Apr 242016

To Cover or Not to Cover in Massages – That is the Question!



  • The act of lying down (for massage) decreases Core Body Temperature, irrespective of the state of dress.
  • Covering with a sheet serves many purposes:
    1. It helps preserve body heat.
    2. It provides an isolated micro-climate.
    3. It provides a cocooning effect.
  • Warming extremities, esp. feet, leads to favorable DPG (Distal-to-Proximal-Skin-Temperature-Gradient ). This induces release of serotonergic ‘happy hormones’ from the brain and helps one relax. 

Covering a person acts by raising shell temperature through cutaneous warmth, thereby immediately stimulating brain serotonergic neurons which respond by optimizing serotonin levels which can positively affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function; it even has antidepressant-like effects. Also, it can make a person feel more secure by giving an isolated micro-climate and providing a physical cocoon. It also improves cognitive functions and can play a role in control of various  mood disorders.

To cover or not to cover in massages with a top-sheet?

During massage, the client may be partially or fully clothed depending on the type of massage. In a partially or fully disrobed massage, it is generally accepted that the client will be draped for modesty and warmth. But sometimes, new clients might not be very comfortable with the idea of taking off clothes, or keeping clothes on may be requested for cultural reasons. Is there any scientific reason or explanation why a fully-clothed client should be draped? Should the client be given a choice of draping with a top sheet irrespective of the client being partially or fully clothed?

Except where it is legally mandatory, this dilemma about draping does not belong to most of the western massages as oils or lotions are used in almost all of them. However, with increasing acceptance of Yoga and Ayurveda, more and more beneficial effects of Yoga/ Ayurvedic massages are being brought to light and different kinds of massages are being introduced to the Western consumer. Whereas oily massages have to be done while unclothed to an acceptable and required level of undress, non-oily massages do offer a choice to remain fully clothed. 

Some of the more commonly known non-oily massages, Thai-Yoga Massage for example, can be done fully clothed. But in Thai-Yoga massage, a client would go through passive movements, so, a top sheet won’t stay in place. So, loose clothes, a towel or a gown will have to be used. Marma massages, those done without oil, are also becoming better known in the west. In these massages, a client does not need to disrobe and would lie down passively all through the massage. As it is a subjective matter, the final decision should rest with the client, unless it is a legal requirement. Considering that litigation-happy clients do exist, and lop-sided legal systems do not help much to keep them in check either, absence of clarity on this subject might be dangerous for some poor, unsuspecting, calm and inwardly focused Yogi masseur!

Is the tendency to cover up people, even when fully clothed, a cultural matter? Is there any scientific reason to do this? We’ll examine that soon.

I have always held that Yoga is a science, but it is an experiential science. Modern science carries the advantage of being able to explain phenomena in clear, physically demonstrable, scientific terms. So, in the absence of any clear guidelines or explanations in Yoga/ Ayurveda circles, we can make use of modern scientific research for explanations. And to the discerning, curious, analysing, right-thinking, balanced mind, science does have a lot to say!


Roots of the answer to this question lie in observation of natural behavior of humans and animals. We often associate feeling warm with a sense of relaxation and well-being – lying on the beach in the midday sun on a Caribbean island, a few minutes in the sauna or spa after work, or sitting in a hot bath. It might come as a surprise to some that most of the people like to cover themselves while trying to sleep, even when they are fully clothed, or even when lying down just to relax! 


An Indigenous educator who once worked in the remote Australian outback reported that he had met an elder who said to him “I’ve been here since before blankets!” (before European settlers introduced cloth blankets) and he told him of digging a shallow depression in the ground to sleep in 14.

Digging a pit to take a nap is very commonly observed behaviour in animals also. Animals huddle together or dig a hole in the ground to take rest or to sleep. Snakes like to feel the walls of a hole around their body before they go to sleep.


Very interestingly, when given the opportunity, animals like to even cover themselves !

In a recent, very interesting experiment, chimpanzees in captivity were provided blankets as a part of enrichments. Out of all the enrichments provided, they chose blankets more than 50% of times during their resting hours! 

