How Understanding Drishti Can Help Your Yoga Practice

Drishti Means Gaze in Yoga
jsmith/E+/Getty Images

Drishti is a point of focus where you rest your gaze during yoga asana and meditation practice. Focusing on a fixed point improves your concentration since it's easy to become distracted when your eyes are wandering around the room taking in your surroundings or checking out your fellow students. Drishtis also aids in establishing correct alignment

Even though a Drishti is often described as a fixed gaze, the eyes should always stay soft, and not strain.

Drishti in Ashtanga Yoga

Drishtis are particularly emphasized in Ashtanga yoga. They are even mentioned by Ashtanga forerunner T. Krishnamacharya in his 1934 book Yoga Makarenda, which describes his methods. Ashtanga yoga founder K. Pattabhi Jois often described a three-fold approach to yoga (called the Tristana) that included breath (pranayama), posture (asana), and Drishti, which shows the importance that he gave to using gazing points to focus the mind.

In Ashtanga, there are nine possible drishtis: the tip of the nose, the toes, the fingertips, the thumb, the navel, between the eyebrows (third eye), up to the sky, to the right, and to the left. Each pose is assigned one of these specific focal attention points. You can see how drishtis work to keep the awareness turned inward in Mysore-style Ashtanga where everyone in the room is at a different place in the sequence but is using their assigned drishtis to keep their concentration and focus on their own practice.

Drishti and Alignment

In addition to improving focus, drishtis also serve to reinforce important alignment points, especially those relating to the neck and thereby the spine. For instance, in downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana), the Drishti is the navel. This reminds you to keep your head down, releasing your neck, instead of crunching your neck to look forward. In warrior II (virabhadrasana II), the Drishti is the fingertips of your forward hand. Knowing this helps you keep your head facing the front of your mat instead of turning to the side. In a twist, the gaze is often intended to continue in the direction of your rotation, which can help deepen these poses.

Drishti in Other Yoga Practices

The use of Drishti has permeated into many contemporary yoga practices, particularly those influenced by Ashtanga, like Jivamukti and Baptiste Power Vinyasa. Drishti has also come into general yoga use as a way to describe any place you might look during a pose. For example, your teacher might tell you to find a stationary place to look to help you stay upright in a balancing pose like tree (vrsksasana). This is not really one of the nine drishtis described in Ashtanga, but it's still helpful in maintaining your pose. In meditation, keeping a soft gaze on a particular point is an alternative to closing your eyes. The tip of your nose is a good place to try focusing your attention. 

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.