In Ashtanga yoga while performing asanas it is required to gaze at a certain point – ‘drishti’. In this way the attention does not disperse and it is easier to be fully focused on the asanas and the teacher’s instructions. The pranic energy flowing out of the eyes activates ‘nadi’ and ‘chakras’ that are located in the place of drishti. The prana does not get dispersed and is held within the limits of the yoga mat filling the body. ‘Drishti’ is also an instrument for creating a correct asana – by changing the direction of our gaze, we change (correct) the position of our head.
There are 9 drishtis (gazing points):
- Hastagra – finger tips or hand.
2. Bhru-madhya – ‘third eye’ / between eyebrows.
Example of application: kurmasana and upavishta-konasana.
3. Padhayoragra – foot, tip toes; Padangushtkha – big toe.
Example of application: navasana and ardha-baddha-padma-paschimottanasana.
4. і 5. Parshva – right or left side depending on the direction of the posture.
6. Nasagra – tip of nose. Nasagra drishti is considered a universal gazing point that is suitable for any asana. If you are not sure about which drishti to use in a certain asana, direct your gaze at the tip of your nose.
Example of application: samasthiti and prasarita-padottanasana.
7. Urdhva or Antara – upwards.
8. Angustha Ma Dyai – thumbs; angusthagra – tips of thumbs. Directing the gaze towards angusthagra–drishti, the head must be dropped fully backwards. To achieve this it is sometimes recommended to gaze not at the tips of the thumbs but upwards.
Example of application: the first vinyasaa of Suriya Namaskara A.
9. Nabhi-chakra – navel. This drishti activates manipura-, or nabhi-chakra. In adho-mukha-shvanasana the lower part of the belly is drawn deeply in, so the navel gets hidden – that’s why it is allowed to focus the gazing not on the navel, but towards it. One can see nabhi-chakra by getting one’s back slightly rounded, as can be seen in the old photos of Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois.
Example of application: the sixth posture of surya namaskara A (adho-mukha-shvanasana).
The gazing at a certain drishti should be done right after the completion of the main vinyasa, as well as when in the sthiti (the principal transition posture) or in one of the other transition postures of the asana.
When performing vinyasa the sight performs its natural role of coordination of movements.
Before performing complex elements (e.g. rolling back) one should check around for safety.
The effects resulting from performing drishti:
- When doing forward bends, the backbone and the back of the neck shall be stretched out and in the correct position.
2. In balancing postures keeping the drishti helps to keep balance with less efforts.
3. When doing backbends, the head shall be in the correct position, with the chestbox open and the balance kept.
4. In twisting postures drishti helps to ‘flow’ deeper into the twisting, facilitating the maintaining the posture without accelerating the breath.
(Source: the book ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ by Petri Räisänen)