We've looked at pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses to focus on the internal experience (read the post
here). The next step for developing focus is learning to concentrate with single-pointed attention (dharana). One way to develop this skill is with drishti, the direction of your gaze. By targeting your gaze toward an object, you anchor your mind, preventing the drifting back and forth that characterizes much mental activity over the day. With your gaze and mind completely focused on one object, you sharpen your mental skills.
You may have used drishti in balance poses on your mat, riveting your gaze to an unmoving object to gain steadiness.
If you have practiced Ashtanga Yoga, you'll be familiar with the directions for focus in each of the poses. Drishti is an important tool in stilling the fluctuations of the mind. When the eyes cast about, it's tough for the mind to be still. Resting the gaze on one point enables us to slow down our minds for presence on the mat.
You can also use drishti to develop focus in your active life.
Running Running over trails, you must set your gaze a few feet ahead of you, to keep foot placement stable. (The same anticipatory forward gaze applies in skiing.) On the track, where you don't need to worry about foot placement, you might link your gaze to the runner in front of you, or to the finish line.
Cycling Focus your gaze tochoose a good line. Your bike will go where you look, don't focus on obstacles like potholes but instead look forward and out of turns and traffic.
Swimming Pool swimmers know drishti well, staring at the line on the bottom of the lane for hours each week. Focus is also important in open-water swimming, where cloudy water can limit your gaze, and where your sighting breaths require the skill to take a quick glance at an object, then keep your mind's eye focused on it to ensure you are swimming the most direct line.
Climbing Use drishti to choose a good route. Your gaze can serve to support your anchor to the wall. Newbies: don't look down!
Ball sports In ball sports, you focus your gaze on the ball as you receive it--and where you want it to go as you release it. When setting up a free throw, for example, your gaze is focused on just where you want to place the ball, to the exclusion of everything else (no matter how the opposing fans act behind the basket!). In tennis, you watch the ball as it goes over the net and as it comes back.
On the mat, the trail, the field, or the court, when your gaze or attention wander, gently bring them back into focus. Sharpen your ability to focus exclusively where you need to, and you'll have learned to control your mind in ways that can improve both your sport and your yoga experience.