Drishti Meaning & 2 Practical Uses

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As a yoga student, you can dive deeper into your personal yoga practice if you learn more about the concept of Drishti meaning and how to put it into practice on and off the yoga mat.

When it comes to a basic understanding of yoga, there are generally two camps: a physical practice to improve your body and a meditative practice for mental focus and clarity. These two benefits can be achieved separately, but they also can be combined and experienced in one practice.

In a physical yoga practice like Vinyasa Yoga or Hot Yoga, one intention, along with stimulating the body, is to enhance mental clarity, focus, and balance. This is accomplished with the concept and philosophy of Drishti.

Drishti is the art and practice of focusing while practicing any style of yoga. In this article, you will explore…

  • Drishti Meaning
  • Explore the Applications of Drishti
  • Experience How to Use Drishti in a Yoga Practice
  • Discover Practical Uses of Drishti Beyond the Yoga Mat
woman doing a warrior yoga pose with her drishti landing on her front hand

Drishti Meaning

Drishti is a Sanskrit word that can mean “focused gaze.” For example, it can refer to where to focus your eyes while practicing yoga. It can also mean how you turn your attention inward while you meditate.

If you happen to practice yoga in a group setting, it is not uncommon to encounter feeling distracted by the things around you: the tapestries on the wall, the music playing, and even the movement of the other yoga practitioners. Drishti helps you to stay completely focused on your personal practice without getting too distracted by what’s going on around you.

Drishti has its origins in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This is a traditional style of yoga that was popularized by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India. The concept of Ashtanga Yoga has ancient origins, but it is also a modern physical practice that was organized to help understand the “eight limbs of yoga” that are referenced in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

woman doing yoga looking down with her drishti meaning that she gazes towards her hands and feet on her yoga mat

Drishti & The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Although not formally discussed in the ancient text, Drishti is associated with three of the eight limbs of yoga:

  • Pratyahara: Sensory Withdrawal
  • Dharana: Concentration
  • Dhyana: Meditation

Drishti & Pratyahara

The fifth limb of yoga, Pratyahara, means ‘sensory withdrawal,’ but in a more practical sense means to be more self-observant. Yoga as a philosophy is to help us be more aware of ourselves. The Drishti practice guides you away from external distractions so that you can pay closer attention to what is going on inside of you.

Drishti & Dharana

Dharana, the sixth limb of yoga, has a direct association with Drishti. Meaning ‘concentration,’ this is the practice of focusing your attention on a single point.

Once you have cleared your mind of the external distractions, yoga directs you inward. It is the ability to hold your mind in a single state. In other words, it is the action of keeping your stern attention on one thing. For example, this could be a mantra you are chanting, the flow of your breath, or even a specific part of your body.

a group of yoga students practicing in class

Drishti & Dhyana

Extended periods of concentration lead to ‘meditation;’ this is the seventh limb of yoga, Dhyana.

Holding your full attention on that chant, breath flow, or body part for a significant amount of time is the key to full awareness. In this state of quiet and stillness, you experience less distracting thoughts and feelings. This state of being is aligned with the ultimate intention of yoga: bliss and enlightenment (Samadhi, the eighth limb of yoga.)

Applications of Drishti

A yoga practice may begin with physical movements. Having access to the body is an entry point for deeper awareness; that which is beyond the physical. Gaining strength, flexibility, and endurance are certainly wonderful benefits of practicing something like Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Yoga also offers a means to greater concentration, focus, and self-awareness.

It seems that our minds are always on; constantly contemplating, thinking, dwelling, and worrying. This is a mental distraction that interferes with reaching the full potential of the yogic philosophy: bliss and enlightenment.

These mental distractions also lead to stress in the mind as well as throughout the body. Yoga provides an exercise and lifestyle that provides ways to decrease stress and increase mental clarity and focus. What are the ways in which you can achieve deeper awareness, mental clarity, concentration, and focus?

In a yoga class, a teacher provides instruction to help you stay focused on the practice. They give you breathing cues, how and where to move your body, and where to direct your gaze. This last step is the function of Drishti; it is the direction in which you focus your eyes. These are not arbitrary directions, however. These are intentional focal points to align your eyes for continuous concentration throughout your yoga practice.

