In yoga, a drishti is a point of focus. It’s also known as a yogic gaze. We use our yogic gaze during our yoga practice and sometimes during meditation. A drishti helps center the mind. It helps us focus on the action that’s happening in the present moment. If you’ve ever done tree pose, for example, and allowed your eyes to wander here, there and everywhere, then you’re definitely more apt to fall out of the pose. This is why the yogic gaze is especially helpful during balancing asanas. But in some yoga styles, especially Ashtanga yoga, there’s a drishti point for practically every single asana. (Read about Tree Pose and Its Many Benefits.)
Think about how there are times in your life when your eyes are darting from place to place. When this is happening, you’re not in the most focused state of mind. Now, think about how different your yoga practice is when your eyes are relaxed and focused on one place. Your thoughts follow what’s going on with your physical body. It’s why when people force themselves to smile, even when feeling grumpy, they typically feel better after a while. Laughter yoga is a great example of this principle.
Using our drishti during our yoga practice teaches us that where attention goes, energy flows. It shows us how valuable and powerful our attention really is. In fact, it might be one of the most important tools we have. Consider stress, for example. If I’m stressed out because of something that's happened to me, it’s probably because I’m dwelling on the situation and the people involved. Can I focus my attention elsewhere? I know, easier said than done, but using drishti in our yoga practice helps us master our own thoughts, our own gaze and our own attention. When we have control over where we place our attention, everything changes.
The practice of drishti helps bring our attention from the distractions of the external world inward, toward ourself and our yoga practice. Drishti helps turn yoga into a form of meditation. It gives us something to focus on, which helps us move through the practice with more grace and ease. (Read more about Using Your Drishti to Improve Focus.)
There are many different drishti within yoga. In the Ashtanga yoga system, there are nine primary drishti points. But for now, let’s explore three of them. Here are three primary drishti every yogi should know.
Nabhi chakra drishti is the navel drishti. It’s the one we do when we’re in downward-facing dog pose. The next time you find yourself in downward dog, try incorporating nabhi chakra drishti. Settle your eye gaze on the navel point, or belly button area. In yoga, this navel point area is also referred to as the "magic circle." As such, it’s an important drishti and the perfect one with which to start.
Bhrumadhya drishti, which also happens to be the ajna chakra, is the drishti that has us focusing on our third eye -- that point between our eyes that lies just above the brow line. We use this drishti in seated meditation. As we progress as yogis, we eventually learn that this particular drishti is also used in fish pose as well as reverse warrior pose at times. It’s a powerful drishti to employ if we want to practice accessing our intuitive powers.
Also called upward drishti, urdhva drishti teaches us to gaze upward, into infinity. We use this particular gaze in poses like warrior one and chair pose. It’s different than the other two drishti listed here because we don’t focus our eye gaze on a specific part of the body with this one. Instead, we gaze upward, into space. We gaze outside our physical body. In doing so, we’re cultivating steady, internal focus. We’re holding our gaze on one point, which keeps the internal awareness every bit as potent as the other two drishti.
By getting into the practice of using your drishti, you are advancing your yoga practice in wonderful ways. You’re using both your body and mind to evolve as a student of yoga. Drishti, the single-pointed concentration of our precious attention, is no doubt, an advanced practice; and the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.
Ashtanga yoga is the form of yoga in which the drishti practice is most taught and utilized. However, we can practice drishti with any form of yoga, we just have to make a point of doing so. Always use a soft gaze rather than a hard one as you gaze at various focal points. By making sure your gaze is soft, you’re tapping more into your internal nature, versus the external world. Enjoy the drishti practice as you grow and evolve as a dedicated yogi or yogini. (Read on about even more drishtis in The 9 Drishti of Yoga.)