Another age-old practice also gives us some indication – infants, already fully clothed, are swaddled, or wrapped  in a snugly wrapped sheet or blanket, to help them sleep better. It’s a very common North American practice 13 – 9 out of 10 infants in North America are swaddled! 

The reason might be the cocooning effect of the close-fitting blanket which may mimic the mother’s womb and help soothe baby to sleep. This practice has existed for over 4000 years 13! Probably the most famous record of swaddling is found in the New Testament concerning the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:6–2:7: “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

In biblical times, cloth held tight by bandage-like strips was used to swaddle babies.

Interestingly, Australian Indigenous babies are often cradled in wooden bowls called coolamons 14 made from bark of trees. It is believed that swaddling, in addition to other benefits, allows infants to sleep better and longer.

 The recommendation of covering yourself with a blanket or sheet for meditation has been around from times immemorial.


Jesus meditating


 Different schools even insist on a particular color of the blanket, depending on the intent and emotion involved for meditation. Almost all of them instruct that the blanket used for meditation be treated  as sacred and an integral part of the process.

Some schools recommend covering yourself right from head to toes while sitting for meditation, or even for studying. Many experienced meditation teachers insist on placing a folded blanket at least over your shoulders during meditation. This is said to help one get into meditative state faster and deeper. This also depends on type of meditation technique being practiced. Similar concepts are followed in other different religions and cultures too, to the same or lesser extent, for similar activities.

Incidentally, without the almost 500 km thick blanket of atmosphere that the earth wears all the time, we won’t even be alive today!

While these observations leave no doubt that most normal humans, almost all infants, and even some animals, given the choice, like to cover themselves while resting or sleeping, the question is why do we like to cover ourselves while relaxing or sleeping?

The Science behind Draping

Relaxation and Sleep

Relaxation is one of the major aims and benefits of massages, though massages are used for other therapeutic reasons also. One of the most obvious and striking features of massages is how they help the client relax, uncoil and unwind; masseurs try to artificially create conditions which help the person unwind – calming music, low-lit room and draping are just a few of them.

In the eyes of Science, relaxation and sleep are a continuum of the same phenomenon – both depend on kicking in of parasympathetic nervous system. Studies of brainwave activity also suggest similarities in relaxation and sleep cycles 15, 16, 17, 18.

Brain-wave activity slows down and we slip from awake β-brain wave activity into α-brain waves as we relax or fall into light sleep, and then into θ-brain waves in our deeper sleep. Brain activity is reduced just by closing eyes. We keep switching between REM and NREM phases of sleep, and different stages of sleep, while we sleep, jumping from  α-brain waves to θ-brain waves multiple times, and sometimes going even deeper. One thing to keep in mind is that similar brain wave patterns are seen in light sleep and relaxation.

So, same principles apply to relaxation and sleep  15, 16, 17, 18. Anything which helps you relax better and faster, helps you get into sleep faster and better too, and vice versa. 

The Act of Lying Down

The act of lying down (from standing to supine position) decreases Core Body Temperature (CBT). It prepares the body for sleep. Skin temperature increases, and core temperature decreases, prior to and during sleep onset (Van Someren, 2004; van den Heuvel, et al., 1998; Gilbert et al., 2000). 

It’s due to your body’s thermoregulation pattern during sleep or relaxation 3, 4. Thermoregulation is controlled by hypothalamus in brain. It gets feedback from blood and through various sensors in skin and other organs.

Even in humans, body temperatures are never constant and keep changing (within a normal range) during day and night, with different environments and in different seasons. Temperatures of body’s core – thorax, head and abdomen, and, shell – appendages (arms and legs) along with skin and muscles, show diurnal and nocturnal variations – they vary over a 24 hr period. There is also a gradient between core and shell temperatures 8. When we lie down to relax or sleep, the heart rate slows down, breathing becomes more calm and deeper, metabolic rate comes down, blood vessels dilate and circulation to internal organs and peripheries improves – all under the effect of parasympathetic nervous system.


