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April 8, 2015 by Rishin Paonaskar 

If you haven't done this before, close your eyes and do a few sun salutations. If thats easy, close the eyes and try doing a crow pose or balancing on one leg in tree pose (assuming of course that you can do those poses with the eyes open anyway!). Now imagine doing an entire yoga practice with the eyes closed. Along with bandhas (energetic locks of core, pelvic floor and throat muscles) and breath, dhristi (gaze) is one of the three most powerful tools that most physical forms of yoga are built on yet is often taken for granted with eyes wandering all over the place in a class. I once taught yoga while blindfolded during a teacher training exercise. Another time, I taught a sunset rooftop class where the second half of the class was in almost pitch darkness and so challenging to teach. These experiences made me wonder what it might be like for someone who has no visual perspective or even any visual memory of a pose to practice in a yoga class. At the other end of the visual spectrum, as yogis in the West, we are bombarded with ego boosting Instagram and yoga magazine images of yogis striking stunning poses and whilst there is inspiration to be taken from these images, most people including myself are so obsessed with glamorous poses (I work on handstands everyday), what a pose should look like (looking at pictures to see if I can improve my alignment and symmetry in a posture) or how someone else looks in a pose (jealousy that I can't get my feet as close to my head in my forearm stand as someone else can) that we often forget that the purpose of yoga is not to feed our ego but to quieten it. Back in September, I attended a community class at the Lululemon showroom in Marylebone being taught by Gemma Soul and was struck by the clarity and precision of her instructions. I chatted to her after the class and she mentioned that she taught yoga for employees of the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) where a number of participants in her sessions were visually impaired and she offered me the opportunity to assist her classes. I've been assisting Gemma's classes at RNIB for the past six months and on a couple of occasions have even had the privilege of teaching her classes when she has been away and the experience has been incredibly enriching. Sometimes the guys in the class balance on one leg, transition into bird of paradise or lift into crow and other times they don't but either way, they don't care about what the pose looks like, compare their pose to anyone else's pose or beat themselves up over not being able to do it on a particular day. The simple joy with which the participants at RNIB practice yoga epitomises the principle of aparigraha (non-attachment and one of the abstentions that makes up the first of the eight limbs of yoga ) more clearly than thousands of hours of yoga practice has done for me. I find this to be so humbling and it is truly refreshing to witness the guys in these classes flow through class without any attachment to the results. Now if only I could take that same sense of non-attachment into my own practice I'd be a much happier yogi! Gemma is running the London Marathon this month and you can support RNIB by donating at her fundraising page She is also organising a ride and yoga event at Psycle on the 12th of April at 3pm details of which are on the Psycle website