I told my yoga teacher this morning that I hurt my neck and might be moving a bit more slowly than usual. She said something that probably changed my life forever: “Neck pain is a vata disorder (**nevermind the Sanskrit, the rest of this will make sense**). It is basically a result of fear. Don’t focus on specific neck alignment, just create a lot of space between your shoulders and your ears and trust that you’re held by the universe. Open to grace.”
So then I went skiing. It was windy (vata deranging) and cold (more vata) and I had forgotten my phone so couldn’t call my ski buddy (v-a-t-a). After three runs, I was riding the chair up alone. I said to myself, “I’m analyzing my every movement and I feel really stiff and stuck and I’m not having very much fun and there’s nobody here to help me. Maybe I’ll try the neck thing and trust that I’m held by the universe and I am safe, in other words, just SKI!” I got off the chair, leaned down to buckle my boots, and somebody sprayed me with quite an adept hockey stop. It was my friend Shane. He is a beautiful, graceful, and confident skier. I love to ski with him because he’s way faster than me so he’s usually ahead of me and I can watch him. I do this with all good skiers. I ski behind them and emulate their total movements, not the small details, but the fluid, dancey slither of their tracks down the mountain.
In Sanskrit, this is a lot like drishti, which means something like ‘point of focus.’ If your point of focus is too small and hard and tight, you can’t always see the thing that’s keeping you stuck and causing you pain. If your focus is small, hard, and tight, you also feel small, hard, and tight. Lifting your eye gaze (your drishti) to the horizon or expanding your eye gaze laterally, like how a bird of prey sees, creates more vastness, openness, and expansiveness.
On the flipside, when one begins to feel ungrounded, crazed, dizzy, and scattered, honing in on a small detail will help to calm the nervous system. This is why when you’re trying to balance in a hard yoga pose, the teacher will tell you to look at the floor close to you. The further away that your gaze wanders, the less stability you will feel. Once your legs and arms and torso get solid and grounded, you can start to play with your eagle vision, your expansive drishti.
So, expansive drishti helps relieve the frustrated, bound-up, agitated feeling of not being able to do something the “right” way. Drishti-expanding exercises include looking up to the horizon, closing your eyes and using your ears to sense the furthest away sounds as you can (kind of like an auditory drishti), imagining you can see the entire 360 degree circle of the room you’re in, and watching the “wholeness” of a movement (like a smooth skier gliding down the mountain or an entire flock of birds changing formation).
Drishti-calming exercises bring frenzy to a still point. Some examples: gently gazing at the flicker of a candle flame, breathing slowly through your nose and noticing that the air going in feels cool and the air going out feels warm (your sweet body warmed it up!), or closing your eyes and watching the glow of the tiny little sun in the middle of your chest.