Covering – Creating Your Own World

It is a natural instinct in humans to cover when sleeping (or trying to relax) 1, 2, 3, 14.  Many studies have been done on the subject. In addition to covering for modesty, there is overwhelming scientific evidence which supports and explains why one feels more secure, comfortable and relaxed when covered. Fighting for covering sheets in childhood is an age-old cultural meme. Covering oneself while trying to sleep, or elicit relaxation response, is more in line with natural human behavior. To preserve heat, people would normally cover themselves with blankets to create a micro-climate of 34 °C (Muzet et al., 1984), which is much warmer than the normal environment for comfort when awake (28–30 °C for a nude person).

Being under a blanket also isolates one from the surrounding environment. Significant changes in ambient temperature while you sleep can be disruptive; being under a blanket creates an isolated micro-climate that varies less significantly with ambient temperature changes. So, creating that isolated micro-climate under your blanket helps you sleep better, undisturbed and longer. 

In addition to the issue of temperature, some people feel psychologically safer inside a physical cocoon while sleeping or relaxing. Perhaps, it is also reminiscent of experience in womb and during infancy! Covering with a sheet while trying to relax might immediately reconnect us to that experience at a subconscious level.

Heavy blankets additionally provide the Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation.

Distal to Proximal Skin Temperature Gradient (DPG) and Sleep Onset

Studies have shown that we actually tend to sleep better and longer with slightly lower shell temperatures than normal 2. So, the body may lose more heat during normal sleeping hours. According to one study 2,  decreasing shell temperature by even 0.4°C led to significant decrease in early waking or frequency of waking during the night, and more time was spent in deep sleep (stage 3 and 4). It has been seen that sleep (and therefore, relaxation!) happens in close relation to changes in body temperature 1, 2, 3, 14.

If lower shell temperature facilitates longer undisturbed sleep, then why do we use blankets? Blankets keep us warmer and should interfere with sleep, but actual observation is exactly opposite!

This is because warming the skin before sleep increases sleep propensity, or in other words, aids in onset of sleep. In preparation for sleep, core temperature drops and temperature of extremities goes up. This establishes a favorable Distal-to-Proximal-Skin-Temperature-Gradient (DPG). It has been clearly established through studies done on the onset of sleep 1. It helps elicit an early relaxation response. Measures that increase skin temperature may also help people fall asleep (Van Someren, 2004), as long as the high skin temperature does not evoke warm discomfort. Providing an isolated micro-environment also helps. Somewhat similar objective is also achieved in a hole, or a depression in ground, or a coolamon, albeit only partially.

Cutaneous Temperature Manipulation

Sleep onset, sleep depth and sleep consolidation can be manipulated through cutaneous temperature manipulation. Warming extremities by 0.2 to 0.4°C is sufficient to set up favorable DPG. This can be achieved through various measures, covering extremities being the simplest of all. Artificially warming the extremities (esp. feet) facilitates a favorable DPG and is especially important to accelerate sleep onset (Krauchi et al., 1999).

The theory of Social Thermoregulation works on the same principle – by raising shell temperature through cutaneous warmth 8. A striking feature of this type of thermoregulation is its social nature: across many species, fellow animals help to warm in times of danger, disease, and distress, because the net energy cost of thermoregulation decreases when it is done through bodily contact with others. 

More recent Human studies 6 indicate that increasing physical warmth activates brain circuits associated with cognitive and affective functions, promotes interpersonal warmth and prosocial behavior, and has antidepressant effects. Consistent with these effects, preclinical studies in rodents demonstrated that physical warmth activates brain serotonergic neurons implicated in antidepressant-like effects 7.

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Schematic diagram illustrating sensory discriminative, thermoregulatory and affective/social (shown in red) pathways mediating responses to warm cutaneous temperature 7.

