Drishti on the Mat, In our Lives & In Recovery
What is Drishti?
Drishti relates to the fifth limb in Yoga, known as Pratyahara in regard to sense removal. It is also in relation to the sixth limb, Dharana in relation to concentration.
Drishti (Sanskrit) [from the verbal root drish to see, behold with the mind's eye] seeing, the faculty of sight; also the mind's eye, hence wisdom, intelligence. 
In Buddhism, the word Drishti means sight, perception, vision or view 
So in effect, Drishti encompasses mental, physical and spiritual sight.
Drishti on the Mat
In Yoga, Drishti is essential when practicing all poses and especially with balances. In the western world, it is particularly difficult to focus when there are so many distractions. From the tattoos, the exciting new gear and Yoga clothing to one’s own competition with others’ flexibility or posture.
When practicing Drishti, we focus the mind and at the same time we are training the body to do what the mind wants it to do. Additionally, we are able to control our senses, allowing us to move past the limitations we have set up in our minds. We are improving concentration and sense withdrawal at the same time. How empowering!
Athletes use the term “in the zone” to describe their Drishti. In the zone meaning being completely unaware of what is around you as you are focused on the goal right in front of you. It has been said that the eyes are doors to the mind and when the eyes are fixed, the mind cannot wander.
In Bikram Yoga, the teacher might say “Soft gaze on the horizon”. In Hatha Yoga, the practice of the kriya “Trataka” is done by keeping the eyes open until they tear up - in essence, cleansing the eyes.
The gaze is soft as opposed to piercing. Eyes are relaxed and possibly blurred. When Drishti is practiced correctly in our asanas, our poses are then practiced correctly. If you are looking at the right focal point, the body follows the gaze accordingly. I can always tell when my Drishti is off during a balancing pose. I already struggle with balance but when my eyes are not focused properly, I am likely to stumble and possibly fall down.
The Ashtanga Yoga system (taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois) identifies nine directions or focal points:
Focal Point or Direction
tip of the nose
Ajna chakra or bhrumadhya drishti
between the eyebrows
Nabhi chakra drishti
far to the right
far to the left
Urdhva or antara drishti
up to the sky
Drishti in our lives
Just as in our Yoga practice, if our Drishti is off, so is our life balance. There are many times I have been caught up in the latest fad, the loudest child, or a new eating plan that my focus is lost and balancing my work, home, play and spiritual life is just not attainable.
There is a saying “Keep the main thing the main thing”. Well to do so, we must remain focused on the vision. Hold our Drishti. This was presented so eloquently to me in of all places…a Yoga class:
Hold on to your vision, and trust your journey.
Along the journey, we will face many obstacles and storms. The wildest of these storms will throw several projectiles at us. This is when holding our Drishti is most important.
When we have a specific vision or goal ahead of us and our Drishti is set upon it, we no longer see any of the personal limitations we have set. We are “In the Zone”.
We are also able to see the world as it is without our own biases and skewed perceptions. Most communication breakdowns are a direct result of such blind perceptions. When we hold our Drishti, we can accept what we see whether we like the reality of the situation or not.
How is Drishti Helpful in Recovery?
A reading from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
“For in meditation, debate has no place. We rest quietly with the thoughts of someone who knows, who that we may experience and learn…
Let us look now upon the sea and ponder what its mystery is; and let us lift our eyes to the far horizon, beyond which we shall seek all those wonders still unseen.
‘Shucks!’ says somebody. ‘This is nonsense. It isn’t practical.’
“When such thoughts break in, we might recall, a little ruefully, how much store we used to set by imagination as it tried to create reality out of bottles. Yes we reveled in that sort of thinking, didn’t we? And though sober nowadays, don’t we often try to do much the same thing? Perhaps our trouble was not that we used our imagination. Perhaps the real trouble was our almost total inability to point imagination toward the right objectives. There’s nothing the matter with constructive imagination; all sound achievement rests upon it. After all, no man can build a house until he first envisions a plan for it. Well, meditation is like that too; it helps to envision our spiritual objective before we try to move toward it. So let’s get back to that sunlit beach – or to the plains or to the mountains if you prefer.” 
After a few weeks of sobriety, the fog lifted from my head. I could now see the reality of what I had been doing to my body and to my loved ones when I was using. I wanted to right every wrong at that very moment. Fortunately for me, the steps are to be worked in the order they are written.
That being said, suddenly my mind became a blender in which all my thoughts were spinning around in little pieces. Will I have time to take a nap before the meeting? I really need to finish my laundry. I wish my boss had some sense of time and urgency. Why did I marry this guy? Do I have enough candy in the pantry? – All this in 5 seconds. Spinning. In. My. Head.
I was attending a women’s meeting in Northridge, CA and I shared my dilemma with my dear sisters. Afterward, a few ladies took me aside and explained to me that though I was not yet at step 11, I could begin practicing meditation. They taught me about focusing the mind’s eye, breathing and clearing my mind. I immediately started practicing this. At the time, I could do about 5 minutes. When I was at the 11th step, I was able to meditate for a longer period.
As for Yoga, I was not even close to ready to take this on until I was 6 years into my sobriety. This I am okay with. When you are ready, you are ready. But because of some amazing women in recovery, I was able to hold my Drishti, my focus on sobriety…one day at a time, one thought at a time.
Drishti is essential for proper Yoga alignment and practice. Off the mat, Drishti assists us in seeing things as they really are and staying focused on our goals. In recovery, we are able to remain focused on what is most important…Sobriety.
Further Reflection (added 3/15/16)
During Yoga class last week, we were in Eagle pose and my Drishti went to this tattoo my son gave me.
The tattoo represents my favorite memory as a child. My mom, dad and myself were walking along the shore as the sun was setting. Mom and Dad stopped, turned and gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes. I looked up at them and their love for one another. Suddenly, the tide came in and I held onto both their legs to keep from being swept away, never taking my eyes off them.
It dawned on me, that my parent's love for one another was my Drishti on said day, in 1973. Furthermore, I can tell you I did have a rough childhood. But if you were to ask me about it, I will always go back to this memory - my Drishti. Regardless of how difficult life can be, we can always return to our Drishti.
2. Sangharakshita. (1996). Buddhism for Today - and Tomorrow. Birmingham B18: Windhorse Publications.
3. The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. (1952, 1953, 1981) Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing.