think WebMD is in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industry.
Remember you do not have to deal with cataracts, glaucoma, or poor vision due to old age . . . these eye changes are most likely due to stress, lack of nutritional foods, and medication side effects.   Outside of your yoga practice here are few other habits and foods that keep your eyes healthy:

  • Palming – Palming is an excellent way to relax your eyes and improve blood flow to the optic nerve.  We used to do this frequently as we were coming out of rest pose — rub your hands together for about 20 seconds to get them warm, then place your warmed palms gently over your eyes with your fingertips overlapping your mid forehead for 5-10 breaths.
  • Temple Massage – Massaging your temples at eye level can improve blood flow to the optic nerve.
  • Vision Exercises – If you have vision problems there are vision exercises you can do that are quite beneficial.  I struggled for years because the eye doctors kept telling me my daughter needed glasses . . . and I would get them for her year after year for her only to complain they didn’t help and she would not wear them.  Finally I found an eye doctor in Dillsburg that had her do a couple eye exercises . . . and they worked 🙂 — she didn’t need glasses until she got into her 20s.  I am wondering if eye exercises could replace glasses . . .  The exercises are out of the scope of this article but are easy enough to find with a little internet research or a good alternative eye doctor.

Foods that keep your eyes healthy:

Basically just EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!

  • Essential Fatty Acids — both omega3s and 6s.  Omega6s are readily available in our diet, most of us need to pay more attention to increasing our omega3s at this time.  Omega3s are in grass fed animal products, nuts, seeds, fish, etc.
  • Carotenoids and AntiOxidants — Colorful vegetables are loaded with carotenoids that are good for your eyes.  As my Naturopath in Maui used to tell me “eat rainbows”. 
    • Astaxanthin – is a fat soluble carotenoid that helps in reducing cataracts, retinal detachments, and macular degeneration.  Good sources are shrimp, lobster, salmon, crab, carrots, and red pepper.
    • Lutein is an anti-oxidant that protects your eyes from free radical damage.  Good sources are broccoli, spinach, lettuce, mustard greens.
    • Zeaxanthin – an anti-oxidant that protects the eye by absorbing the blue light of UV rays and reducing glare that damages the lens.  It helps in reducing macular disorders and degeneration — zeaxanthin is found in the center of the macula.   Good sources; saffron, kale, spinach, kiwi fruit, broccoli, lettuce, oranges, peas.
  • Bilberry is known as the vision herb, if you can find this fruit it can help your eyes.  Many recommend it in supplement form, although I am cautious about supplements and prefer not to use them if food is available.
  • And Cysteine, taurine, quercitin and rutin are the essential amino acids which help in preventing several harmful effects that cause various eye disorders. These antioxidants protect the eyes from free radical changes and assist blood circulation to and within the retina.  Good sources are clean proteins such as; grass fed milk, pastured eggs, fish, and meat.  Additional sources: onions, garlic, oats, apples, cherries, citrus fruits, pears, and more.

Drishti and Alignment

Drishti helps to align your head and 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 and therefore health.

Your drisht 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, controlling our senses and energy).
  2. Broomadhya – Ajna Chakra, third eye.
  3. Nabi Chakra – Navel as in Adho Mukha Svanasana (the navel drishti helps our body burn toxins).
  4. Hastagrai – Hand as in Trikonasana
  5. Padhayoragrai – Toes (focusing here gives us a feeling of lightness)
  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 and that is fine too.
  • 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 corners 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

Meditation uses drishti and there is sometimes conflicting advice about whether meditate with eyes open or closed — both are valid, which is better for you?  

Drishti is also commonly used in meditation to focus and concentrate the mind.  Internal drishti points (eyes closed) can be the breath or the third eye center, etc.  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.

Devotional Yoga
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 your diety. 

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 softly 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.

Pose

Drishti

Surya Namaskar

 

Samasthitih

Nasagrai

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

Standing Poses

Padangusthasana

Nasagrai (nose)

Padahastasana

Nasagrai (nose)

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

Parsvottanasana

Nasagrai

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana

Padhayoragrai (toes)

Parsva (side)

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana

Nasagrai

Utkatasana

Urdhva (upward)

Virabhadrasana I

Urdhva

Virabhadrasana II

Hastagrai

Primary Series – Yoga Chikitsa

Dandasana

Nasagrai

Paschimattanasana A & B

Padhayoragrai (toes)

Purvattanasana

Nasagrai (nose!)

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)

Navasana

Padhayoragrai (toes)

Bhujapidasana

Nasagrai

Kurmasana

Broomadhya (ajna chakra)

Supta Kurmasana

Broomadhya

Garbha Pindasana

Nasagrai

Kukkutasana

Nasagrai

Baddha Konasana

Nasagrai

Upavistha Konasana

Broomadhya

Upavistha Konasana – balanced

Urdhva

Supta Konasana

Nasagrai

Supta Padangusthasana

Padhayoragrai (toes) / 

Parsva (side)

Ubhaya Padangusthasana

Antara (upward)

Urdhva Mukha Paschimattanasana

Padhayoragrai (toes)

Setu Bandhasana

Nasagrai (nose)

Urdhva Dhanurasana

Nasagrai (nose)

Paschimattanasana

Padhayoragrai (toes)

Finishing Asanas

Supta Samasthitih

nasagrai

Salamba Sarvangasana

Nasagrai

Halasana

Nasagrai

Karnapidasana

Nasagrai

Urdhva Padmasana

Nasagrai

Pindasana

Nasagrai

Mathsyasana

Nasagrai/Broomadhya

Uttana Padasana

Nasagrai

Sirsasana

Nasagrai

Baddha Padmasana

Nasagrai

Yoga Mudra

Broomadhya

Padmasana

Nasagrai

Tolasana – Utpluthih

Nasagrai

 

Intermediate Series – Nadi Sodhana

Pasasana

Parsva

Krounchasana

Padhayoragrai

Salabhasana

Nasagrai (nose!)

Bhekasana

Nasagrai

Dhanurasana

Nasagrai

Parsva Dhanurasana

Nasagrai

Ustrasana

Nasagrai

Laghuvajrasana

Broomadhya

Kapotasana

Nasagrai

Supta Vajrasana

Nasagrai

Bakasana

Nasagrai

Bharadvajasana

Parsva

Ardha Matsyendrasana

Parsva

Eka Pada Sirsasana

Nasagrai

Dwi Pada Sirsasana

Nasagrai

Yoganidrasana

Broomadhya/Nasagrai

Tittibhasana

Nasagrai

Pincha Mayurasana

Nasagrai

Karandavasana

Nasagrai

Mayurasana

Nasagrai

Nakrasana

Nasagrai

Vatayanasana

Urdhva

Parighasana

Urdhva

Gomukhasana

Nasagrai / Urdhva

Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana

Nasagrai / Parsva

Mukta Hasta Sirsasana

Nasagrai

Baddha Hasta Sirsasana

Nasagrai

Urdhva Dhanurasana

Nasagrai (nose)

 

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