It is common to hear yoga teachers say during downward-facing dog, “Gaze at your navel.” Erm, by bending my back even more!? Even as I become flexible and comfortable holding in downward dogs, I don’t seem to see my naval center. That’s when one day Master Paalu explained, “Gaze, not look.” Aha! It is about gently looking towards a direction, not to plainly look or stare at the point.
The concept of gaze is so crucial in yoga. The soft focused look at a certain point has been one of the most important turning points for me to have a more centred practice. In Sanskrit, it is known as the Drishti.
As I practice teaching at home, I find myself focused on giving the bodily movement instruction, missing out the gazing point at times. But when I do instruct, it has been pleasing to find the fidgety student focusing the attention back to the practice.
These are the 9 drishtis to incorporate in our own practice as well as our teaching:
1. Nasagra drishti: the nose tip
2. Urdva drishti: upward to the sky
3. Bhrumadya drishti: the ajna chakra, or between the eyebrows
4. Hastagra drishti: the hands
5. Angushta drishti: the thumb
6. Parshva drishti: the right side
7. Parshva drishti: the left side
8. Nabi drishti: the navel center
9. Padagra drishti: the toes
Drishti relates to the fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara, concerning senses withdrawal, as well as the sixth limb dharana relating to concentration. It helps to develop a concentrated intention.
Particularly in balancing and inversion postures, the soft focused gazing point has helped keep my mind from wandering, and stay calm at a spot. Engage the ujjayi breathing, inhale and exhale the ocean’s breathe, and just gaze intently.
A calm Drishti helps to train the mental muscle, and enables our energy to flow where the gaze is focused. This is more so important as we attend large yoga classes. Allow the drishti to remind oneself to focus inwardly, not be distracted and compare our abilities/inabilities with fellow yogis. Yoga is after all a practice for our self-betterment.
Here is a great illustration to learn more about the Drishti by BoonChu Tanti from TheYogaComics. Enjoy! Ying.