The Sanskrit term drishti is defined as sight. Other closely related Sanskrit words which point to its overall essence include drishau – eye, drishh – to see, drishhtah – observed, drishhtim – vision & drishhtiigochara- macroscopic. Taken together Drishti can be explained as gazing or looking inside. It is essentially a focusing technique, if we softly direct the gaze at specific points, eg the navel the focus is directed inwards. This helps to promote concentration & awareness into the movement we are performing.
We spend most of our waking hours with our focus directed outside partly out of an innate sense of curiosity but more importantly to keep us safe & aware in an often hazardous world. You would not for instance contemplate crossing a busy main road with your focus directed inward, not if you want to live.
Yoga Asana practice provides us with an opportunity to take time out & safely look inside ourselves, deep into the microcosm to observe that which is actually happening. Often we waste this opportunity & overlook a fundamental & essential part of Ashtanga vinyasa practise being more interested in seeing what other people are doing (promoting competitiveness & comparison which have no legitimate place in the sphere of yoga), or looking in the mirror (feeding ego & vanity or even undermining our confidence if we don’t like what we see), or looking at the teacher for guidance (when really we should be looking to the teacher within), or at the clock on the wall (distracting us from the present moment which is where we should be when we practise).
Drishti has little to do with our physical sight, the real looking is inside, and therefore Drishti can be performed just as effectively if you are blind, perhaps more effectively. If we fix our sight upon distant objects we are essentially outside ourselves, whereas if we fix our sight within we embark upon a journey to see ourselves as we truly intrinsically are & we are able to connect with the more subtle aspects of our practise such as the breath & the bandhas.
There are traditionally Nine Drishti points which are found in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga & in each Asana & Vinyasa your gaze should always be directed at one of them. They are as follows with some examples of their application :
Nasagrai : tip of the nose - Standing forward bend
Nabi Chakra : the navel -. Downward dog
Hastagrai : the hand - Triangle
Padayoragrai : the toes - Seated forward bend
Angusta ma Dyai : the thumbs - Standing with arms over head
Urdhva / Antara Drishti : up to the sky -. Warrior A
Parsva Drishti : far to the right – seated twist to the right
Parsva Drishti : far to the left – seated twist to the left
Ajna Chakra / Broomadhya : the third eye / between the eyebrows – tortoise
Do not worry if you cannot remember all the relevant Drishti points, any good teacher will consistently direct your gaze to the appropriate one in each posture practised in class. If you are doing self practise an alternative is to let your gaze move in the direction of the stretch for example in a spinal twist allow the gaze to follow the direction of your spine which will lead it to Parsva drishti over your shoulder. Also think of your eyes as being like those of a doll which will follow the movement of your head, ie. Where the head moves the gaze will follow in the same direction.
Another important point to note is that the gaze should remain soft as this reflects the quality of the core of your body (this is the central axis running from the perineum to the brain). If the gaze is hard or staring this will create a hardening in the body & create more tension which Yoga is designed to release not intensify. This hardening can enhance our sense of separateness & disconnection leading to stress & anxiety. So in addition to gazing in the right locality, take a moment to check that the eyeballs are soft within the sockets & that you are not squinting & narrowing the eyes. Often students report that looking to the tip of the nose creates double vision & makes them feel dizzy; this can be a sign that you are trying too hard & thus staring at the nose, instead look just beyond the tip, allow the eyes to relax so that the external vision merely softly blurs.
The following exercises can help you to practise Drishti & can be done any time you have a couple of minutes to spare. They can also provide a wonderful tool for relaxation.
1. Focus & direct your gaze at specific points eg. a single letter of a word on a page, a spot on the floor, a petal of a flower. Notice what it is that eventually makes you look away.
2. Try to control your urge to look at something moving in the distance.
3. Gaze just beyond the tip of your nose for one minute.
4. Observe your wandering eyes, notice what it is that distracts you!
5. Learn to gaze softly, as you gaze at a point, check the quality of your eyes, consciously relax & soften them.
6. Have a look at photos of people practising postures & observe the quality of their gaze & you will see that they are not looking outside.
Drishti is one of the fundamental components of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga along with ujjayi (victorious breath) & the bandhas (locks/ seals). When these three are actualised in unison the state known as tristana occurs. This transforms the practise to be fluid, graceful, subtle, strong, purifying & ultimately meditative. Although Drishti may at first seem to you a small insignificant point it is infact imperative & without it the real fruits of yoga are totally unobtainable. Without it how you see yourself & the world around you will always be distorted & flawed. Drishti is a tool, a microscope, a lens to see all that is inside every single cell. Use it and the benefits will soon become clear.