On the Challenges of Sightlessness


At yoga class today, our teacher Editha had us practice the first half of the ashtanga primary series with our eyes closed.

On the one hand, practicing yoga this way is consistent with many of the discipline’s intentions. It strengthens one’s sense of proprioception (our ability to perceive movement and spatial orientation based on stimuli provided by the body itself); it trains one to fully surrender to a teacher’s instructions; it provides an opportunity to trust the body’s innate ability and mastery; and it facilitates the inward reorientation of one’s focus.

On the other hand, it’s very rarely done. Many of the instructions given in yoga rely on visual perception: the alignment of feet, toes, heels, arms, hands, fingers, wrists, thighs, knees and legs are often confirmed by the sense of sight, and the gaze itself is a tool for facilitating the meditative aspects of the practice.

So today’s practice was a revelation in many ways. A few of the things I discovered: (1) my body is far more intelligent than I give it credit for (I was far more balanced and coordinated without my eyesight than I anticipated); (2) I obsess about how I look even when other people can’t look at me (I was endlessly ensuring I was staying in the middle of my mat by furtively fidgeting around with my toes); (3) when all else fails, I can always trust the solidity of the ground beneath my feet.

And one more thing Editha said: the eyes facilitate the process of judging. Shut them and the reflexive act of calculation (Am I doing this right? Are they doing this right?) gives way to the deliberate task of surrender (I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m going to do it anyway). Which is why, I suppose, blindness and faith are often said to go hand in hand, although blindness in this context is often taken as the folly of ignorance rather than the courage of trust.

So the next time I practice, I think I’ll take a blindfold—and “see” how that goes.

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