drishti

The word दृष्टि,driśti’ comes from the Samskritham root ‘to see’. In yoga, it means to hold a steady gaze. This steady gaze can be directed in two directions:

  1. Outward gaze using physical points called Bahir Driśti, बहिर्दृष्टि 
  2. Inward gaze as in चक्र, chakra or मुद्रा, mudra called Antar Driśti – अन्तर्दृष्टि

दृष्टि, driśti is used in आसन – āsana, प्राणायाम – prānayāma and धारणा – dhārana. It is a soft, intentional gaze, not a penetrating stare with relaxed and half-closed eyes. Its a simple process where you first, become aware of where/what you are looking at. Next, direct the eyes with an intent to focus your attention using one of the driśti points (see below).

Texts

The text योगसूत्रYogasutra mentions to focus attention on various points such as चक्र, chakras, wheels of energy or on शाम्भवी मुद्रा, Shambavi Mudra, space between the eybrows to enhance concentration. However, no specific driśti point references are mentioned for āsana practice.

Other हठ योग, Hata Yoga texts while describing certain āsanas, state that the gaze should be fixed at the tip of the nose i.e. Nasāgrey Driśti. For example, the chapter on āsanas in Gherandsamhita while describing Padmāsana (2:8) and Simhāsana (2:15), Gorakshāsana (2:25) states the point of focus placed on Nasāgrey Driśti. And in the fifth chapter of Gherandsamhita (5:43) the same driśti is used for Nādi Shodhana Pranayama (also reffered to as  Nādishuddhi Pranayāma).

Hata Yoga Pradīpika does not list the nine types but makes references within certain āsana descriptions.

Nine Types 

There are nine driśti points (counting Pārśva Driśti, left/right side). Few āsanas are mentioned within each group. However, please note an āsana may have multiple driśti points. And, many prefer to close their eyes as it brings a sense of calmness and joy into the practice.

Samskritham script with audio has been provided for pronunciation practice.

अङ्गूष्ठमध्ये Angusthamadhyay 

Aṅguṣṭhamadhyay अङ्गूष्ठमध्ये; means “at the middle of the thumb or big toe” or simply the practitioner looks at the thumb or big toe.

Āsanas

  • वीरभद्रासन,Virabhadrasana (Warrior 1)
  • त्रीकेणासन, Trikonasana (Triangle)
  • कोणासन, Konasana, sidebend (Standing or seated)
  • पादहस्तासन, Padahastasana, (Hand to foot pose)

भ्रूमध्ये Bhrumadhyay

The Bhrūmadhyay Driśti भ्रूमध्ये, means “at the middle of the eyebrows/brow, at the “third eye”. Here, eyes are halfway or fully closed and focussed toward the space between the eyebrows. Yogic texts refer to this point as शाम्भवी मुद्र, Śāmbhavi Mudra, आज्ञा चक्र, Ājna Chakra and कूटस्थ चैतन्य, Kutastha Chaitanya.  Hold the gaze for a few minutes and gradually increase the time.

Āsanas

  • मत्स्यासन, Matsyāsana (Fish)
  • विपरीत वीरभद्रासन, Viparīta Vīrabhadrāsana (Reverse Warrior)
  • सिद्धासन, Siddhāsana
  • सुखासन, Sukhāsana (Easy Pose)
  • अर्ध पद्मासन, Ardha Padmāsana (Half Lotus)
  •  वज्रासन, Vajrāsana (Thunderbolt)
  • अर्ध मत्स्येन्द्रासन, Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half Spinal twist)

नासाग्रे Nasāgrey

Nāsāgrey Driśti  नासाग्रे, means “to the tip of the nose”  has the eyes fixed on the tip of the nose. You may begin by fixing your gaze in front of you either on the floor or front edge of the mat as in tree pose.

Āsanas

  • व्रृक्षासन,Vrkshasana (Tree)
  • उत्तानासन, Uttānāsana (Standing Forward Fold)
  • शिरीशासन, Śiriśāsana (Handstand)
  • ऊर्ध्व धनुरासन, Ūrdhva Dhanurāsana (Wheel)
  • उष्ट्रासन, Uśtrasana (Camel).
  • समास्थिति:, Samāstithihi in सूर्य नमस्कार, Sūrya Namaskār

हस्ताग्रे Hastāgray

The Hastāgray Driśti हस्ताग्रे means “front of the hand” which involves looking at the fingertips or palm of the hand when extended.

When प्रणव, Pranava or आदि, Ādimudra is practiced during āsana, the gaze can rest on the mudra. However, during शवासन, Śvāsana, Prānayāma and meditation, other inner, Antar driśti points may be used or eyes may be closed.

Āsanas

  • उथित त्रिकोणासन, Uthita Trikonasana (Triangle)
  • परिवृत्त त्रिकोणासन, Parivritta Trikonāsana (Triangle Twist)
  • उथित पार्श्व केणासन, Utthita Parśvakonāsana (Extended Side Angle)

पार्श्व Pārshva

Pārśva Driśti – पार्श्व means “the side” – looking sideways to the left or right side.

