Our drishti, or our gaze, is such an important part of our practice. It helps us focus our minds, and can help us align our bodies in any given posture.
I always notice that when my drishti is on point, I am not worried about what is happening around me, and it allows me to turn inward without actually closing my eyes. What a beautiful thing this can be.
Anatomically, (you know I was going there,) focusing your gaze can bring your cervical spine into the appropriate alignment to coincide with the posture at hand. Familiar cues would include, “Take your gaze over your right hand,” “Look up at your thumbs coming together,” or something as simple as “Take your gaze down.” These cues can be very effective in placing a student’s gaze, and alignment in place.
NOW HERE’S THE DANGER –
When teacher’s cue their students, “Take your gaze out in front of your mat,” “Look up towards the ceiling,” or “Turn your gaze towards the back wall.” Why are these dangerous? Because not every student is going to be in the same place on their mat, in the room, or in their practice.
Here’s a simple example –
Everyone is in plank. All the students are working hard, breathing well, hips are level, shoulders are engaged, and then the teacher says it, “Take your gaze out in front of your mat.” So what happens? Some students crane their neck up, because they are farther back on their mat then others, while some pull their necks in because they are so far forward that they can’t even see the top of their mat from where they are. So no one actually knows where their neck in supposed to be and cervical spines are out of alignment all over the place, and it’s absolute ANARCHY.
The solution is simple. When focusing on drishti, instead of cuing to align it with the room around you, come back to the cues that keep them practicing within their own body – looking at their hand, or their thumbs. In this way, you are aligning the student’s (or your own) gaze with your body, and not external sources.
Sometimes students will not be able to turn all the way around and look at the back wall, and that is okay. Focus instead on anatomical and alignment based cues that turn them properly, then allow their neck to fall intro proper alignment FOR THEM, and ask them to focus on what they see in front of them.
Drishti can be such a powerful tool in our practice, but we don’t want to gain that tool at the cost of our cervical spine health.