‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would
appear to man as it is, infinite.’ – William Blake
Yoga plays with the relationship between the mind and the body, bringing the activity of the body and our ability to control that activity to the fore and using this as a way of stilling the mind and finding a sense of ease. Through the yoga poses we build our skill in doing this by challenging the body in ways that may raise our stress response but choosing to meet this with long breaths and recognition and release of tension in places that are not necessary to the pose.
Usually when we are in an excited or agitated state our body reacts unconsciously with quicker breathing and holding of tension and when our body is relaxed our breathing is correspondingly slower and tension releases. In yoga we bring into play our ability to consciously control aspects of our body such as the length of the breath. We slow the breath down tricking the mind into thinking it is a resting state rather than the fight flight zone.
In addition to recognition and control of the breath, recognition and control of the activity of the eyes is also an important practice in yoga – although this often comes later in a yoga practice when there is less need to look at the teacher and the other yogis in the room for guidance on what to do and to look at the body to check positioning.
Much is said in yoga about the importance of breath and its connection between the mind and the body. Less is spoken about the role of the eyes and the way the mind follows our eyes. Just as there is a relationship between the mind and the breath, so too is there a relationship between the mind and the activity of the eyes. Actors are often taught to express feelings, emotions and thoughts purely through the use of the eyes. Our eyes are close to our mind and there is a strong connection between the two.
Drishti is the point of focus on where you set your gaze during a yoga pose. The choice of where to set the gaze is a key part of settling into a pose, try gazing downwards in Virabhadrasana II (warrior 2) and then do it again but gaze forward over the middle front finger and compare the feel and energy of the pose.
Where to set your gaze corresponds with the essence and energy of the pose. Looking up in Anjanasana brings a feel of the playfulness in the pose which represents the young monkey boy reaching for the sun because he thinks it is a big juicy mango.
The Ashtanga system of yoga says there are nine possible drishtis: the tip of the nose, the toes, the fingertips, the thumb, the navel, between the eyebrows, up to the sky, to the right, and to the left. There is an element of using your intuition and common sense in knowing where to set your gaze. Play with gaze and analyse and notice where the energy of the pose takes the gaze and notice how the gaze, soft and inward, helps you feel the pose and take you inward.
The inward nature required of the gaze is because drishti is more than just a point of focus for each pose. Ironically drishti – the yoga gaze – is about looking without seeing, withdrawing the senses, detaching from the outside world and going inwards.
Yoga is about learning to be with the Self. Drishti is a larger insight that comes from drawing the senses towards the Self, witnessing the activity of the mind. Looking internally can help create shifts in the way we see the world and react to it. In this sense drishti is about establishing an inner vision that ironically helps with how we see the world externally. Drishti is not only our gaze but coming to understand and shape our way of seeing the world. It provides a link between the external and the internal.
“Be at as interested on what goes on inside of you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place´- Eckhart Tolle