Practical Applications of Cutaneous Temperature Manipulation

Studies suggest that social behavior can be manipulated through cutaneous warmth – increase in brain serotonin levels with optimized cutaneous warmth can positively affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function. Affective Warmth Hypothesis conceptualizes the embodied, multifaceted, brain-body physiology of well-being, and suggests that afferent signals from the body may contribute to cognitive and emotional states. This study also claims that activating warm thermosensory pathways promotes a sense of well-being and even has a therapeutic potential in the treatment of affective disorders and major depressive disorders (MDD) 7.

Better understanding about the mechanism of sleep and its thermoregulation also has the potential for use in treatment of narcolepsy (Fronczek R, Overeem S, Lammers GJ, van Dijk JG, Van Someren EJ, 2006).

This simple fact that increasing temperature of extremities by covering with a blanket increases sleep propensity is already being promoted for treatment of various disorders:

  • Anxiety and Stress
  • All Affective Disorders (Mood Disorders)
  • Multiple Depressive Disorders (MDD)
  • Narcolepsy, and more….

Invention/ evolution of various new gadgets is based on the same and similar concepts, like:

The use of these and many more similar gadgets is being promoted for an ever-growing list of diseases.

Is This a Cultural Issue?

Is this tendency to cover up a cultural issue? This message of this whole discussion is loud and clear – tendency to cover is a matter of basic human physiology! All we have discussed here applies to all humans, everywhere. This kind of behavior is exhibited by humans and animals alike and is readily explainable on the basis of normal human sleep physiology.

How it all applies to massages

  1. Lying down for massage decreases Core Body Temperature, irrespective of the state of dress.
  2. Covering with a sheet serves many purposes:
    1. It helps preserve body heat.
    2. It provides an isolated micro-climate.
    3. It provides a cocooning effect.
  3. Warming extremities, esp. feet, leads to favorable DPG. This induces release of ‘happy hormones’ from the brain and helps the client relax. Again, state of dress does not matter.

The same principles as discussed here, based on sound scientific explanations, can be applied when trying to induce a relaxation response –  covering up a person (esp. extremities), naked, partially or fully clothed with a blanket or top-sheet makes all the sense if your intention is to help the person relax. This claim is very well supported by instinctive, experiential, age-old practices, and substantiated by modern scientific studies which confirm a legitimate physiological basis for such normal human behavior. 

Rather, the opposite of this is not in line with normal human physiology, though it might be the personal preference or personal belief of some people modified by learned adaptive behavior or a result of complex psychological phenomena. As per the available scientific data, this kind of behavior does not conform to scientific documentation of normal human physiology of sleep and relaxation! If at all, this is likely to be exhibited only by a small minority.

In my personal experience, I am still to come across a person who ever objected to being covered by a top sheet for a massage, even when fully clothed.

Legal Perspective

Draping laws vary in North America. In USA, an increasing number of massage boards (most states in USA, e.g., Oregon, Illinois, New York, Washington etc.) have it as a legal requirement to drape the client; draping is considered ‘not optional‘ there, irrespective of the state of dress or undress. In some other US states, draping may be optional if agreed to by both – the client and the therapist, but the client has to sign additional consent for this.  

In Canada, the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick have established regulatory authorities (Colleges). Canadian Massage Therapy Alliance (CMTA) recommends providing non-transparent draping materials to the client, and arranging and securing draping so that only the part of the patient’s body that is being assessed or treated is exposed. Also, reasoning for removal of clothing and respect for the client’s right to decline the removal of certain or any clothing is to be explained. Use of sheets to cover themselves once they are in position for treatment should also be explained to the client. CMTO also gives directions for draping.

Carry home message for masseurs and their present and prospective clients

Drape a client, whether fully or partially clothed. Only the area to be treated should be exposed. If the client does not want to be covered, and the law of the land permits it, you may go with an undraped massage. Getting additional consent for that might be a good idea, especially if it is legally required. Massage is for the client’s benefit and (s)he has to be comfortable all through the massage. When the choice falls upon you, covering the client during massage – naked, partially or fully clothed, is always better.   

It just makes all the sense in the world! 


