Drishti is the Sanskrit term that loosely translates to an area of focus, a place to look. Drishti is a technique that is integrated into the teachings of many of the great yoga teachers, most notably Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in his Ashtanga practice, but also by B.K.S. Iyengar, Desikachar and many others.
This idea of focused gaze within a yoga practice has deep and rich meaning.
It may seem like a subtle concept for those who are master practitioners if we look at it with a more philosophical lease, but I feel that drishti is a multi-layered tool that can aid all yogis and yoginis, whether you have been practicing for 30 years or if you have just taken your first asana class ever.
The First Layer Of Focus
If you are new to the practice of yoga, or if you are working on new postures that your body is not used to yet, drishti can be utilized in its purely physical and mechanical expression.
The first thing that drishti offers you in your yoga practice is balance. If you are in a posture that is challenging your balance or your ability to not fall face first to the floor, drishti is your best friend.
Having a clear focus point when attempting Vrksasana (tree pose) can mean the difference between a strong standing tree and a "timber" moment. This focused view will help you find your center and connect with the stability within your own body.
The Second Layer Of Focus
The next layer of drishti you can begin to utilize is that of focused intention on a mental level. When you are in a challenging posture, or if you start to feel a sense of boredom in your practice, you may notice that you have the desire to dissociate from the experience.
One of the easiest ways to dissociate yourself from an uncomfortable situation is to avert your eyes. Looking around the room to other practitioners, looking out the window, scanning the floor for stray hairs and dust can all help to take you out of the experience you are having within your body.
What you are doing when you start to incorporate drishti into all of your postures—those that are old and familiar as well as those that are new—is training your mind to stay with the present moment.
You are teaching yourself how to stick with experiences as they are happening, even when they are slightly (or more than slightly) unpleasant. This builds up your ability to do this in life. The gift of focused, present attention in everyday life is invaluable in problem solving, communication, and general living.
By training your mind to stay with your practice, you will be training your mind to stay with your life. This is direct mindfulness training built straight into asana.
Focus In Meditation
Taking drishti into your meditation or contemplative practices is one of the more subtle incarnations of this tool. By allowing the eyes to focus on a point, you will be allowing the mind to settle as well. You will be utilizing your physical body to communicate to your mind that all is well, that it may relax and let go.
Developing the ability to sit with your eyes open focusing upon a single point is a powerful exercise that will translate into great powers of mind in your life.
You may find that your mediation practice deepens very quickly when drishti is utilized. It is a concrete way to help steady the "monkey mind" that we all seem to have to some degree.
Focus In Life
Now, if you like, you can take the concept of drishti and expand on it even further. The term can be translated to mean a point of view, intelligent vision, or to have a vision. This tool of drishti is one that can be used to help you create the life that you want to live, both on and off your mat.
Having a clear vision for your life, where you want to go, and who you want to be is the first step in creating that vision. Creating vision boards, writing goals on paper, and telling your friends and family about your dreams are all examples of practicing drishti in real life.
By developing the ability to stay present in uncomfortable situations, the ability to steady and focus the mind, and the ability to have a vision for yourself and your life, you will be giving yourself the foundational tools for manifesting your dreams into reality.
I invite you to use this powerful tool in your next asana, meditation, or life design practice. See how it transforms the mundane into the divine and purposeful.