Monday, December 31, 2012

Setting Your Sights on the New Year

One of the most challenging yoga transitions is swinging one leg up to lunge from down dog. It requires open hips, but also a steady eye that looks a few inches ahead of where the foot needs to land. Balance poses, too, are difficult and require steadfast visual attention to stay upright. Where we set our sights, it turns out, is critical to where we’ll land.

A recent New York Times article, “Keeping Your Eye on the Ball,” reports on research which finds most adults are not able to keep their eyes on the ball in golf and other sports. This affects their performance as well as how they think and feel while in the action. According to the researchers, “a quiet, focused eye seems to encourage a quiet, focused mind, which then makes for more accurate putting.” Unfortunately, they conclude, “many people do not look at the right place at the right time.”

In yoga, this quiet, focused eye the research describes is called “drishti,” or sight. It’s a gazing technique to help develop concentration and clear seeing. Where our eyes go, so goes our attention. In Ashtanga yoga, each asana, or pose, has a specific drishti. For example, in down dog, the gaze is on the navel (not to be confused with “contemplating one’s navel”). The purpose of a drishti in asana poses is to create awareness and steadiness in the movement and the moment—to see what is actually happening.

More broadly, drishti is where we place our focus and attention. And paying attention, really, is the most effective way to create change or achieve a certain outcome. As we move into a new year, I’ve been thinking about what I want to be different and how to make those changes happen. The practice of drishti offers some guidance.

If you, too, are looking to make a change, here’s a new perspective: 
  • Balance your outward and inner focus. Keep both an outward directed vision and an inner awareness. This complementary seeing helps unite the mind and body toward a particular action. This balance of mind, body, and spirit also connects us to our full potential. Too much inner focus can get us stuck, while too much looking outside ourselves may cause grasping at the wrong things.
  • Consider a softer gaze. The practice of drishti requires a soft gaze that develops over time. It’s a compassionate view toward ourselves and others rather than a rigid or judgmental one. This softer kind of seeing or direction toward a particular aim clears the mind of prejudices that may cloud our perceptions. Letting go of harsh appraisals of ourselves and others frees us from things that can distract us from a goal.
  • See what’s really there. The kind of purposeful attentive focus that comes from the practice of drishti improves the ability to see our true self—our own divine nature and that of others. This lens of seeing the world and ourselves is the path to intentional, meaningful action. With this kind of imagination, it’s really possible to do almost anything.

If you want to practice drishti in an asana, try a simple Vrksasana, or tree pose (pictured). A fixed, steady gaze several feet ahead that is eye level or a bit lower helps enormously to remain upright in this balancing pose. But should you fall out, it’s the perfect opportunity to be compassionate toward yourself. That is the true practice.

Happy New Year!

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