What’re You Looking At: Using visual meditation for stress relief

build concentration, reduce stressThe average American spends a full eight hours a day staring at various screens—whether they belong to TVs, computers, or mobile devices. And what are we seeing in those 8 hours? A lot of flickering, fleeting, ever-changing, stimulating, and ultimately draining images—just think of how tired your eyes are at the end of the day. While there is some benefit to all our screen time–we are often gaining information and in some cases, interaction with others–there is a way to use your eyes to nourish your capital-S Self. It takes only minutes, even seconds, and it can leave you feeling sharper, calmer, and more energized.

Yoga teaches the power of the gaze, known as drishti (rhymes with “squishy”) in Sanskrit, to focus our attention, help us get in to a more meditative state, and increase the power of our actions. Think of warrior II pose—if your eyes are flitting all around the room, it’s just a physical exercise. But if you’re gazing at the fingertips of your front hand, your energy hums and the pose becomes more alive and more empowering. Even if you’ve never been to yoga class in your life, you can test the power of your gaze very simply by standing up and balancing on one leg. Pretty easy if your eyes are open. But then close your eyes, and suddenly it feels like you’re on the bow of a ship in rough seas. Things get wobbly fast.

To start using your eyes to get centered, you don’t need to get all formal about it. Simply find something inspiring to look at and put it somewhere easy to see so that you can gaze at it whenever you’re feeling scattered. Look softly at it for a few breaths or a few minutes until you’re feeling calmer and/or more energized. Here are some ideas:

• Browse through magazines to find an image that inspires you—even if you can’t explain exactly why–and post it where you can see it. Or, take a photo of a view that helps you breathe easier. Then make your image the wallpaper on your phone or computer, tape it to your bathroom mirror, or put it in a frame that you place on your bedside table.

• Find an actual object that reminds you that everything is going to be all right, or represents something that’s dearly important to you and keep it on your desk, your kitchen counter, or in your purse. Here’s an example from Donna Farhi’s excellent book, Bringing Yoga to Life (which I can’t recommend highly enough—I had an a-ha moment on every other page): “I have a shell in my home that for me is evidence that there is indeed a God. This shell is so exquisitely shaped, so perfectly symmetrical, and so remarkably tiny—so beyond anything I could imagine creating myself—that when I doubt the existence of this center, I pick up my shell.”

• Write a phrase that reminds you to dream big and live courageously on several Post-It notes and stick them everywhere—on your computer monitor, on your bathroom mirror.

• Make it a practice to really look at anyone you have a conversation with. This way, practicing drishti doesn’t require any additional time, and you’ll have several opportunities to practice it throughout the day. You don’t want to stare at someone to the point that they feel uncomfortable. Just make it a point to give them your visual attention (and notice how it may change the quality of your interactions).

Although drishti is powerful, you don’t necessarily want to get too intense about it—staring at anything as if your eyes are going to pop right out of your head keeps you from being receptive to whatever your focal point has to offer you. When you are consciously looking at something for the purposes of centering yourself, you do want to be disciplined—no checking your watch, looking to see who just passed by the window, or darting looks around the room. You want to be looking at the object of your attention as if you were looking at someone you love. The muscles of your face stay relaxed, your gaze is soft, and you aren’t hardening your attention. You’re just looking, being curious, taking in information, yet staying focused. Think of it as visual meditation. If you’ve never done it before, it’s a bit challenging, but it gets more familiar and more manageable with practice.

So….what are YOU looking at?
Is there something in particular you look at when you need a spiritual shot in the arm? Share the focus of your drishti by leaving a comment, and if I publish it in the next Vegimtenal, I’ll send you a copy of Zen Life: An Open-at-Random Book of Guidance, a very cool book of Zen sayings that you use almost like a Magic 8 ball. If you have a question or just need a mental breather, you open the book to any page and read a saying or story from the Zen tradition that will have some nugget of applicable wisdom. I warn you, it’s kind of addicting!

Congrats to Sharon Chapman!
She tried accessing her Sea of Tranquility acupressure point, and she won a DVD of Enlighten Up!, a great documentary about what happens when a skeptic immerses himself in the world of yoga. Here’s her comment:

“The other night I went to bed and it sure wasn’t visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. My thoughts were all about deadlines and trying to meet schedules, a lot of what ifs–you get the picture. After an hour of lying there I thought about your Sea of Tranquility technique. I wasn’t sure I was doing it properly but I must have because I was out like a lamb for the entire night. Best sleep I have had in a long, long time.”

Take care and keep breathing,


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6 thoughts on “What’re You Looking At: Using visual meditation for stress relief

  1. I have placed an orchid and a water fountain on the credenza next to my desk. When I need “destressing” I look at them and I quickly become centered and calm.

  2. The birth beads that were made by my family at the “Blessingway” for my second pregnancy. They remind me of the strength and stillness required of life, of birth, of our daily practice. I see these every morning when I wake up next to the fruits of my second labor.

  3. I keep my 13-year old’s second grade picture on my desk. It can still bring me to tears: in this picture, she has the most open, optimistic ‘here I am world’ smile on her face! It always refocuses my spirit, reminds me of what’s important in my life, inspires me to be better.

  4. When I need to be lifted up I turn to the ocean – any pictures I have of my family at the beach or the background on my desktop. If I breath in deeply and slowly I can smell the salty air and feel the warm breeze on my face. I can hear the waves lapping on the warm sand and the sea birds off in the distance. Last summer when we went to our favorite beach for vacation, I went for a long walk by myself. At one point, I felt totally overcome with emotion – not sure what emotion – but I felt compelled to just lay on the warm sand with my arms spread wide and as the sun and sand warmed my body I began to cry like a baby. I layed there and cried for a long time and for no particular reason, but when I got back up and continued on my walk, I felt more at peace than I’d felt in a long time. As I walked back up the path to the cottage, I thanked the ocean for listening.

  5. Thanks Kate for the win. I was on a ferry last wek in 60 mile an hour winds. I just started breathing, breathing and more breathing! I arrived safely. Thank you dear lady.Sharon

  6. Hi Kate – I’m the friend of your dad and Carolyn that made the ribbon-tab blanket for Lillian. When I need a spiritual up-lift, I gaze at a tree outlined against a beautiful blue sky. Afternoon light shining on golden leaves in the fall are my favorite, but the ornate design of a tree with no leaves outlined against the sky is hard to beat, too. How can someone doubt the existence of a higher being when you can admire the beauty of nature that is all around us, and it’s free!

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