Happy New Year!
This year instead of setting a New Years resolution that, (lets be fair) is unlikely to remain my focus for much after the second week of the month. I have decided instead to focus… on my focus, or to put it another way to take a look at my Drishti.
In yoga class, Drishti is a Sanskrit word usually used to mean focused gaze, it’s a way of developing concentrated intention.However, gazing is not the same as looking. When we look, there is a looker and a tangible object being looked at, gazing in contrast, is a method for looking beyond mundane objects. Drishti encompasses the 5th limb of yoga – pratyahara where we withdraw from external stimulus, as well as the 6th limb of yoga which relates to concentration.
As with all yoga techniques the application of drishti takes practice. How often for example has your gaze strayed in class to another students pose, the world outside the window or even the fact that your toenails need painted! Bam – where our eyes are directed our attention follows. After all its so much easier to allow this to happen than to focus on the realisation of the universe within! Off the mat too, how often do we react or perceive the world around us based not on the reality of the situation, but on our previous experiences, fears or hopes?
In Sanskrit ‘Drishti’ can also mean vision; point of view; intelligence or wisdom. So as well helping you not fall over in Vrksasana or helping you to deepen a primary movement, Drishti is also a gazing technique that teaches you to see the world as it really is. Practising Drishti teaches us to see life from another, perhaps more honest perspective. Best described, it is the technique of gazing toward the hazy realm of perception beyond the clearly focused.
HOW DOES DRISHTI AFFECT MY PRACTICE ?
In class, a fixed gaze has a practical application. In balances such as Vrksasana (tree pose) Virabhadrasana III (warrior III pose) or Garudasana (eagle pose), fixing the gaze on an unmoving point allows you focus, awareness draws in and the mind is less distracted by external stimuli so you become more stable and balanced.
In other asanas too, this fixed concentration can actively work for you. In Parsvottanasana (pyramid pose) focus on pushing your heel away and pulling your hip towards you whilst gazing at your big toe and you’ll really feel that stretch – you’ll lean into it a little more thus extending the pose further, directing your energy and deepening your practice.
DRISHTI AND LIFE…
In life our attention – our focus – is one of the most valuable tools we have, but when we get caught up in the outer appearance of things our energy flows with less vitality as our eyes and our mind wander and our balance, in every sense is lost. Drishti then, is the technique we use to control and direct our focus, first the eyes and then our attention, it’s a way of finding balance both on and off the mat.
As human beings we are pretty visual creatures, our eyes only see the objects in front of us that reflect the visual spectrum of light. As yogis however we seek to become aware of an inner reality. We notice (sometimes!) that our brains only let us see what we want to see (good or bad) and that’s often a projection of our ideas, opinions, experiences or fears.
Our minds, in part due to a nifty piece of programming called the Reticular Activating System, only allow us to notice the things that we decide are import to us. So if we worry often about our safety for example, the RAS which can be seen as a gatekeeper of the brain, will search for anything that can confirm our fears – we are more likely to see and register news articles related to accidents or disasters and more likely to see the world as a less safe place in which to live. The way we perceive the world and the reality around us is literally created by what we decide to let our brain register.
Drishti uses the human body and mind as a technique for seeing the world as it is rather than being coloured by our prejudices and fears. Its a way of seeing if you will, the Divine in everything. If that’s too heavy to contemplate, perhaps think of it as becoming able to see more clearly that everything is connected, being able to take a step back (pratyahara) and see the truth of a situation uncluttered by all the trigger points we either recognise or don’t, but which colour our way of experiencing the world.
Finding Drishti can help us detach from our efforts, or from life’s challenges and help us develop the ability to be generous and not to attach importance to anger, fear, or any emotions that would prevent us from becoming happier and more fulfilled. When we take the time to gaze at life on this journey, to interpret it, appreciate it and realise it’s bigger than us we can allow things to flow in and out of our vision, but not get caught up in one tiny object, in those unnecessary details that can bring us down.
Whether we practice Drishti simply as a way of deepening or finding balance in a pose; as a way of directing our energy or as a way of looking inward towards meditation, we learn to control our wandering eyes and limit our intake of visual stimuli and distraction. By doing so we learn to manage our mind instead of allowing our mind to manage us.