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D is for Drishti: Focusing your attention

Ever wondered why your yoga teacher always instructs you to direct your gaze in a certain way during a pose? Well, it's not just about finding balance on one leg — it's about harnessing the power of Drishti, a tool that extends beyond the mat and into our daily lives.

 


Words on a background that read D is for Drishti

What does Drishti mean?

 

Drishti comes from Sanskrit and is usually defined as "gaze", “focus” or "view." A Drishti invites us to direct our attention with purpose and intention, whether that's outwardly or inwardly.


You might direct your eyes to a single point of focus during a yoga pose. When your eyes are closed, you might direct your internal gaze to your breath or sensation in the body in order to help concentrate your attention.

 

Why do we use a Drishti?

 

Drishti has been used in Yoga for a long time to help focus the mind. If we come back to the first couple of sutras in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; yoga’s purpose is based on reducing or stopping the “fluctuations” of the mind.


By focusing your actual gaze or your internal awareness, you are focusing the mind on one object and developing your ability to concentrate.


A single point of focus helps to avoid distractions. It can be easy to get distracted by what somebody else is doing on their mat. But even when we practice in a group, your practice is a personal one. So by focusing our attention on one thing, we don’t fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to other people or getting annoyed by external factors.


A Drishti can also help cultivate presence. Our minds are just as easily distracted by thoughts of the future or the past as they are by the person on the mat next to us. A focused gaze brings us to the here and now, whether that be looking at a specific spot or tuning in to sensations in the body.

 

How to use a Drishti in Yoga

 

External Drishti: When we hold yoga poses for a few breaths, bring your gaze to a single point. This will obviously vary depending on the pose. In something like a Warrior 2, we could direct our gaze to the middle finger of the front arm. In Downward dog it might be to our navel.


Woman focusing her gaze in a yoga pose

Beyond directing our attention, focusing on a single point in a balance pose has an additional purpose. Some of our balance receptors are in our eyes. So, in something like tree pose, we find a spot on the wall in front of us to keep our gaze at eye level. This helps your brain and body work out where it is in space and what movements or muscle engagement it needs in order to stay steady.


Your gaze should be soft and even slightly unfocused. Relax the muscles around the eyes rather than straining them.


Internal Drishti: During meditation or in still practices such as in Yin where we hold poses for several minutes, we can direct our gaze even with our eyes closed. In this case, your Drishti is more about where your awareness rests than what your eyes are looking at.


Direct your attention to your breath, and follow the flow in and out. Or you could pick a specific sensation that you are feeling and really concentrate on that, observing things like whether the sensation is constant or changing, increasing or decreasing, or whether it is localised or spreading through the body.

 

How to use a Drishti off the mat

 

Have you noticed that your attention span seems to be getting shorter? I certainly have. Whilst I am sure it’s not the only cause, I think the digital age we live in has a lot to do with it. (Think about how many tabs you have open on your web browser, the constant pinging of notifications on your phone and the mindless zone we can get into whilst scrolling social media).  


Against this backdrop, finding moments of stillness and concentration can feel challenging. Thankfully, focus is a skill we can nurture through our practice. By fixing our gaze on a specific point during a yoga pose, we train the mind to remain steady among the swirl of sensations and distractions.


We can then use those skills when tackling a demanding task or navigating a challenging conversation. Here are some ways you might use a Drishti off the mat:


  • When you find yourself ruminating over something troubling you, bring your full attention to your breath to help stop unhelpful thoughts.

  • As you go about daily chores, pay attention to what you are doing through the lens of your senses. You might feel the warmth of the soil whilst gardening or smell the aromas of your cooking. Hone in on just one sense and observe everything through that narrow focus.

  • If you work on a computer and need to get a task done by a set deadline, close all irrelevant tabs and notifications to minimise distractions.

  • During a difficult conversation, take the time to pause and notice your internal thoughts and feelings. This internal gaze will allow you to choose your response rather than give in to reactions.

 

Remember that it’s all a practice

 

Whether it be in a standing balance or going about life, it's natural to stumble along the way. Yet, Drishti invites us to embrace imperfection as part of the process. Just as our gaze may falter in challenging poses, our focus will waver in the face of life's uncertainties.


Cultivating our attention is just as much a practice as building strength in a muscle. We need repetition and persistence. Whenever your mind wanders, gently guide it back to the present moment, strengthening your resilience and deepening your presence with each return.

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