In Sanskrit Drishti relates to vision. As you practice yoga you develop an awareness of all the different parts of your body and how they work in conjunction with one another. Drishti is the practice of gazing by setting your vision on one point of focus and then gazing through it. Consciously developing your drishti practice will help you to be fully aware of your body and your breath as your move into and out of your asanas.
Gazing is different from looking. When we look at something, we put our eyes and our attention on a point and then examine what we are looking at. To gaze at something is to look through it without bringing your attention to what your eyes are resting on. When you gaze at a point of focus, you look through that point instead of at that point. A great example of this is the computer generated art that looks like a bunch of squiggly lines of color. When you look at the art you just see the lines and color, but when you are able to gaze into the art you can see an object amidst those squiggly lines.
Developing your drishti means you develop your ability to gaze. What the gaze does is it brings you into awareness of what your body is doing and what your breath is doing. Your attention does not turn to what your eyes are resting on, rather it turns inward into what you feel in your body. This is helpful because as you practice your attention is solely on your body and your breath, allowing you to adjust where your body needs to be adjusted or go deeper into the posture with each breath you take.
The general rule of where to place your gaze is to go in the direction of the stretch of the body. For example, in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) the gaze is directed over the forward hand. In Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) the gaze is directed upwards at the thumb of the upward extended hand. As you develop your drishti you’ll notice that your bandhas will engage more readily and your alignment will move more towards neutral which then takes unnecessary stress off of the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.
When you go to practice yoga, experiment with your drishti and notice what changes happen in your postures when you consciously gaze through your point of focus. If closing the eyes is something you do regularly as you practice, try keeping the eyes open and engaging your drishti. You may be very surprised by the results produced by the seemingly small adjustment in where you put your focus and what you do with it as you practice.
As with all aspects of yoga, the more you consciously practice drishti the less you will have to consciously engage it and you will notice that you automatically take your drishti out into your daily life. Inside of your practice of drishti on the mat lies the possibility of your perception of things changing as you gaze through them instead of looking at them. Enjoy playing with this!
Namaste, my friends!