Last weekend, I lost one of my contact lenses. This is a serious problem for me, because I am functionally blind without contacts or glasses. The only pair of glasses I own has a very old prescription, so wearing them for more than thirty minutes or so gives me a raging headache. As I wait for my special order contacts to come in, I’ve been practicing yoga in a visual haze. I can make out people and colors and shapes, but I really can’t see anything the teacher is doing or demonstrating. My sense of space is also wonky, so I can’t rely on my eyesight for balance or stability. Much to my surprise, I’ve found that I actually enjoy this way of practicing. In fact, I’m thinking about continuing to practice like this, even after I get my new contacts in.
To be more precise, it’s not the feeling of disorientation that I like, but the experience of doing yoga from a new and unusual perspective. If you’ve ever done your Sun Salutations with your eyes closed, you’ll know something of what I’m talking about. By closing your eyes, you remove one of the main stimuli from your yoga experience — visual information about your surroundings — and this can open up the door to a more inward, feeling-based practice. I don’t mean a practice driven by emotion, but one that stems from how the poses feel in your body.
I practice at a studio that’s filled with mirrors, so when the teacher gives an instruction like “lengthen your sides in triangle,” I often find myself checking my alignment in the mirror. This can certainly be helpful at times, but it also encourages me to always think of poses in terms of what they look like. This emphasis on the outward appearance of a pose is not always a good thing, and can even be a hindrance. Sometimes, it’s more helpful to just feel what the pose is like when you correctly “lengthen your sides in triangle,” instead of visually inspecting this in a mirror.
While I don’t recommend that people visually impair themselves in their yoga practices, I do think it can be useful to literally change your perspective in other ways. Most people depend heavily on their sense of sight, so it can be very jarring when some visual aspect of our practice changes. But this can be a good thing, too, especially if it can help you to experience and approach your practice in a new and perhaps beneficial way.
Besides losing your contact lenses, here are a few other ideas for changing the way you see things in yoga:
- Change the spot where you normally practice. If you normally practice front and center, try setting up your mat way in the back of the room. Or if you’re shy and always take the spot furthest from the teacher, see what it’s like to be right up front.
- Practice without the mirror. Mirrors can be very useful. But they can also become a crutch. If you practice at a studio with a mirror, try setting up in a spot where you can’t actually see yourself. Or maybe try a studio that doesn’t have mirrors at all.
- Practice with a mirror. If you don’t practice in a mirrored studio, consider trying one out. Most people are surprised when actually they see themselves doing yoga for the first time. A simple visual check can do wonders to correct bad yoga habits and poor form.
- Close your eyes. Try doing some, or even all, of your practice with your eyes closed. When you do this, something as simple as a Sun Salutation can turn into a whole new adventure.
- Practice drishti. This is perhaps what all the talk of perspective and focus is leading up to. In many schools of yoga, you’re eventually supposed to get to a place in your practice where your focus in each asana is directed by drishti – concentrated gaze. At first, the practice of drishti will be primarly about where you’re looking with your eyes. But this practice evolves over time, until it’s more about your attention, intention, mental focus, and the overall direction of your consciousness.