Arathi Menon explains the nine drishtis of yoga and demonstrates how to use gaze to find focus.
A yoga practitioner is often told to hold drishtis while practising asanas. This emphasis on drishti can be confusing to someone who is new to the practice, so let’s look at what drishti is and how it applies to asana practice.
When you consider yoga asana as a means to improve focus and concentration, the importance of drishti or gaze cannot be overlooked. Drishti is introduced early in the ashtanga yoga system as it forms one of the three core aspects of ashtanga yoga called tristhana. “Tri” in Sanskrit means “three” while “sthana” refers to “place.” The three important sthana or places in the practice are asanas or postures, vinyasa or breath and drishti or gaze.
Drishti is the focal point in the practice. Every asana in yoga comes with a point to gaze at while holding the posture. Nasagre drishti (tip of the nose) is the most frequently used drishti in the practice while brumadhye (third eye/between the eyebrows) drishti is rarely practised in the initial stages of the ashtanga yoga method. Some drishtis, like certain postures, may take a while to master. For example, padagre drishti (tip of the big toe) in parsvottanasana or paschimottanasana may seem difficult in the beginning. In such cases, nasagre drishti can be used until the practitioner is able to practice the drishti assigned to a particular posture with considerable ease. There may be occasions when the practitioner cannot keep a track of the drishti for a particular asana. In such cases, where you’re confused, it is often advised to use nasagre drishti.
Drishti is not an intense staring at a focal point but rather, a gaze that is both strong and gentle. Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe yoga as “yoga chitta vritti nirodhah”. This means the purpose of yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. To achieve stillness of the mind, one has to centre it. Trying to force this is futile as it’s difficult to control our mind at will. This is where drishti helps. Using drishti diminishes the effect of visual distractions during the practice and helps the practitioner to develop awareness.
Showcased below are eight of the nine drishti. Brumadhye (third eye/between the eyebrows) is not included in the series below as it is rarely used in the initial stages of the ashtanga yoga practice.