Pillars of Power Yoga | First Drishti
There are five pillars of power yoga. If you are fortunate enough to experience a Baptiste power yoga practice, you will experience something magical. The magic of Baptiste power yoga is a result, in part, of the practice of five specific pillars. Each of the pillars create support in the asana practice (yoga postures) and cause students to experience their own power and transformation. Even greater, these pillars also serve to create power off the mat!
I recently completed the Pillars of Power Yoga course with Leah Cullis, an inspiring Baptiste power yoga teacher. The course re-ignited my passion for Baptiste power yoga and inspired me to share the magic of the pillars of power yoga with my students. Take a day, a week, or more to focus on just one pillar. As you add the other pillars into your practice and your life, you will gain power and realise the effects.
The five pillars of power yoga are as follows:
- Drishti (gaze): What do you focus on?
- Ujayi (breath): What is your life force?
- Foundation (hands, feet, core): What supports you?
- Tapas (heat): What cleanses you?
- Vinyasa (flow): What moves you?
Drishti is the sanskrit word for focus. When I roll out my mat or teach a yoga class, I aim to set a theme or a focus for the session. You might also call this the intention of the class. In my experience, a clear intention can cause the difference between a good practice and a transformative practice. With a clear intention or focus, I am more present in the practice and able to bring the effects of the practice into my daily life. For example, I can do all of the postures in Journey Into Power (the Baptiste power yoga sequence) and my body will feel great because the sequence tends to do that. And, if I set an intention, for example, to bring ease into my practice, my body will feel great. And there will be more. During the practice that I focus on ease, I embody ease. My body experiences the sensations of relaxing my jaw and shoulders while in a strong warrior pose. I feel the soft flow of my breath even when the transitions are difficult. What does this mean when I step off my mat? It means that when I face difficult conversations or struggle to complete a project, I can bring ease into the situation. My intention on the mat follows me off the mat. What is your intention for your next practice?
While on the yoga mat, the practice of drishti calls us to keep our eyes focused on just one point. For example, in downward facing dog, I place my drishti on the back of my mat, just between my ankles. When I am in a standing pose, I focus my vision on a single point in front of me that is not moving. It is challenging to maintain my drishti on one specific place in each pose, and it is extremely powerful when it is done. A steady drishti helps to steady your energy. Looking at one spot on the back of my mat during downward facing dog keeps my mind and physical body on the mat and in the pose I am doing. When I let my eyes wander around the room or even my own mat, my energy tends to scatter. My pose becomes less powerful and I become less present to what I am doing and more present to the thoughts and stories that run through my head.
During a challenging balancing posture such as standing leg raise, I find more ease and steadiness in my centerline when I look at just one spot in front of me. When you bring your vision to just one specific spot (choose one that is not moving), your attention settles on one thing. When you slow down the movement of your eyes and allow them to see just one thing, the rest of your body follows suit. Vision is one of the major senses and when you settle your vision, the rest of your nervous system gets input to settle into what is going on in the present moment. In standing leg raise there is a lot going on and if I let my eyes look around the room, my thoughts generally begin to go outside the room. I might even fall out of the pose and get into struggle mode to regain my balance. This is the moment to reset my dristhi and get back into the pose. I will not promise that setting a dristhi will prevent you from ever falling out of the pose. If your dristhi is clear, however, you will be able to come back to the pose without the struggle, without the wasted energy.
Practice now! Choose your favourite one legged standing pose (or just stand on one leg) and look all around the room. Observe the movements in the rest of your body. Notice where you mind wanders. Go back to tadasana (standing on both feet like a powerful mountain) and bring your focus to one spot that is not moving. Slowly come into your balancing pose or lift one leg. Keep your eyes steady on one spot. If you fall out of the pose, bring your focus back to your one spot and come right back into the pose. Observe the movements in your body and also how you respond to the movements. Is there more balance, ease, support, or peace when you have your drishti set?
My favourite thing about Baptiste power yoga is that what we do on the mat is intended to have an impact in our lives off the mat. When I have a focused intention and set my vision on one thing, I am more powerful in my practice. And this is the same in my life. I am eager to make many things happen in my life and the truth is all those things can happen and they likely will not happen all at once. Setting your dristhi is like setting a goal in life. What do you want to make happen in your life right now. Bring your focus and energy to it.
Practice now! Write down what you want to make happen in your life in the following areas: 1. Family/relationships; 2. Career; 3. Health 4. Yoga practice 5. Other hobbies and interests.
Once you have your dristhi set in each area of your life, keep your energy on that goal. Where your mind goes energy flows. What you put your focus on will expand. For example, if you have a goal to complete a 5k, you have decided what you want to make happen. You then set up practices to reach this goal such as running (or walking) several times a week. The important part is to keep your focus. There will be days when staying in bed or sitting on the couch seem like better alternatives than running. And if you bring your attention back to your dristhi, you will run if you really want to make the 5K happen. And soon the practices that support your goal infiltrate your life. Perhaps you declare to your friends and family that you will complete a 5K. You find your own conversations supporting what you are up to. You might see changes in your diet because with your focused energy, you are reminded how an extra glass of wine may effect your run the next day. And it all comes back to your dristhi.
When I first moved to Singapore, I set my focus on teaching yoga and creating a schedule for myself that will allow me to practice yoga, connect with friends and family, travel, and be energised to teach yoga. I sometimes lose my dristhi and do not get enough sleep. When I teach with less sleep, my energy is low. And since I know my focus is to care for myself so that I can better serve my students, I make a choice to refocus and skip Netflix that night.
While I am a firm believer that setting your drishti is extremely powerful, be willing to soften your dristhi. Sometimes life throws us a curveball and it is easier to respond if you see the periphery. While I am focused on a teaching schedule that works for me, there are also times I take on more. If I was rigid and said my schedule is set and I will not change it, I may miss out on some opportunities that will light me up and ultimately fuel my goal of teaching yoga with energy left for my own practice, relationships and travel! In fact, some of these opportunities are what allow me to travel. When you practice setting your drishti on your yoga mat avoid a hard rigid stare at that one spot. Instead soften the muscles around your eyes and let yourself see the spot AND be aware of what is in your peripheral vision. It is a constant practice to find the right balance. If you see too much periphery, your energy will get scattered around the room and you may loose presence to your posture. And if you get so fixated on just one specific spot, you may also loose presence to what is actually happening both in your body and the surrounding space. When you are on your yoga mat, explore with different dristhtis. For example, instead of looking at the back of your mat in downward facing dog, look at your own thighs or up at your navel. Be willing to let your dristhi change in order to serve your greatest self.
Earlier I asked you what your intention will be for your next practice? Consider setting an intention to choose a physical spot in each pose to bring your dristhi to. Since you are human (and not a yoga robot), you will likely lose your drishti or even begin to forget about it. And if you have your intention set, you will likely be brought back to the idea of drishti at some point in the practice. Congratulate yourself for recognising when you lost sight of your goal and jump right back in. As Baron Baptiste often says "The Whole is the Goal". Keep your focus on what you want to make happen and consider that the journey to that goal (including the unexpected curve balls) is the whole.
Trish Corley is a Baptiste certified yoga teacher and a licensed doctor of physical therapy.
Trish leads several Baptiste inspired and anatomy related workshops and yoga teacher trainings.