When most people think of yoga, they typically picture stretching the body in funny shapes and chanting OM in lotus pose. But as you may know, there is so much more to yoga than that. In our own practices, including the time we spend teaching kids, we can bring in the simple and effective practice of focusing the gaze for better mental focus and physical alignment. Drishti is the Sanskrit word for the point you gaze at as you hold a posture. In an adult yoga class, students are given instruction such as to gaze at their thumbs, gaze upward, or find a fixed point on the floor to gaze at. Drishti helps balance, supports good alignment and eliminates distraction.
Young yogis focus best if given a creative way to do it! In kids yoga, we bring in fun things like pom poms to give our drishti a little color. Here are some other ways to help our little yogis to focus mentally and physically:
Read Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle: This creative book uses an optical illusion to teach kids about color and focus. Read the book to your yogis and have them breathe as they focus on the dot in the middle of each animal.
Tell a story about explorers or scientists: Use magnifying glasses (real or imaginary) and pretend telescopes, microscopes, or binoculars (make some from cardboard tubes from toilet paper or paper towels, or a hand or two rolled up to be tube-shaped). Use standing or balance poses (CHAIR, TREE, AIRPLANE, BOAT) to tell your tale as kids pretend to explore things through cardboard scopes.
Freeze dance with a fun focus: Get a package of colored star or dot stickers. Stick them all around the room before class starts. Do a freeze dance, and when the music stops, call out which color to look at. Yogis find that color sticker and focus their gaze on it until the music comes back on. Prompt them to keep breathing as they freeze. A creative twist on this: use glow in the dark stars and have a freeze dance in a dark or dim room!
Pin the drishti on the yogi: This is what it sounds like: print out a drawing or picture of a yogi in a posture, or draw one yourself. Play the game as if playing Pin the tail on the Donkey, with or without a blindfold. Then allow yogis to stick a drishti on their own body (using a star or dot sticker as in the freeze dance above) and practice a few poses while gazing at their sticker drishti.
Play a game of yoga darts: What’s that?! Think of archer pose, and bring that same attitude of focus into WARRIOR 2. Post a target on the wall and point to the bullseye. Tell kids they will aim for that. Each yogi gets a turn to breathe in and out 3 times as they focus on the bullseye, pretend to draw their bow back, and throw a sticky splat toy at the target. Even if it only sticks for a second, kids can enjoy watching the moving toy as it makes its way down the wall.
Rocks. Remember pet rocks? Here is a chance to let kids have a special rock as their drishti as they practice. They can paint them or glue googly eyes on them (or you can paint them before class if there’s no time for kids to paint their own). Ask them to place their rock in particular spots to gaze at while practicing, or allow them to choose where to put their rock.
Pom poms. These little puff balls are a kids yoga favorite. Put one on the ground and gaze at it while in TREE pose; put one on your belly in TABLE pose and gaze at it; balance one on your front hand in WARRIOR 2 and bring your attention to it. Or let your little yogis choose where they place their pom pom. Alternatively, scatter them around the room and play a sort of Simon Says as you call out things such as, “Simon says do BUTTERFLY pose and gaze at a yellow pom pom!”
These are all imaginative ways to get kids to bring drishti into their practice, but what do you call it if you don’t want to use the word drishti? You can use words like ‘super yogi eyes,’ ‘magic microscope eyes,’ or ‘eagle eyes’ (or another animal that has good eyesight). Whatever seems to click with your group, be sure to remind them to breathe and relax as they hold their gaze on their drishti.