Here are some studies/ scientific articles which confirm various points related to thermoregulation in sleep (read relaxation):

  1. Cutaneous warming promotes sleep onset

  2. Skin deep: enhanced sleep depth by cutaneous temperature manipulation.
  3. Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm

  4. The Body’s Thermoregulation During Sleep
  5. Nighttime Enrichment Preferences of 3 Captive Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)
  6. Somatic influences on subjective well-being and affective disorders: the convergence of thermosensory and central serotonergic systems
  7. Somatic influences on subjective well-being and affective disorders

  8. A theory of social thermoregulation in human primates

Here are discussion groups/ blogs which confirm that most people tend to cover themselves in sleep, or look to cuddle themselves with a partner

9. Why do we feel a need to sleep with a blanket? Is it biological or cultural?

10. that-freakin-guy explains, why do humans have such a strong desire to sleep under a blanket or sheet even when it is hot?

11. Why We Sleep Together

12. Relaxation, Stress & Sleep

13. Swaddle your baby for a better, longer sleep

14. Why do people want to put on something like a blanket while sleeping?

Neurological data on brain-wave activity, relaxation and sleep:

15. Brainwaves Overview

16. Types and Stages Of Sleep

17. What is the function of the various brainwaves?

18. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep

Dr Jitender K Sahdev

Dr Jitender K Sahdev


President and Director of Teaching


p style=”text-align: center;”>Please contact us to learn more about Yoga and Ayurveda.     .

Nov 162015

Drishti – Focused Gaze in Yoga


Control of drishti, or gaze, has been taught in Yoga for thousands of years. On a simple level, drishti uses a specific gazing direction for the eyes to control attention. Focusing gaze helps in focusing mind. In every asana in yoga, students are taught to direct their gaze to one of nine specific points, but the full meaning of drishti isn’t limited to its value in asana. 

In Sanskrit, drishti means gaze; it can also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. The use of drishti in asana serves both as a training technique and as a metaphor for focusing consciousness toward a vision of oneness. Drishti organizes our perceptual apparatus to recognize and overcome the limits of ‘normal’ vision. One of the main purposes of yoga is to bring the consciousness to one point so that it isn’t constantly wandering from one thing to another. In every posture of the yoga series there is a drishti, or gaze, so that the mind remains focused and concentrated. A drishti encourages an inward looking attitude and discourages students from looking around the room or being distracted by non-yogic thoughts.

Incorporating drishtis into every posture is an advanced practice. Students usually master co-ordinated breath and movement (vinyasa) first and then gradually incorporate more bandha and drishti work into their practice. Sometimes in meditation and pranayama practices the eyes are held half-open and the gaze is turned up toward the third eye or the tip of the nose. In the Bhagavad Gita (VI.13), Krishna instructs Arjuna, “One should hold one’s body and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose.” When using the inner gaze, sometimes called Antaric Drishti, the eyelids are closed and the gaze is directed in and up toward the light of the third eye. As Iyengar says, “The closure of the eyes directs the sadhaka (practitioner) to meditate upon Him who is verily the eye of the eye… and the life of life.”

Throughout the history of yoga, clear, true perception has been both the practice and goal of yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, “You are not able to behold me with your own eyes; I give thee the divine eye, behold my Lordly yoga” (11.8). In Yoga Sutras, the classic exposition of yoga, Patanjali points out that in viewing the world, we tend not to see reality clearly, but instead get deluded by the error of false perception. This basic misidentification is called avidya (ignorance), and its counterpart, vidya, is our true identity. In Chapter II, verse 6, he says that we confuse the act of seeing with the true perceiver: purusha, the Self. He continues, in verse 17, to say that this confusion about the true relationship between the act of seeing, the object seen, and the identity of the Seer is the root cause of suffering. His cure for this suffering is to look correctly into the world around us.

