Dassa adjusting yoga student

At the ropes last week, doing Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana at the rope wall, our teacher Dassa Oppenheimer pointed out that we could not ‘ find center and be still’ in the pose if our eyes were not in the correct position.  “The eyes have to find the exact point in the center of the eye socket where they float without tension.”

According to Dassa, if you move your eyes while doing yoga, you can “perform a pose but cannot be in a pose.”

To explain quickly: the eye position in yoga is very similar to the eye position in aikido (My husband Matt is an aikido master & we met twenty five years ago in Mitsunari Kanai Sensei’s Cambridge aikido class. In aikido you see everything but you do not see just one thing. You look through your opponent and peacefully observe everything in the environment, taking in as much to the right and left–and even behind–without moving the eyes, using a calm steady gaze.

The same eye position–in increasingly detailed refinement–holds true for  asana, particularly in shavasana, pranayama, pratahara and finally for meditation.  “I’ll teach you about the eye today,” Dassa said.

Here is what we learned about withdrawing the sense of sight, as  for entering pratyahara and beyond:

  1. Start in an upright, in  properly aligned seated position.  Lover the chin towards the sternum. Shoulder blades down. Turn the palms up,  “Never palms down!” Skin moving up the front of the torso.
  2. Extend the upper eyelid toward the lower eyelid, gently touching the upper lashes to the lower lashes.  Extend the eyelid skin from the eye brow to the lash rim. One long stretch of skin.
  3. Lift the brown slightly to release forehead tension and move the inside edges of the eyebrows away from the center of the bridge of the nose to release the tension that collects between the eyebrows. Move the skin from the center line of the forehead towards the temples. relax.
  4. Allow slight pressure to settle on the inner eye, near the bridge of the nose, as you roll the pupillae down. This movement won’t be relaxing, but it’s the first step.
  5. Now, keeping the pupil down, you slide the pupil towards the temple and outside corner of the eye.  Find a resting spot.
  6. Again check the extension of the upper lid. Extend the skin of the lid from the brow to the lashes. Release tension from forehead.
  7. Slightly lift the inside outer corner of the upper lid.  I like to think of it as lifting the edge of the outer eye where I flick up my eyeliner.  Meanwhile, your pupillae hasn’t moved from its downward gazing position. Once parked, it never moves.
  8. Now move the upper cheek bones away from the lower eyes, increasing the distance between the lower lid and the lower eye socket. This movement counters the tendency to squint and push the bottom lid up. The lower lid extends from the  cheekbone up to the lower lid eyelashes.
  9. Ok. Now go back and check the details. Upper eyelid extended from brow to upper eyelashes. Pupillae is still parked towards the outer eye while at the same time floating towards temple. Upper outer eyelid lifted.  Forehead relaxed.
  10. Practice the above until you get it.

The next step takes you a further into the interior Self via eye position, readying for meditation. Dassa says this next step is not necessary to practice since after a while the eyeball will automatically roll up when it is ready. “Don’t force,” she says.

Find the half moon of your upper boney eye socket. Allow the half moon of bone to widen, enlarge, and soften, creating slippery space at the edge of the entry into the interior self.  For me, it’s like getting ready to gently leap into warp speed. Think: special effects in sci-fi  movies, when gears shift and the spacecraft is sucked into the stars and opens up in the next realm of travel. Of course in meditation the leap is not as dramatic as in the movies because meditation is personal and not entertainment.

The eyeball: still, stable and with the pupillae down can now slip up behind the eye socket

After practicing the eyeposition, we did our shavasana.  It was the most beutiful shavasana transporting me far beyond the relaxation of my everyday shavasana. That’s becasue you had already entered pratyahara before you began,” Dassa said.