It is actually quite an interesting take on one’s yoga practice. The first time, I attended a class, I didn’t get it. (But to be honest, the first time I took the class, the teacher didn’t really stress the importance of having the eyes closed). I never made the connection. I wondered what’s the point and as you probably guessed, I peeked off and on then opened my eyes eventually and they stayed open. I was used to always having a specific spot to focus on (dristi).
It is easy to lay down or sit on the mat with eyes shut. Once, we started moving, that’s when it got harder. A lot harder! I found myself drifting off my mat a few times too. Easily done when your eyes are closed.
Once, I started actually learning about this “quiet wakefulness” approach to practice, the light bulbs for me turned on. I made the connection and my eyes stayed closed. With closed eyes, I could really tune inward, discover and play with the Pratyahara limb, and deeply explore my practice. Being able to truly inwardly practice is wonderful and I became more successful with my poses.
Curious?!? What’s the point?
1. Having your eyes closed really changes your yoga experience! Poses that you have regularly practiced (with eyes opened) with little effort are suddenly much more difficult. A big reason is due to our sense of sight contributing greatly towards our equilibrium as it constantly references the outer environment. However, with eyes closed, you don’t have the reference and so slight shifts and wobbliness are apparent and you might fall out of a pose. To make up for this, you might be tempted to open eyes, but if you don’t peek, you’ll find that the body taps into your muscles to keep you in your desired positions. Muscles work harder and you’ll definitely feel the difference. Additionally, you really need to be present in the moment.
2. You have to really tune into the instructor and actually listen “if” you aren’t peeking.
3. You’ll fine tune your ability to concentrate and focus. You’ll actually shift inward. You’ll remove obstacles of judgment and competition that often come when you see others on their yoga mats doing something you maybe can’t do. Our ego isn’t in charge.
Sight, is probably the most used sense out of our five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell). Closing the eyes allows the “other” senses to take over and grow strong. Ever wonder how a blind person gets around? It is because their brains are wired differently so that their other senses are well developed. Our bodies are very adaptive and rewiring can happen at anytime. Just ask someone who had an accident change their life.
It is relaxing and refreshing. Think about what you do when you take a relaxing break. Often, you close your eyes and rest.
Have you ever seen someone close their eyes as they attempt to remember something or answer a difficult question? Closing eyes removes distractions and improves the ability to recall. It taps into Pratyahara.
Giving this “QUIET WAKEFULNESS” a try.
1. Try rolling your mat out and practicing in a dark room. The dark room will encourage you not to see. Maybe tie a handkerchief around your eyes so you won’t be tempted to peek. (I had to use a handkerchief my first time and it made all the difference in reinforcing the importance of having closed eyes). During practice, use soft, lyric free, spa like ambient music to encourage slower movements.
2. Start practice either laying down or seated. It is easy to keep eyes closed when you aren’t moving. Use this time to center yourself with your breath and tune inward. Try deep diaphragmatic breaths verses Ujjayi breath. Diaphragmatic breathing is slower paced than the Ujjayi technique and as such you’ll be encouraged to move slower which is a must while the eyes are closed.
3. When you move, start with more grounded poses before the less grounded ones. An example would be modified crescent lunge over crescent lunge. When you become comfortable, try the less grounded pose options. The worst that will happen is you’ll loose your balance and come out of a pose. On the good side, your mat will be there for you.
So give it a try. Change it up. See what you discover about yourself.