While pranayama is generally practiced with the eyes closed, in most forms of Hatha Yoga asanas are practiced with eyes open. The eyes have an important part to play in the proper performance of any asanas. Correct use of the eyes is achieved through the technique of gazes - drishtis.
The drishtis refer to nine points or directions in which the practitioner directs his or her eyes while practicing the postures.
• the tip of the nose
• toward the center of the forehead (third eye)
• toward the navel
• toward the hand
• toward the toes
• far around to the left and the right side
• toward the thumb
• upward toward the sky
Every postures has a corresponding drishti. The use of drishtis helps to develop awareness. By focusing the gaze, drishtis draw the mind in the proper direction for the particular asana that is being performed. This builds concentration and, ultimately, helps control the mind.
The simple act of looking in a particular direction allows our energy to be focused in this particular direction. Wandering eyes distract the mind from the mind – body – spirit union that takes place during yoga practice. The single – pointed focus of the eyes helps increase mindfulness and encourages the internal focusing of the attention, rather than an external wandering. By using a particular drishti, it is possible to gain an internal focus and calm, while still allowing the eyes to remain open. In this respect, a posture’s drishti is essential to the understanding of the asana itself, for without its respective drishti, a posture cannot be complete.
The drishti also contain an anatomical aspect. For example, we gaze at the toes in most seated forward bend. This encourages us to lengthen the front of the body more than we would if we were looking to our navel, which would tend to cause a rounding of the back. The gaze should remain soft and light, as detached, or as if you were looking through the object of you gaze. The action of gazing must not be an imposition from the mind to the eyes, for drishtis are meant to help release tension, not to create it.