Pārśva driśti is somewhat ambiguous as “sideways” can be up for interpretation. Mostly, a sideways gaze follows the direction as the head – upward or downward. However, Swami Satyananda Saraswati recommends using Bhrumadhyay (भ्रूमध्ये,Driśti, once you complete the sideways movement or the twist.

Āsanas

  • अर्ध मत्स्येन्द्रासन, Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half Lord of the Fishes)
  • मरीचियासन, Marichyāsana (Marichi’s Pose)
  • भारद्वजासन, Bhāradvājāsana (Twist)
  • वीरभद्रासन, Virabhadrāsana 2 (Warrior 2)

ऊर्घ्व Ūrdhva

Ūrdhva Driśti – ऊर्घ्व means “above” – has the eyes pointing upwards, to the sky, to infiniteness. Also referred to as Ākāśa Driśti and Anantha Driśti.

Āsanas

  • उत्कटासन, Utkatāsana (Fierce pose)
  • वीरभद्रासन, Vīrabhadrāsana I (Warrior I)
  • आंजनेयासन, Ānjanèyāsana (Wisdom pose)
  • उपविष्ट कोणासन, Upaviśta Konāsana (Seated side angle)
  • ऊर्ध्व पादअंगूष्टासन, Urdhva Pādaangushtāsana (Seated leg lift)

 नाभिचक्रे Nābhicakre

Nābhicakre Driśti नाभिचक्रे means “on the navel” where “Nābhi” means naval center and “chakra” means wheel, circle.

Āsanas

  • अधोमुख श्वानासन, Adho Mukha Śvānasana (Downward Facing dog)
  • पर्वतासन, Parvatāsana (Mountain pose)
  • नौकासन, Naukāsana (Leaning boat pose)
  • सर्वांगासन, Sarvāngāsana (Shoulder stand)

पादयोरग्रे Pādayoragrey

Pādayoragrey Driśti पादयोरग्रे means “to the tips of the feet” – is gazing at the toes.

Āsanas

  • पश्चिमोत्तनासन, Paścimottanāsana (Seated forward bend)
  • जानु शिरिशासन, Jānu Śirśasana (Head to knee pose)
  • नवासन, Navāsana (Boat pose)

Benefits

  • improves alignment and intensifying your experience in a pose
  • helps to filter out visual stimuli and distractions
  • helps find balance and depth in the pose
  • strengthens eye muscles
  • increases focus and attention during practice – being present
  • controls wandering eyes – stops you from judging peers
  • conserves energy for other yoga practices
  • decreases mental chatter (where our eyes go, attention follows)
  • adds meditative quality to your practice
  • Induces calmness

For example, in Ānjaneyāsana, low lunge, an upward gaze (ऊर्घ्व ) opens the chest, lengthens the spine, sinks the hips over the feet for a stable and strong pose. In Adhomukha Śvānāsana, Downward Facing Dog, driśti at the navel, नाभिचक्रे, nābhichakrey encourages lifting up at the hips and back of the tailbone preventing the rounding of the spine.

Personal Practice

Since the movement during vinyāsa is fluid, it is important to know exactly where the driśti points are for each āsana so it becomes easier to focus through transitions. As your practice matures you will also notice that the driśti point can vary.

It took me years to memorize the driśti for each āsana. Sometimes, when I forced myself to use the recommended driśti point, it either exaggarated or depressed a specific emotion, ending in a dissatified practice. But when I let myself be guided from within, my driśti settled on other points – possibly on what I needed at that moment. It helped me become aware of the unwanted emotion and tranform it for a fulfilling practice.

For example, when I brought restless emotions to the mat, nābhichakre driśti as in Naukāsana, leaning boat pose, aggravated the ego energy, unnecessarily increasing the agitation. Shifting my gaze to my big toe helped redirect the restless energy but settling the driśti on the heart or the eyebrow center dissipated the ego and replaced it with compassion or forgiveness.

Another day, when I was worried/anxious, in Pādahastāsana, hand to foot pose, with my head below the heart, my driśti on the (blocked) heart chakra, caused a sense of hopelessness. Redirecting the driśti to the eybrow center activated constructive inner reflection and flooded my being with gratitude.

While you enjoy the above nine दृष्टि, driśtis in your practice, remember to notice your own preferences and benefits on and off the mat.

Final Thoughts

Ever wonder why you felt drained after window shopping in the mall or staring at the computer screen? Could it be that your prāna was drained through your eyes? The world of social media and multitasking trains your attention to become discursive and unruly.  दृष्टि,driśti’ helps to manage your mind instead of allowing it to rule you.

Next time you are practicing yogāsana, prānayāma and dhārana notice the challenges your eyes present. Watch where your attention goes. Remember no matter the direction in which you are physically looking, using driśti increases your awareness and teaches you to hone the practice of inner reflection.

Practice driśti just as you rehearse awareness to your breath. Gently remind yourself to come back to your driśti just as you do with your breath. Soon, each part of your yoga practice will begin to work together seamlessly and you will notice a sense of deeper focus and calmness on and off of the mat.

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Swami Satyananda Sarawati, 1966, 1999. Āsana, Prānayāma, Mudra Bandha. Bihar School og Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India.

Swami Muktibodhananda. 1993. Hatayoga Pradipika. Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India.