Eye Yoga (sutra 3.1)

Recently after teaching an office yoga class in DC one of the students asked me if I knew any exercises for the eyes.  He said he has a weak muscle in one of his eyes and it makes the balancing poses challenging for him.

Years ago I would have frozen and responded nervously.  Now I welcome these random questions that are completely beyond my scope of knowledge as a way to explore new yoga territory.  It’s these types of questions from my students that A) make me a yoga student forever, and B)  have literally opened my eyes to seeing and believing that yoga can be powerful medicine in helping to ease dis-EASE.  It’s not a “cure-all” but it can often be a positive step towards health and healing.

Our eyes are “on” almost 24/7, minus the time we sleep which for the average adult is only about 6 hours per night.   Swami Sivananda considered sight the most abused of the five senses.  Clearly this hasn’t changed.  We heavily rely on the eyes for simple things from driving, cooking and walking to the constant surfing of the internet or just dealing with ocean waves of life.

In my research to help my student, I came across some very simple eye exercises on Yoga Jounal’s site that require focus and concentration.  I also recalled yoga sutra 3.1 that defines dharana, which is Sanskrit for concentration.  Dharana is defined as the binding of the mind to one place, object or idea.  Another translation of sutra 3.1 states “Concentration (dharana) is holding the mind within a center of spiritual consciousness in the body, or fixing it on some divine form, either within the body or outside.”

In helping one practice dharana, some yogic text describe the practice of tradak which is often described as gazing at something without blinking.  Tradak is actually one of my daily morning practices my teacher Dharma Mittra gave me.  From experience, I can say it is harder than the instructions sound.  Just look at the object (a candle flame is what Dharma suggest) as long as you can without moving.  Try not to blink.  Try to become one with the object as you continue to steady your eyes on it.   After several minutes, close your eyes and mentally see the flame on the inside of your forehead.  It should be as if you took a picture of the flame and now you can see it clearly with your eyes closed.  Another practice of concentration is to close your eyes and visualize your heart beaming a ray of light.  Again, become one with this internal light that is shining straight from your heart.  See and feel it reaching out from within you to the universe around you.

Whatever object externally or internally you select, simply taking time to still the eyes can help still the mind.  The ancient yogis knew this (as written in The Yoga Sutras) thousands of years ago.  Clearly in today’s always “on” world, our blurry eyes are in dire need of some yoga too.  Who knew?  A special thanks to my student for guiding me to learn something new.

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