“Drishti means gazing point. Drishti improves concentration and brings about a realization of oneness during the practice. With the gaze focused in one place during our practice, we can be more present in the postures. This focus and awareness can carry over into our daily life.” R. Sharath Jois
When we keep our attention to external things, our vital energy (prana) flows out of us as we scan the stimulating sights. If we allow our eyes to wander we create distractions and it leads us away from yoga. To work out these habits, to control and focus out attention are fundamental principles in yoga practice. By controlling and directing the focus, fist of the eyes and then of the attention, we are using the yogic technique called drishti.
Drishti in Sanskrit means sight, direction or focused gaze, it is a tool used in asana practice to bring us closer to concentration (dharana) and sense withdrawal (pratyahara). Practicing drishti teaches us to control our wandering eyes, limit the intake of external stimuli so we can control the mind.These 3 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga – asana, dharana and pratyahara – along with others of yamas, niyamas, pranayama and dhyana support the ultimate yoga goal of attaining total realization or enlightenment called samadhi.
Apart of limiting visual stimuli and distraction the fixed gaze also enhances our physical practice by preventing and directing our energy, enhancing alignment and even deepens a posture. It is a soft-focus gaze, not a piercing stare with possibly blurred eyes. External data intake such as what others are doing or at some places even reflection in the mirror is replaced by internal reflection.
Practically speaking, drishti is important tool for maintaining the balance during asana practice. Balance of the body is a reflection of the state of mind and if the mind is agitated we can not find a balance in a physical posture. The mind directs the body and it also directs the eyes to gaze towards the points of most salient interest. A gaze directed at one of the drishties instills a deep inner practice. Only a calm, clear mind can strip away the layers of ego, old habit patterns, and ignorance to reveal the brilliant light of consciousness.
In Ashtanga Yoga, each pose has a specific gazing point. There are 9 points or drishties:
Nasagrai drishti (tip of the nose)
Broomadhya drishti (between the eyebrows)
Angustha ma dyai drishti (towards thumb)
Nabi chakra drishti (navel)
Urdhva or antara drishti (gazing upward)
Padhayoragrai drishti (toes)
Hastagrai drishti (fingers)
Parsva drishti (gazing to the left or right)
In the beginning if one finds difficult to keep different drishties at different postures, it is possible to keep the gazing point to the tip of the nose.
They eye should always be open and the eyes have to be closed only at the final relaxation posture called Sukhasana (sometimes called Savasana). Sri K. Pattabhi Jois would often joke that if we close the eyes during asana practice, sleep would come soon. Without the specific points of attention, asana practice would lose some of its intensity and not be as successful at effecting the kind of spiritual transformation that is its ultimate goal.
In the beginning students learn to keep the gaze at one point and further with the practice they come to develop single point attention which demands from practitioner a strong, steady mind. A common definition of yoga is the ability to maintain a singular point of attention and the evidence of trained mind is the sustained concentration on a certain point with unwavering focus.
But the full meaning of drishti isn’t limited to its value in asana. In Sanskrit, drishti can also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. The use of drishti in asana serves both as a training technique and as a metaphor for focusing consciousness toward a vision of oneness. Drishti organizes our perceptual apparatus to recognize and overcome the limits of “normal” vision.
Our eyes usually can only see objects in front of us that reflect the visible spectrum of light, but yogis seek to view an inner reality not normally visible. We become aware of how our brains only let us see what we want to see – a projection of our own limited ideas. We have a conditioned mind and often our opinions, prejudices, and habits prevent us from seeing unity. Drishti is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere – and thus for seeing world around us as it is. Used in this way, drishti becomes a technique for removing the ignorance that obscures this true vision, a technique that allows us to see Divine in everything.
The ultimate goal of yoga practice is the single pointed revelation of the Divine within. The practice of drishti allows students to develop spiritual paradigm which leads to wisdom – light that dispels the darkness of ignorance and develops brilliant inner light. This inner light produces clarity, perception, and vision so the true power of drishti is revealed.