It may surprise you, but yoga is not defined simply by asana (i.e., the physical postures). In fact, the physical postures are only one of the eight yogic limbs, which range from meditation to breath to bliss. Another of the eight limbs is dharana, which means concentration. Dharana acknowledges the power of attention in our experience, encouraging us to remain centered in the face of stimulation.
When we consider how many things grab our attention over the course of a day, we start to realize that dharana might just be a process, rather than an arrival. We might notice just how many opportunities we have over the course of the day when our attention had be directed, misdirected, locked, and overpowered.
We have all been there, either in a yoga class or not. The walls are too brightly colored. There is chattering at the back of the movie theater. There is a student in the room taking an exam with a squeaky pencil. The person practicing yoga next to you is grunting through their practice, and the person in front of you has very interesting pants. The good news is, during our yoga practice, we have something immediately available that we can use to guide our attention, to find balance, to draw inward. Enter: drishti.
Drishti is a focal point that can be employed during yoga practice to engage our gaze. This focal point is an external spot in our immediate environment, and it can be on the body or off of it. In the Ashtanga Yoga method, there are nine drishti, and they are each assigned specifically in the various postures practiced. For this method, a practitioner will gaze toward the thumb, the navel, the nose, and so on, throughout their practice.
When it comes to engaging our gaze, we do not have to be harsh about it. In fact, your drishti can be soft; as we navigate our practice, if we notice our attention has drifted from the focal point we are using, all we have to do is return to it.
- As you prepare to enter a posture, find a focal point to direct your gaze toward. It can be on the floor, on the wall ahead of you, or on a specific body part, like your belly button or your thumb. The focal point ought to be easily found within your fullest expression of the posture. By this, I mean that a good drishti during a shoulder-supported headstand likely wouldn’t be your big toe. It’s okay to figure out what works best for you. Remember: the drishti is meant to support you in a posture.
- Once you have found an easily accessible drishti, let yourself settle into it. Let the eye area relax. Let everything around the drishti fade. Breathe into the drishti, and then out of it, knowing it isn’t going anywhere.
- Continue gazing at the drishti softly throughout the posture. If you notice yourself moving out of the posture or starting to wiggle around, simply return your attention to the drishti and allow it to center you, once more.