Drishti is one of those yoga practices that sounds deceptively simple: Just focus your eyes on one point. But anyone who’s ever toppled over in tree pose or wobbled in warrior knows just how tricky it can be.
We were lucky to get a crash course in drishti—a Sanskrit word meaning “gaze”—at Wanderlust, the yoga-music festival to end all yoga-music festivals, when yogi extraordinaire Annie Carpenter led an entire class focused on the practice.
Wanting more, we called Carpenter in California, where she teachers her signature SmartFlow style—a hybrid of everything she’s learned from the world’s top Integral, Iyengar, Ashtanga, and meditation teachers—at the Exhale Center for Sacred Movement in Venice.
Drishti, she says, is a fundamental part of asana—the idea of holding your gaze steady, which in turn, helps steady the mind. (If you don’t think there’s anything to it, try holding tree while your eyes wander around the room. We’ll wait.)
“All the things we do in yoga that seem like philosophical constructs are actually practices that let us know who we are—that we aren’t physical beings, but spiritual beings living in physical bodies,” explains Carpenter.
Drishti is introduced in beginner classes, when newbies are told to fix their gaze on one point while working on balancing poses. But it can be incredibly hard for far more advanced yogis to sustain throughout a 90-minute class. “My Wanderlust class was mostly teachers, and they were fatigued,” says Carpenter. “It takes mental stamina.”
The benefits of building that stamina, however, are huge. Cultivating drishti doesn’t just help in class; it has profound effects off the mat as well. Learning to apply the mind to the gaze helps release stress, by allowing you to focus on things that are helpful and healthy, says Carpenter. “It lets us penetrate through delusion and begin to understand the nature of reality and who we are.”
But the most important reason to cultivate drishti is the profound effect it can have on relationships. We all get so busy, we sometimes forget to really look into people’s eyes when we talk to them, says Carpenter. Drishti’s greatest power is to reclaim that connection, “to make others feel that they’re seen and heard and known.” Inversions are awesome, but that’s gotta be the single coolest skill you can learn in a yoga class. —Ann Abel
For more information, visit www.anniecarpenter.com