Drishti: Where our eyes are directed, our attention followsDrishti refers to the yogic gaze, or gaze point for each asana. It was popularised through the school of yoga called Ashtanga, taught for more than 60 years by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. On a simple level, drishti uses a specific gazing direction for the eyes to control attention. In every asana in Ashtanga, students are taught to direct their gaze to one of nine specific points. In the picture below, the drishti is at the big toes.
Why direct the eyes and what does this have to do with attention? Well, in every class I teach I can see students becoming distracted. Looking at their neighbour, looking at me, looking at the clock. starting out of the window. One man even looked at his Apple watch to check his heart beat the other week! Even when students are in childs pose or savasana, the distraction continues: fingers tapping, heads turning, eyes wide open staring at the ceiling. On my own, I like to practice with my eyes closed, but in many poses, this is unhelpful or even impossible.When our attention wanders in such a way, we leak energy, or prana. Focusing your attention is a way of managing your prana during the practice. Yoga isn't about stretching: its about generating prana in the body as we breathe and then moving it around the body through use of bandhas (energy locks), pranayama (breathing techniques) and asana. It is through this pranic flow that transformation happens. If you are leaking your prana by always looking at your neighbour or at the clock, you'll struggle to get the most from your practice.This controlling of our attention through drishti is important for the practice of pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses. In following this practice, it allows the mind to start to move inwards, away from external distractions. There are several forms of pratyahara, but control of the senses is one of the most important. This is particularly true in today's world were we are constantly over stimulated. Our senses are very instinctive and can tell the mind what to do ("mmm, freshly baked chocolate cookies! Eat one now!). In controlling the senses, we can also start to better manage our minds, and our reactions.