Vipashyana or Vipassana

The correct use of tristhana – breath, bandha and drishti in yoga practice is said to bring us closer to reality and unleash the power of the five elements:

  • The element of earth is activated by moola bandha, producing foundation, stability and strength.
  • The element of water is found in the fluidity of flowing posture work, or vinyasa, and in the sweat produced by the practice.
  • The element of air is linked to by the continuous and uninterrupted flow of ujjayi breath in and out of the body and the feeling of lightness created by the application of bandhas.
  • The element of fire is found by connecting to the heat of the practice, particularly at manipura chakra and throughout the body.
  • The element of ether or space is found during the postures as students seek to open up the body and find new levels of stretch and flexibility.

Yoga brings about transformation on a physical, emotional, mental and energetic level. When the above elements are incorporated into a correct practice, the process of positive change starts. The positive transformation of the body and mind by yoga is seen as the fruit of practice and a reward for working with dedication and discipline at this demanding system of asana practice.

Drishti, or focused gaze, is a means for developing concentrated intention. It relates to the fifth limb of yoga (pratyahara) concerning sense withdrawal, as well as the sixth limb (dharana) relating to concentration.

Each yoga asana is associated with a particular dṛiṣhṭi. There are nine drishtis (when you count both Parshva Dṛiṣhṭis, left and right sides, as one). The practice of drishti develops concentration—and teaches you to see the world as it really is. 

Eyes are the doors which connect the inside mind to the outside world. If the eyes are totally fixed, the mind really stops; it cannot wander. The eyes are the most delicate. That is why they can be more tense than any other part, and with the eyes in tension, the whole mind is tense. The eyes are just doors to the mind. We are predominantly visual creatures. Where our eyes are directed, our attention follows. Our attention is the most valuable thing we have, and the visible world can be an addictive, over-stimulating, and spiritually debilitating lure. When we get caught up in the outer appearance of things, our prana (vitality) flows out and gets dissipated. Allowing the eyes to wander creates distractions that lead us further away from focus.

By controlling and directing the focus of eyes, and then of attention, we can control the focus of our mind.

Besides its use in asana, drishti is applied in other yogic practices. In the kriya of trataka, the eyes are held open until tears flow. This technique not only gives the eyes a wash but also challenges the student to practice overriding unconscious urges – in this case, the urge to blink.

Our eyes can only see objects in front of us that reflect the visible spectrum of light, but yogis seek to view an inner reality not normally visible. With practice, we become aware of how our brains let us see only what we want to see. Often our opinions, prejudices, and habits prevent us from seeing the reality. Drishti is a technique for seeing correctly the world around us. Used in this way, it becomes a technique for removing the ignorance that obscures this true vision, a technique that allows us to see oneness in everything.

Drishti types

Nine Types of Drishti


For Anguṣṭhamadhye drishṭi, meaning ‘to the middle of the thumb, the practitioner looks to the thumb.

Examples of asanas which employ Aṅguṣṭhamadhye as their dṛiṣhṭi can be found in the Surya Namaskara vinyasas.


The Bhrumadhye drishṭi, meaning ‘to the middle of the eyebrows/brow, has the gaze set at the ‘third eye’, which is right between the eyebrows. In order to do this, the eyes are closed half way. This purportedly stimulates the olfactory and optic nerves, consequently awakening the autonomic and central nervous systems. It soothes the cranial nerves and aids concentration, and helps awaken kundalini shakti.

It is advised that caution be taken as prolonged or incorrect practice may cause problems for the eye muscles or nervous system. Initial practice is often done for only seconds at a time, but is gradually increased.

An example of a vinyasa which includes the Bhrumadhye dṛiṣhṭi in its practice is Surya Namaskara.


The Nasagre drishṭi, meaning ‘to the tip of the nose’, has the eyes fixed on the tip of the nose. Purportedly strengthens the eye muscles.

Keep the body pose firm, in Padmasana if possible, and centre the gaze at the tip of the nose. In the later stages, it can be practised even with the closed eyes. The process of gazing at the tip of the nose without fluttering the eyelids, helps to achieve the concentration of the mind.

While learning it can be performed even for a minute or two at a stretch. Later, it may be practised for longer duration. 

