The Relevance of Drishti Points in Yoga

The 3rd limb of Ashtanga Yoga talks about asana, which is commonly associated with yoga and used to describe the poses performed during a yoga practice. Under the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, asana covers the physical aspect of the Ashtanga Yoga practice, which aims to guide yogis towards reaching the ultimate super-conscious state – Samadhi. One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that is dedicated to asana is Sutra 2.46 “sthira sukham asanam”, which can be translated into the following: “Practicing yoga with strength and in a relaxed manner gives rise to harmony with the physical body (asana)”. This sutra simply means that every asana performed should be steady/stable (“sthira”), and comfortable/relaxed (“sukham”). To achieve a steady and stable asana, it is not only important to ensure that the physical body is in proper alignment without tension or discomfort, it also requires the mind to be mentally stable and focused when practicing the asana as well. While it is relatively easier to attain and maintain proper alignment of the physical body in an asana with consistent practice, maintaining a non-swaying and focused mind in an asana can be quite challenging for most of us.

There are various methods to achieve a non-swaying and focused mind when practicing asanas, but here we will talk about using drishti as a method to concentrate our mind on one particular point and stay mentally focused in an asana practice.

What are Drishti Points?

Drishti means “gaze” or “vision” in Sanskrit, and refers to the general direction that we should be looking or gazing towards in an asana practice. This does not mean that we have to stare at one particular point during the asana, but rather to adopt a soft gaze towards the general direction of that point. When using a particular drishti in an asana, we need to bear in mind not to force ourselves to gaze in any way that will cause strain to our eyes, brain, or body.

There is a total of 9 drishti points:

  1. Nasagrai Drishti – tip of the nose

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward-facing dog pose), Bhujapidasana (arm pressure pose), Prasarita Padottanasana, Parsvottanasana

  1. Bhrumadhya Drishti – the space in between the eyebrows

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Kurmasana (turtle pose), Matsyasana (fish pose)

  1. Nabi Chakra Drishti – navel center

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog pose)

  1. Hastagrai Drishti – hands

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Virabhadrasana B (warrior 2 pose), Utthita Trikonasana (extended triangle pose), Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose)

  1. Pahayoragrai Drishti – toes

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Most seated forward bends such as Paschimottanasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, and Janu Sirsasana

  1. Parshva Drishti – right side or right corner of the eyes

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Marichyasana C and D, Vakrasana (twisted pose)

  1. Parshva Drishti – left side or left corner of the eyes

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Marichyasana C and D, Vakrasana (twisted pose)

  1. Angushtha Ma Dyai Drishti – thumbs

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Utkatasana (chair pose), Urdhva Hastasana (upward salute pose)

  1. Urdhva Drishti – up towards the sky

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Virabhadrasana A (warrior 1 pose)

 

A cartoon artwork illustrating the 9 drishti points [image source: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/05/the-9-drishtis/]

Importance of Drishti

As mentioned by B. K. S. Iyengar in his book ‘Light on Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing’, “the eyes play a predominant part in the practice of asanas”. Typically, wherever the focus of our eyes and our attention goes, the flow of our energy will follow as well. Hence, maintaining a steady gaze at a drishti point will likely initiate a steady body alignment in the asana accordingly.

Relating back to the sutra “sthira sukham asanam”, the two main ways in which drishti can help us to achieve a steady and comfortable asana are:

  • Alignment of the body

Drishti can be used to emphasize the important alignment points that we need to look out for in an asana, especially those concerning the neck and spine. Taking Paschimottanasana as an example, one of the common mistakes in this pose is the rounding of the back, which may likely happen if we look down at our knees/calves and bring our head down while bending forward. However, if we change our gaze to look forward at the drishti point – Pahayoragrai Drishti (toes) – and stretch forward towards the toes, this will help us to straighten our spine and maintain a neutral spine in the forward bend. Having a neutral spine in Paschimottanasana is essential in ensuring that we are able to enjoy the full benefits of the asana, such as stretching of the posterior part of the body (which includes the back) and elongation of the spine.

Similarly, in twisted poses such as Parivrtta Sukhasana (easy seated twist pose) and Marichyasana C and D, the drishti point is usually Parshva Drishti, i.e. either left/right side or left/right corner of the eyes. Gazing at this dristi point allows us to continue and deepen the twist in the direction of the rotation, so that we are able to better feel the satisfying stretch along our spine and side oblique muscles.

  • Concentration of the mind

In order to hold and stay stable in an asana (e.g. crow pose, sirsasana), keeping proper alignment of the body is not enough to do the job. Once the mind starts wandering around from one thought to another, we may find ourselves losing balance and falling out of the pose. Many times, especially when practicing balancing asanas such as Virabhdrasana (warrior 3 pose) or Vrksasana (tree pose), we will hear the instructor/teacher reminding us to look at a point ahead to stay stable. By fixing our gaze on a stationary drishti point and concentrating our mind to focus on that point, it stops the mind from wandering and keeps us balanced in the asana both physically and mentally. Furthermore, incorporating drishti into our regular asana practice also aids in developing one-pointedness of the mind (termed as ekagrata in Sanskrit). Ekagrata can be defined as closed and undisturbed attention. In today’s world where distractions can be found anywhere and everywhere, ekagrata plays an essential role in enabling us to withdraw our mind from all the external distractions in the surroundings, and to start focusing our attention towards the goal or task at hand.

 

As we focus on aligning and adjusting our body to enter into an asana and hold that asana, drishti is often not the first thing that comes into our mind, at least not at the beginning stage when we are learning how to position our body to enter into the pose. However, incorporating the drishti technique early into our asana practice can definitely go a long way in improving ourselves both physically (through proper body alignment and posture in asana practice) and mentally (through concentration of the mind to ignore the surrounding disturbances).