Developing the Superpower of Direct Focus
Dristi is most commonly known as the gazing point on which the eyes may focus. The word “dristi,” derives from the Sanskrit root “drstr,” which is where we get our English word “to direct.” Dristi can refer to a focal point, yet it is more than simply where we focus; it also refers to the power of this focus since it has a harnessing effect on our thoughts and energy.
When we direct our visual gaze to just one spot, we are sending our energy there. Imagine someone who is “all over the place.” They may be literally looking all over the place and cannot rest their eyes on one thing. Even during an asana practice, some students are looking around the room or busily fixing their bodies, thus unable to drop into a state of equanimity. The opposite of being “all over the place” is being directed and focused, a goal efficiently achieved by the tool of dristi.
Dristi as a Point of Focus
Some strains of yoga suggest gently gazing at the tip of the nose whenever possible. It is said that this draws an internal focus and allows the outer world to soften and fade. Many practitioners find this helpful.
Another popular dristi point is gazing out over the fingertips in standing postures. This soft gaze can support the practitioner in feeling expansive; it is also great for empowerment and confidence building.
Most often, we are taught to look upward whenever anatomically possible. This has many benefits: It is an energizing action (when I look up, my energy goes up.) Upward movement is associated with solar and masculine energy, and used to give yourself a boost when you are tired.
On the other hand, many of us need to settle down. If you want your energy to settle, simply direct your gaze downward. (When I want to get grounded—I look at the ground!) Gazing downward embodies feminine aspects: Mother Nature, fixed energy and a literal magnetic downward pull (gravity).
Dristi can refer to a focal point, yet it is more than simply where we focus; it also refers to the power of this focus since it has a harnessing effect on our thoughts and energy.
Another option is “Atma Dristi,” which can be translated as “Soul Gazing.” Once the outer body is comfortable, we can turn the gaze inward by closing the eyes. When the gaze is directed inward, there is an opportunity to “see” what is happening on the inside. Atma Dristi ignites the Ajna Chakra, the third eye, which sees past the obvious. Practicing Atma Dristi can be like looking at your treasure map and then being given special glasses that allow you to see the map in 3D. There is more to us than meets the eye. If we don’t look, we’ll miss it.
The dristi emphasized during balancing postures holds the space of the pose. It is helpful to set the dristi first and then build the pose around it. The point can be just about anywhere, up or down, as long as it is one spot that doesn’t move. (This is not the time to look at the teacher or another student, as they are moving!) Once the pose is complete, try sustaining the dristi while coming out of the pose mindfully. This holds the space, meaning that you do not stop doing yoga simply because one pose is ending and another one is beginning.
Sustaining your dristi during balancing postures has the additional effect of helping us to clarify our destination. At first glance, it would seem that the point of a balancing pose is to strengthen muscles, create flexibility and enhance our agility. These are all an important first step. The ultimate goal, however, is to teach us to focus the fluctuations of our minds (what in Sanskrit is called our chitta vrttis) on command. The repetitive practice of yoga is not done so that we can get good at yoga. It is done so that the tools we learn from yoga can help us navigate our individual, epic journey. When we see clearly and when our eyes—and then our gaze—are focused, we too can discover and demonstrate our inner superpowers.
Sara Ivanhoe MA has been teaching yoga since 1995. Sara is a graduate of the MA program in Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University, where she now teaches. She serves as the faculty advisor for YogaGlo.