What do you do when your yoga teacher asks you to close your eyes in class? For many yoga beginners, closing your eyes is more challenging than it sounds. But closing your eyes in your yoga practice can bring about a huge change in your consciousness fairly quickly. In a beginner’s yoga class, you’ll often hear the teacher say, “Close your eyes and open your mind”. But what’s really going on here?
Eye focus, or drishti, is key in a yoga practice. Different types of yoga use different eye positions, and even within one practice, the eye focus will vary throughout the class. But for many yoga beginners, the first step to developing the capability to hold a drishti is learning to practice with the eyes closed.
A large proportion of mental activity is generated through the eyes. The eyes are constantly moving, looking for something to focus on and picking up random stimuli around you. The eye transmits information to the brain, where, to prevent us seeing the world as a rapid sequence of flash-images, a large amount of the information that’s taken in is immediately discarded. So even though we may not remember seeing the billions of images that pass through the eyes, the brain is constantly experiencing them.
As soon as the eyes close and are focused on a fixed point, you will begin to feel a shift in your thought patterns. To test it out, find a beautiful mantra that you enjoy listening to, such has Har Har Mukanday by Singh Kaur. First, sit and concentrate on the music, letting the eyes stay open. Then, after a couple minutes, close the eyes and see if your relationship to the mantra begins to change. You may find that your hearing becomes more acute. Resist the temptation to open the eyes and look around, even if you hear movement around you!
Another exercise you may want to try is to close the eyes the next time you find yourself confronted with a complex challenge or problem. Instead of allowing yourself to stress and worry, just sit down with the eyes closed. Begin to focus the mind on long deep breathing, just letting the eyes—and the brain—relax. If you find the mind racing back to your problem or you sense that your eyes are rapidly moving behind the eyelids, bring your focus back to the breath and to a fixed point, or drishti, behind the closed eyes. Shut off the distractions of the external visible world, and the problem-solving portions of your brain have a rest. A solution may pop right up, or if not, at least you may find some relief from the stress of worry.
There are a couple mantras I really enjoy listening to when I want to sit in peace with my eyes closed. Nirinjan Kaur’s version of Aap Sahaaee Hoaa on her Adhara CD is one of my favorites, as is Mirabai Ceiba’s Healing Ra Ma Da Sa, which can give you a full 31 minutes of quiet bliss. You may also want to try some guided meditations, such as Journey into Stillness by Ramdesh Kaur, and see how that feels. Experiment, and see what works best for you.
Once you develop the ability to sit with the eyes closed, begin to incorporate some movement. A fun way to practice moving with the eyes closed is to start doing gentle sun salutations. At first, especially if you are a yoga beginner, you may feel a little disoriented as you move through the postures with the eyes closed. But with practice, you will soon find that your relationship to the postures begins to change. You may find a greater awareness of how your body moves, and you might be able to tune more deeply into the breath.
As you cultivate this sense of confidence and self-awareness, you will probably find that your practice deepens and it’s easier to come into meditation. Try keeping a yoga journal and see how things shift within you. Enjoy the stillness. Remember, by closing the eyes we not just quiet the mind but we also open it.