When we get caught up in the outer appearance of things, our prana (vitality) flows out of us as we scan the stimulating sights. Allowing the eyes to wander creates distractions that lead us further away from yoga. To counteract these habits, control and focus of the attention are fundamental principles in yoga practice. When we control and direct the focus, first of the eyes and then of the attention, we are using the yogic technique called drishti.
The increasing popularity and influence of the Ashtanga Vinyasa method of yoga, taught for more than 60 years by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, have introduced drishti to thousands of practitioners. On a simple level, drishti technique uses a specific gazing direction for the eyes to control attention. In every asana in Ashtanga, students are taught to direct their gaze to one of nine specific points.
In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), for instance, we gaze at the nose tip: Nasagrai Drishti. In meditation and in Matsyasana (Fish Pose), we gaze toward the Ajna Chakra, the third eye: Naitrayohmadya (also called Broomadhya) Drishti. In Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), we use Nabi Chakra Drishti, gazing at the navel. We use Hastagrai Drishti, gazing at the hand, inTrikonasana (Triangle Pose). In most seated forward bends, we gaze at the big toes: Pahayoragrai Drishti. When we twist to the left or right in seated spinal twists, we gaze as far as we can in the direction of the twist, using Parsva Drishti. In Urdhva Hastasana, the first movement of the Sun Salutation, we gaze up at the thumbs, using Angusta Ma Dyai Drishti. In Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), we use Urdhva Drishti, gazing up to infinity. In every asana, the prescribed drishti assists concentration, aids movement, and helps orient the pranic (energetic) body.
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 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. 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 correctly the world around us. Used in this way, drishti becomes a technique for removing the ignorance that obscures this true vision, a technique that allows us to see God in everything.
Drishti—The True View
Throughout the history of yoga, clear, true perception has been both the practice and goal of yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells his disciple, Arjuna, “You are not able to behold me with your own eyes; I give thee the divine eye, behold my Lordly yoga” (11.8). In the classic exposition of yoga, the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali points out that in viewing the world, we tend not to see reality clearly, but instead get deluded by the error of false perception. In Chapter II, verse 6, he says that we confuse the act of seeing with the true perceiver: purusha, the Self. He continues, in verse 17, to say that this confusion about the true relationship between the act of seeing, the object seen, and the identity of the Seer is the root cause of suffering. His cure for this suffering is to look correctly into the world around us.
How are we to do this? By maintaining a prolonged, continuous, single-pointed focus on the goal of yoga: samadhi, or complete absorption into purusha. The practice of drishti gives us a technique with which to develop single-pointed concentration of attention. The hatha yogi uses a kind of “x-ray vision” comprised of viveka (discrimination between “real view” and “unreal, apparent view”) and vairagya (detachment from a mistaken identification with either the instrument of seeing or that which is seen). This basic misidentification is called avidya (ignorance), and its counterpart, vidya, is our true identity.
Like all yogic practices, drishti uses the blessed gifts of a human body and mind as a starting place for connecting to our full potential—the wellspring that is the source of both body and mind. When we clear our vision of the covering of habits, opinions, ideas, and their projections about what is real and what is false, we gaze beyond outer differences toward the absolute Truth.
Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article See More Clearly By Practicing Drishti by David Life, the cofounder of Jivamukti Yoga