For those of you who enjoy a bit of science behind stuff like yoga, read on!
While searching around texts of Yoga sutra, philosophy, training manuals, blogs, and many other journals and sites on the internet, Drishti has been discussed within the realm of inner seeking, inner peace, the inner gaze.
It is a key part of yoga practice and a means for developing concentrated intention, and sense withdrawal; used as a tool in many different disciplines of yoga.
- Drishti is used in the kriya (cleansing practices) such as that of trataka, or candle gazing.
- It is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere—and thus for seeing correctly the world around us, for removing blocks to awareness that obscure true vision, a technique that allows us to see God in everything.
- Bahya (external) gazing points during more externally oriented yoga practices, including asanas,
- seva (the service work of karma yoga), and
- bhakti (devotion); known as antara (internal) gaze
Drishti is quite effective when utilized at its full potential, but brings questions to mind:
- What physical purpose can Drishti serve?
- How can it be used to improve movement function in the physical realm?
- The mental/non-physical uses are abundantly discussed, and mostly refer to the inner realm of the mind, focus of attention and detachment, but is there more to it than that? Yes.
One of the first physical facts to get my attention was in balance training and anatomy of balance.
First: EyesThe eyes hold a direct link to a group of muscles known as the suboccipitals which hold a high number of stretch receptors for their relatively small size, compared to larger muscle groups that contain far fewer. These muscles have 36 muscle spindles per gram of tissue, and are less than two inches in length; the glutes, by comparison, have 0.7 spindles per gram. Quite a difference!
These muscles are
- the Obliques capitis superior and inferior
- Rectus Capitus posterior major and minor
- These are in pairs for each side of the head, 8 in all
The following information drawn from NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) is a map of eye position and the types of memories affected or accessed:
Eyes Up and Left: Non-dominant hemisphere visualization – i.e., remembered imagery
Eyes Up and Right: Dominant hemisphere visualization – i.e., constructed imagery and visual fantasy
Eyes Lateral Left: Non-dominant hemisphere auditory processing – i.e., remembered sounds, words, and “tape loops” and tonal discrimination.
Eyes Lateral Right: Dominant hemisphere auditory processing – i.e., constructed sounds and words (Ac).
Eyes Down and Left: Internal dialogue, or inner self-talk (Ad). Eyes Down and Right: Feelings, both tactile and visceral (K).
Eyes Straight Ahead, but Defocused or Dilated: Quick access of almost any sensory information; but usually visual.
Second: Ears and Balance
The ears are a part of the vestibular system, consisting of three semi-circular canals, the eyes, and proprioceptors within every muscle of the body. To save on groans, I will shorten this explanation to this: these canals correlate to the spatial movements of pitch –up and down like nodding your head “yes”-, roll –side to side bringing ear to shoulder- and yaw –back and forth as in “no”- just as balancing an airplane or boat. These canals relay positional information via electrical impulses/frequencies to the brain. Now, for those who have the ability to see, balance data is largely dependent upon the information relayed by vision (50% +), and the proprioceptors allow your body to know where your joints and muscles are positioned and how they are moving without you looking at them.
Third: The Spinal Column
There are three muscles that span the entire vertebral column whose movement functions correspond to the three balance directions of the ears:
- Interspinalis- connecting spinous process to spinous process=Pitch
- Intertransversarrii -transverse process to transverse process = Roll
- Rotatores- transverse processes to spinous processes = Yaw
So What to do With this Information?
Now, we can get into the good stuff! The connection of the eyes to the suboccipitals is easy to detect; simply place your fingers just under the back of your skull, remain still, and move your eyeballs. You will immediately feel movement under your fingertips. Now, look in any direction with your eyes, and feel your head respond by turning the same direction. Suboccipitals detect which way your eyes go, and respond in kind with movement of the head, hence the adage “Where your eyes go your head will follow.”
Movement of the eyes places tension into the suboccipital group, which the brain reads along with data streaming in from the muscles and ears, and will organize the spinal column in line with the purpose of movements. In other words, when looking upward in Trikonasana, the head will “yaw” and the suboccipitals will relay the movement command down the spine, the muscles and ears send positional data to the brain which then organizes the spinal column to rotate/yaw, creating a twisting of the spine known in the pose as “open your chest.”
THEORETICAL APPLICATIONS for Yoga Practice
Understanding the Theoretical applications in movement of the suboccipitals in relation to drishti/eye movement can provide a valuable tool to help students move forward with their asana practice, especially those who have body parts that seem ‘stuck’ or are lacking a full range of motion. When engaging in asana practice turn your eyes in the direction the spine needs to move.
For example, in a seated twist, where the lower half of the body stays relatively solid while the student is twisting around, the teacher says to “Look behind you” meaning turn the head and eyes around. Often, students experience discomfort in the neck, shoulders, or even rejection of the movement in the upper spine between the blades. Keeping the head comfortably turned, activate further movement by using the eyeballs to look even further, breathing deeply, the torso should begin to subtly shift deeper into the twist. This takes practice and patience if it doesn’t happen right away.
This is only one more tool to deepen your practice. Use it wisely