On dristi, the yoga gaze

This week in Teacher Training we discussed the meaning of dristi, or gazing point, in asana practice. It is the focus point for your eyes as you hold a pose which often helps continue the pose into the neck, an extension of your spine, and head.

But what is dristi, really?

Dristi is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to: attitude, vision, eyesight, opinion, wisdom, point of view, beholding

Ok. So clearly, it’s not just a place for your eyes to chill, glaze over, squint with effort, or what-have-you as you “breathe into the physical sensations” of your Virabhadrasana (Warrior) II.  Another clue that there’s more to it than meets the eye (pun intended!): the phrase divya dristi can be translated to “intuition”.

In my asana practice, I’ve found that the dristi is a connection of what’s going on inside me, physically-mentally-emotionally, to the outside world. It is the single point my eyes focus on, but also represents the one-pointed attention that I strive for in meditation, that true appreciation of “Aha! Here I am”; it is also the integration of all the different things I’m doing with my muscles/joints/bones; it is also the awareness of the thoughts I have when I’m in the pose (which can be inwards: man, this twist feels great on my spine! and outwards: wow, that guy really has this pose down!); it is, in some ways, how I see the world.

Ahh, perspective.

I think dristi can also change your perspective. For example, in Trikonasana (Triangle), gazing upwards towards your top fingertips creates an uplifting, rajasic energy, while gazing downwards toward your bottom fingertips creates a grounding, tamasic energy.  Have you ever been in a pose where your perspective was literally changed, such as Setu Bhandasana (Bridge) or Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel), and it changed how you saw or felt about something in your life? It can be a subtle transformation, but I’ve noticed that the more I practice yoga asanas, the more flexible and open my mind becomes, like thawing out your fingers after spending a cold winter day outside.

If asanas are not part of your practice, changing your surroundings by going outside and taking a walk, going for a drive, or taking a bus/train ride can clear your mind and change your perspective too. What I love about yoga is that you can take your practice anywhere, beyond the ebb and flow of your daily/weekly/monthly/annual yoga class. That is why Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra speaks so clearly to me: atha yoga anushasanam, now is the time for yoga.

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Photo credit: Jamie Chiu

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