This helps achieve the concentration of the brain fast and with ease.


The Hastagrahe drishti, generally meaning ‘the taking of the hand’ or ‘the putting of the hand to’, or (in the context of dṛiṣhṭi) ‘to the tips of the hand’, involves looking at the (usually extended) tips or palm of the hand.

Utthita Trikonasana, and its twisted partner Parivrtta Trikonasana are two examples of asanas which use Hastagraha dṛiṣhṭi.


Parshva drishti, involves looking to the left or right side.


Urdhva drishti has the eyes pointing upwards, to the sky.


The navel is the center of focus for the Nabhichakre drishti, meaning ‘to the (magical) navel-circle’.

Adho-Mukha-Shvanasana uses the Nabhichakre drishti.


Padayoragre drishti, meaning ‘to the tips of the feet’, is gazing to the toes.

Basis of Drishti

The source of drishtis in yoga is limbs 5 and 6 from the eight limbs of yoga. The 5th limb of yoga pratyahara concerns sense withdrawal. To avoid the delusion and suffering caused by preoccupation with sense objects as described in the Maitri Upanishad, sense withdrawal is practiced in order to help the practitioner become ‘centered’. According to tantric philosophy, keeping ‘centered’ madhya will eventually suspend the mind and prana, allowing recognition of bhairava, or device consciousness.

The sixth limb of yoga dharana (concentration), includes maintaining drishti during yoga practice in order to ensure dhyana (meditation) will occur.

Variation Between Styles

There may be differences between different styles regarding how drishti is practiced and which ones are used for specific asanas, however drishti is a primary part of Hatha Yoga, Gyana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga traditions.

In Practice

As with many Yogic techniques, with drishti there is a danger of mistaking the technique for the goal. Dedicate your use of the body (including the eyes) to transcend your identification with it. So when you look at an object during your practice, don’t focus on it with a hard gaze. Instead, use a soft gaze, looking through it toward a vision of cosmic unity. Soften your focus to send your attention beyond outer appearance to inner essence.

In general, practitioners should use the various bahya (external) gazing points during more externally oriented yoga practices, including asanas, kriyas (cleansing practices), seva (the service work of karma yoga), and bhakti (devotion); use the antaric (internal) gaze to enhance contemplative and meditative practices. If you find yourself closing the eyes during any practice and focusing on the dramas or perplexities of life instead of being able to maintain a neutral, detached focus, re-establish an outer gaze. On the other hand, if the outer gaze becomes a distraction to your concentration, perhaps an inner-directed correction is necessary.

Constant application of drishti develops ekagrata, single-pointed focus. When you restrict your visual focus to one point, your attention doesn’t wander from object to object. Moreover, it becomes much easier for you to notice the internal wanderings of your attention and maintain balance in mind as well as body.

Drishti Gives The True View

A Yogi uses a vision comprised of viveka (discrimination between ‘real view’ and ‘unreal, apparent view’) and vairagya (detachment from a mistaken identification with either the instrument of seeing or that which is seen). Charged with yogic vision, we see our true Self. As we gaze at others, we perceive our own form, which is Love itself. We see their suffering as our own; our heart is filled with compassion for the struggles of all the souls. The yogic gaze emerges from an intense desire to achieve the highest goal of unitive consciousness, rather than from egoistic motives that create separation, limitation, judgment, and suffering.

Like all yogic practices, drishti uses the gifts of a human body and mind as a starting place for connecting with our full potential. When we clear our vision of the veils of habits, opinions, ideas, and their false projections about what is real and what is false, we gaze beyond outer differences toward the absolute Truth of internal oneness.

To delve deeper into this important topic in Yoga, please check different courses at SAVY. 

 Jitender K Sahdev

Dr Jitender K Sahdev

President and Director of Teaching

Please contact us to learn more about Yoga. We would love to hear any suggestions or comments that you might have. Space is limited in courses and participation will be on a first-come-first-served basis. So, respond early to participate in this exciting, life-transforming Yoga experience. 


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