What is Drishti? How to Practice Drishti in Yoga
What is Drishti?
What does Drishti refer to?
Drishti, in essence, is the yogic practice of focusing your gaze. Drishti is Sanskrit for eyesight or vision and corresponds to the fifth limb of yoga, Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and the sixth limb, Dharana (concentration)*.
What is the purpose of Drishti?
Maintaining presence is a central focus of yoga and meditation practices. Practising Drishti enables us to use our gaze or a focal point to our advantage. By directing our awareness and energy to where we’re looking, we can withdraw from the overwhelming sensory stimulation of the world around us and find clarity within.
Ever heard the phrase where the mind goes, energy flows? Well, Drishti works in much the same way. Ancient yogis and sages understood well that where our eyes are directed, our attention naturally follows. Similarly, the quality of our gaze correlates with the nature of our thoughts or mental state.
With practice, we can cultivate stability and balance by finding a single place of focus on which to hold our gaze, quieting our mental chatter and calming the mind.
*Interestingly, the term Drishti does not appear in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. One of the earliest references comes from the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna instructs Arjuna to "hold one's body and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose" when heading into battle or confrontation.
You can learn more about the philosophies of yoga in this article on the rich and mind-bending spiritual history behind the ancient practice.
Are there different types of Drishti?
There are two sorts of focal points. Bahya Drishti is an external gazing point - for instance, the tip of your nose - used in physical or external yoga practices. Antara Drishti is an internal gazing point - you might close your eyes and look with your mind's eye or your Third Eye. We tend to use Antara Drishti in more contemplative and meditative practices to encourage Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses).
The earliest Hatha Yoga texts discussed the power of Drishti. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions two types, nāsāgre, looking to the tip of the nose, and bhrūmadhye, gazing towards the space between the eyebrows or the Third Eye.
Later, in the 20th Century, the Ashtanga system saw several more Drishti points come to the fore. There are now many different types of Bahya Drishti in the asana practice, which we call upon to help still the mind in various postures:
- Nasagrai Drishti: the nose tip
- Bhrumadhya Drishti: the Ajna chakra, or between the eyebrows
- Nabi chakra Drishti: the navel
- Angusthamadhye: the thumb
- Hastagrai Drishti: the hands
- Parsva Drishti: the right side
- Parsva Drishti: the left side
- Padayoragrai Drishti: the toes
- Urdhva Drishti: upward
How do you practise Drishti?
In your asana or physical yoga practice, you can tap into the power of Drishti by tuning into the point where your eyes fall naturally - directed by the alignment of the posture. For example, in forward-folds, you might choose Padayoragrai Drishti - gazing to the toes. When practising sun salutations, as you sweep your arms to the sky, you might use Angusthamadhye Drishti - gazing at the thumb(s).
New to Drishti? Test your gaze with these three simple yoga poses you can try at home.
In more static, contemplative practices, with your eyes closed, look up and inward toward the Ajna chakra, or the seat of your Third Eye, the centre of wisdom and intuition.
We don’t necessarily have to roll out our yoga mat to experience the power of the gaze, though. Wherever you are, you can simply look to a still point, steady your eye-line, and feel the benefits of slowing down.
Sophie Heatley (she/her) is a Content Writer and Yoga Instructor based in London. She has been teaching at various studios, on retreat, and online since 2018. On the side, Sophie creates online and editorial content for clients within diverse industries, from the arts, to wellness, to financial law. Discover where she's teaching and what she's writing by following her on social media @sophieheatley_