Art in Action: 6 Eye Awareness Practices for Body, Mind & Heart

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

We use our eyes from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, so it’s easy to forget about them (until they stop working!). By intentionally using our gaze, we have clearer access to our internal experience — undoubtedly helpful in all circumstances but is a big reason for using a gazing point or drishti in yoga. Even beyond this, though, are many big benefits — for body, mind, emotions and relationships — in bringing awareness to how we use our eyes.

1. Balanced Body – Resting the gaze is particularly helpful when looking for physical balance. Experiment with standing on one foot and look around the room. Then stand on one foot and gaze at an unmoving object. BONUS: Give your balance extra challenge by standing on one foot with one eye closed or both eyes closed!

2. Brain Challenge – Play with breaking brain habits by moving your eyes. For example, turn your head left but slide your eyes right and vice versa. Tilt your head up but look down and then the other way. In yoga, challenge yourself to use a different gaze or drishti, just to see what happens. In Nia, instead of following your hand with your eyes, look away from your hand. If it feels awkward and messes you up…perfect! BONUS: The Feldenkrais Method engages the eyes in most exercises with the philosophy that the whole system needs to be included to change movement patterns. You can read more and play with some exercises here.

3. Settled Mind – The eyes can help bring balance to the mind. In unfamiliar or uncomfortable circumstances, the eyes will often dart and flit around in a counter-productive effort to gather information. If you’re feeling rattled, let your eyes soften on something that is unmoving and let them relax. BONUS: Sit in meditation and experiment with eyes closed and eyes softly resting on an unmoving object. See what feels best to you given your energy levels (for example, if you’re sleepy, see if eyes open and softly gazing works better; stressed out? See if closed eyes feel better.).

4. Stay alert – Ever notice yourself walking with narrow attention and your eyes on the ground? Experiment with walking with your eyes broadening your view – noticing the details of what and who is around you. You can also do this in the car if you find your attention narrowing down, by looking through the whole wind shield and using all your mirrors (even the side mirror on the passenger side!).

5. Conversational Support – Play with how you use your eyes in a conversation. We all have habits about where we look when we’re talking to someone, so start by noticing what you do. (I notice that my eyes often start on the person and then lift up and look away.) Then use your eyes with intention in conversation. Different people have different tolerances for connection. For some people, the best way to connect is having a conversation when we are not looking at each other (in the car, cooking together, doing a puzzle or a project) and for others, the best connection happens when we are looking directly into each other’s eyes. Notice what you do and what offers the best communication (and that might NOT be what feels easiest).

6. Connected Heart – Eye gazing is a deep way of connecting to yourself and to another. Simply relaxing and gazing into either your own eyes in a mirror or another’s eyes (I find it works well to gaze at one of my partner’s eyes to avoid the back and forth flitting) can be a transformative practice. Gazing softly for 5-10 minutes can allow us to see beyond the surface of roles and images and expectations. You can find out more about eye gazing here.

And remember that even if all you do this week is appreciate your eyes and all they allow you to do, that’s a powerful practice!

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