Whether you are new to yoga or have been practicing yoga for years, at some point your yoga instructor has probably mentioned Drishti.
Drishti is the Sanskrit word for “sight” or “gaze”. It is used in yoga and meditation to describe the gaze that is set during both of these practices. It relates to the focus that is needed in order to let go of everything else and concentrate on the moment—whether that is holding a yoga pose or sitting in meditation.
Knowing how to set your drishti is an important technique for staying aware in a world of many distractions that you experience on a daily basis. The dog that is barking across the street, the beam of light shining through the window, the sound of the phone ringing, and the cars driving past.
Then you get to yoga to calm the mind, connect to the body, and have some quiet, only to get distracted by the cute outfit the person next to you is wearing, the people passing by outside the window, the dry skin between your toes, the need to cut your toe nails, the list goes on and on.
Drishti helps you block out external distractions by directing your attention inward or at a still point. Focusing your attention inward or at a still point allows a release from the external distractions and creates a foundation to settle into the present moment with a clear mind.
Tuning into the quality of your mind
This pose requires a soft gaze at the finger tips of our front hand. This gaze is known as Hastagrai Drishti.
Sanskrit: Virabhadrasana II
Once you are settled into Warrior II pose, with one foot extended forward and one back, allowing your arms to extend straight out over both legs, you can settle into Hastagram Drishti.
To do so, take a few breaths to settle in, slowly bringing your gaze to your fingertips. It’s important to keep your gaze soft, as an intense gaze can overwhelm your senses and create stress in the pose. One way to keep your gaze soft is to gently close your eyes, take a deep breath, and slowly open them, allowing your gaze to take in your fingertips while letting everything around them fade into the background.
Extended Side Angle
This pose invites gazing at the sky, which is known as Urdhva or Antara Drishti
Sanskrit: Utthita Parsvakonasana
As you settle into Extended Side Angle pose, with your front elbow either resting on your front knee or your hand resting on the mat next to your front foot, slowly allow your gaze to follow your other hand as it reaches to the sky.
Once more, feel free to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and gently open your eyes to settle into a soft gaze.
This pose is one of the many balance poses that require a fixed, single-pointed gaze to stay balanced.
Setting your gaze is one of the first steps in moving into a balance pose like Tree pose. Once you have settled into your distribution of weight, bringing one foot onto your opposite ankle or upper thigh, draw a deep breath and softly bring your gaze to a non-moving focus point in front of you. Once you have your focus point, soften your gaze by letting everything around it melt into the background. At this point, you can slowly extend your hands to the sky and find stability in the pose.
Tips for practicing Drishti on and off the mat
Stay soft in your gaze.
Your gaze is another tool to connect to your body and mind, so you should not force the gaze by straining your eyes. Closing your eyes and using the breath to help settle in helps to let go of outside distractions and inner chatter, allowing you to soften your focus point. Don’t force the gaze, allow it to develop naturally.
This is true both on and off your yoga mat.
Gently shift your gaze.
By doing so, you can deepen your experience in the pose as well as in your day to day life. For instance, if resting your gaze over your fingertips in Warrior II pose seems difficult or is no longer offering a calm center, you can shift your gaze up, down, or to the side to change the perspective. This shift can also help when looking at a picture, walking down the street, or having coffee with a friend.
Notice where your gaze naturally rests and how you feel when you shift it. For example, in many poses that involve drawing your gaze to the sky, you may find your neck feels strained and causes discomfort to the gaze and the rest of the pose. This is when you can shift your gaze to the side or to the mat, allowing your body to remain open and flexible.
Off the mat, noticing where your gaze tends to rest as well as where your mind tends to travel can allow you to be more open to the present moment.
By developing this awareness of Drishti and how to guide yours, you’ll open to a world of new sensations during yoga—the depth of where you’re holding tension in your body, the strength of your muscles in each pose, the quality of your breath, and the direction of the thoughts flowing within your mind.
As all of these insights surface on the mat, you’ll gradually embrace them in your daily routine off the mat. All of these sensations come to the surface as your gaze becomes free of distractions—the sensation of your breath, the strength of your gaze, the quality of the thoughts in your mind.
Gradually you’ll begin to notice how your body and mind react to interruptions in your everyday life without judgment—simply observing as thoughts and sensations come and go. This is the beginning of settling into a peaceful state of mind no matter what life throws at you.