Each asana or yoga pose is associated with a focal point. There are 8 in total.

a woman does dancer's yoga pose in front of the shining sun

The 8 Focal Points Of Drishti

  1. Angusthamadhye (thumb)
  2. Bhrumadhye (eyebrow)
  3. Nasagre (tip of the nose)
  4. Hastagrahe (hands)
  5. Parshva (right side or left side)
  6. Urdhva (up)
  7. Nabhicakre (navel)
  8. Padayoragre (feet)

For example, if you are practicing Side Angle Pose, your Drishti point would be upward, past your extended hand that is reaching for the sky. Not only are you gazing upward, but you are also inwardly focused, void of other mental or external distractions.

When you practice Drishti in a moving practice, you are engaging in what can be considered ‘meditation in motion.’ As you move from pose to pose, your attention remains in the present moment. This is Dharana (concentration); holding your mental attention on one thing.

a woman does standing big toe pose on a deck in front of the ocean

How to Use Drishti in a Yoga Practice

There are several ways you can use Drishti in a yoga practice. If you hold a yoga posture, you can focus your gaze on a particular body part or object in front of you.

Drishti In Tree Pose

This is a balancing posture in which you are standing on one foot. This pose requires your full attention and much focus. Start in a tall standing position with your gaze forward.

Slowly shift your body weight into your left foot. Lift your right foot and place it on the inside of your standing leg. Your right knee will point toward the right side of the room. Extend both arms into the air. Keep your gaze forward out over the horizon.

To deepen the concentrative effort of this posture, tune into your breath. As you inhale, continue to raise your arms as if you are reaching to touch the ceiling. When you exhale, engage your abdominal muscles for support and stability (Uddiyana Bandha). As you continue to breathe with intention, choose an object out in front of you that is not moving.

It is helpful to find an object to look at. This might be the corner of a picture frame or a small pattern on the wall. The importance of this focal point is not the actual object. The true “looking” is directed inward.

The idea is to maintain your consistent attention on the subtle parts of yourself. Accompanied by the breath and engaged core muscles in Tree Pose, for example, you decrease the distractions of the mind to tune into the more important aspects of your whole being. This results in a deeper connection with yourself as well as creating an internal balance.

Another way to use Drishti is during a vinyasa or flowing segment of a yoga practice. The Sun Salutation is a good example of a yoga sequence that involves the Drishti focal points.

a man does warrior run pose on a yoga mat in front of a shrine

Drishti And Sun Salutation Series A

1. Start in a standing position with your feet about hip distanced apart. Stand tall and proud with a lengthened spine, arms down by your side, and gaze forward.

2. Inhale to raise both arms into the air. Gaze up at your thumbs.

3. Exhale to flow forward. Lower your chest toward your thighs. Look at your toes.

4. Inhale to lengthen the spine and gaze out over the horizon.

5. Exhale to step or jump back to a high push-up position while still gazing forward. Immediately bend your elbows to lower your whole straight body toward the floor. Keep your focus out in front of you.

6. Inhale to straighten your arms and lift your chest. Keep your legs long and straight behind you. Gaze upward or at the tip of your nose.

7. Exhale to push your hips into the air. Press your hands firmly into the mat to keep your arms straight and strong. Keep a slight bend in your knees. Turn your focus toward your toes.

a woman does wild thing yoga pose

Practical Uses of Drishti Beyond the Yoga Mat

When you come to the yoga mat, the movements and breath work are known as a ‘practice.’ You are ‘rehearsing’ ways to live a more fulfilled life when you are off the mat.

You can continue to practice Drishti and other yoga concepts in your everyday lifestyle. For example, while working on a project at work, keep your full attention on the task at hand. Remove potential distractions like phone calls or outside noise, so you can keep your full attention on your project. You are more likely to have success when you focus on this type of intention.

This goes for your emotions and thoughts, too. As external events occur, you may have mental or emotional reactions to them. This is a good time to come to stillness, take a few breaths, and close your eyes to acknowledge how you are feeling at this moment. From this internal observation, you will discover why you may have reacted in a certain way. This will give you a better understanding of how you think, emote, and behave. It is a reference point for you to make any changes if deemed necessary.

These are just a few examples of how you can practice Drishti off the yoga mat. It is a resourceful tool that can be accessed at any time to live a consistent yogic lifestyle.

We hope this article has provided some insight into Drishti meaning in the yoga practice and how it is used. It is a means to enhance your focus and deepen your concentration on the yoga mat as well as in your everyday life.

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John Cottrell is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher and Certified Yoga Therapist residing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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