Art of balance & power of focus

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In a world full of noise and distractions, yoga brings balance, a sense of ease and focus. Yet, how is that state of ease created, maintained and mastered during the practice? In discussion with students who are learning the art of yoga and quite often…balancing poses, I hear, “I’m just not good at that pose, what am I doing wrong.” My response usually something like this: “First, you are not doing it “wrong,” you are learning how to approach the current situation and that situation is going to change the moment you step onto the mat. This is the “yoga,” seeing the imbalance, how the mind reacts, witnessing the frustration or the attachment to doing it “better.” Yet, there is no way out of the current practice of establishing a new level of awareness. We must keep coming back to the mat with a beginners mind, even as we progress. Every time you practice, the body, the mind, the moment may have different challenges. The question is: are you using the tools that you have available?” Drishti, Bhanda, and Pranayama. This is usually where I get a raised eyebrow or a puzzled look.

The art of balance in the body and in our lives is something we practice and employ every single day. Think about the time it takes an infant to learn how to walk (roughly a year or more).  Just imagine the power of your vision, the part of your instinct that measures the balance of each step, and as we develop that vision a deeper listening to our balance is observed through all of the senses. Consider what it takes for someone who is blind, walking through the world with a guide dog or cane. The human capacity to gauge balance and focus goes beyond the physical body, yet that is what most of us know well, the physical, so that is where we begin. We start with the eyes. It is really quite simple and can be easily employed with eyes open or closed. The effects of the posture and the experience with open eyes can be quite different that with eyes closed.
There are eight specific points used in Ashtanga Vinyasa to support the practitioner in coming into deeper states of one pointed concentration (dharana). Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, one of the founding fathers of yoga taught the Ashtanga Vinyasa method for over 60 years. The use of drishti is a simple and effective technique used with the eyes to control attention. For instance, in Extended Side Angle Pose - Parsvakonasana the gaze is towards the raised hand. In the version with the wrap, as seen below, the gaze continues to move upward. If the practitioner wanted to experience more of an internal practice, one could close the eyes here. This is a matter of doing what supports you on the mat with the least resistance. Drishti is used as a guideline, not a fixation or a means to create more stress. One can keep a wide focus and still experience a calm center. The intention of drishti is to keep the mind from wandering during practice.
These specific points are:
1. Nasagrai Drishti: gaze at the tip of the nose
2. Angusta Ma Dyai Drishti: gaze at the thumbs
3. Bhrumadhya: gaze at third eye (between eye brows)
4. Hastagrai Drishti: gaze at the hands (usually extended hand)
5. Parsva Drishti: gaze to side (left, right)
6. Urdhva Drishti: gaze upwards (sky)
7. Nabi Chakra Drishti: gaze at the navel
8. Padayoragrai: to the toes
As you continue to practice, drishti becomes a natural and useful tool for that specific posture. What’s most important aspect is that you allow the practice to unfold without straining.  There is a natural grace to our breath and when we follow it, the meditative and concentrated aspects of the practice naturally evolve. Enjoy the practice and surrender to the process! The art is in the unfolding.
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Kali Ray Torres