Trataka – Yogic Gazing
Trataka improves eyesight and develops concentration and memory. It also helps pacify nervous disorders, anxiety and insomnia.
Trataka is a powerful form of meditation, which is practiced in both Hatha and Raja yoga. In Hatha yoga, Trataka is performed as one of the shatkarmas, the six cleansing and purification actions. In Raja yoga, it is practiced as a mudra or yogic gesture.
The Sanskrit word Trataka means “to Gaze” and this form of meditation has been practiced in multiple cultures and religious systems worldwide. Variations of Trataka have been found in Christian, Sufi and Shamanic traditions.
The mind’s potential
The mind has great inherent power. A potential which is quickly dissipated on account of our diverse thoughts. However, we can consolidate our mental power if we are able to ignore our lower priority desires, focusing solely on our true purpose – whatever this may be.
There are two ways the mind is able to concentrate. We either forcibly control the mind, keeping all distractions at bay. Or the mind automatically concentrates on something it is attracted to. The later is the much simpler.
An Introduction to Trataka
In the practice of Trataka, we select an object which attracts the mind. This can be anything from a flower to the moon, the rising sun or the flame of a candle.
Of all the objects, the flame of a candle is generally considered the most suitable for beginners. A candle flame in a dark room attracts the eyes. Its brilliance also leaves a significant afterimage which aids the practice of internal trataka.
When using a candle, Trataka should be practiced in a dark room, so the mind can focus solely on the brilliance of the candle flame. Any doors and windows must be shut, to ensure there is no draught. This will make the flame steady, as Trataka cannot be performed on a flickering flame.
The Benefits of Trataka
Mentally, the practice of Trataka significantly develops concentration and memory. It also leads the practitioner towards the state of dhyana or meditation. It helps pacify nervous disorders, anxiety and insomnia. Physically, Trataka strengthens the ocular muscles and improves eyesight. Internal and External Trataka is also said to help activate certain dormant centres in the brain.
Internal and External Trataka
Trataka can be both external as well as internal. However, in the beginning stages, external Trataka is recommended as it is easier for the untrained mind.
In External Trataka, an object is placed in front of the eyes. The practitioner gazes at the object steadily without blinking for a few minutes, until tears are formed. The mind is fixed on the object, with absolute and unwavering attention. Trataka takes some practice, but with time, great concentration and mental control is developed.
Internal Trataka can be either practiced straight after external trataka or by itself. In the beginning stages, internal Trataka is practiced straight after external Trataka.
Timings for the practice of Trataka
The best time to practice Trataka is usually at Brahma Muhurta, or at night before going to sleep. Lighting depends on the object selected. A candle flame requires absolute darkness, whereas a spot on paper requires brightness.
The Practice of Internal and External Trataka
Stage 1: Preparation for Trataka
Sit in a comfortable meditative asana.
Place a candle flame at eye-level an arm’s length in front of your eyes. This distance should be comfortable to your vision, and as such may vary slightly.
Light the candle and close your eyes.
Keeping the eyes closed, focus on the breath for a few moments until a state of complete relaxation is achieved.
Stage 2: External Trataka
Open your eyes wide and gaze attentively at the candle wick. Fix your eyes at the tip of the wick without blinking. Try to consciously relax the ocular muscles during the practice without losing focus of the candlewick.
Focus completely on the candle. Your mind should become so fixed in the eyes, that awareness of the rest of the body is lost. If the mind wanders, bring it back.
Gaze at the candle steadily for about 3 minutes, until the eyes begin to water or if any discomfort is felt. Then immediately close the eyes and perform Internal Trataka (stage 3).
Stage 3: Internal Trataka
With eyes closed and relaxed, become aware of the afterimage created by the flame. The afterimage usually moves in some direction. With persistence, try to hold the image steady at the eyebrow centre. It may take some practice before this is achieved.
Once the image fades away, open the eyes and fix it on the external flame once more.
This is one round. Practice up to five rounds.
Note: In the next rounds, it is possible for the colour of the afterimage to change. Other activities may also be experienced. Observe these experiences like a witness. Ensure the mind does not wander. Remain focused. Ensure the eyes are never strained.
Stage 1: Preparation for Internal Trataka
sit in a comfortable meditative asana. Close the eyes and focus on the breath for a few moments until a state of complete relaxation is achieved.
Stage 2: Internal Trataka
Bring you awareness to the eyebrow centre – bhrumadhya. If this is difficult to locate, lick your ring finger and place it on your eyebrow centre.
Now try to visualise a shining star at the eyebrow centre. If you are unable to visualise it, imagine it. In the beginning it may be challenging. The image may vanish or flicker occasionally. But with time and practice, the star will become clear. When the star can be visualised with clarity, a new type of vision has developed.
Now allow the star to fade into the darkness.
Without opening the eyes, externalise your awareness to the surroundings. Try to hear the surrounding sounds.
Slowly open your eyes.
Important Practice Notes for Trataka
Trataka should not be practiced for over twenty minutes at a time in the beginning. It can be practiced for up to thirty minutes in advanced stages.
It is also advisable to practice another form of meditation immediately after trataka. This gives great results, as the mind has already been stilled.
Those who suffer from Insomnia are advised to practice Trataka 20 minutes before bedtime.
Glasses should never be worn during the practice. People with bad eyesight should be especially careful not to strain the eyes, stopping at the first sign of ocular discomfort.
Once tears begin to form, the eyes should be shut until they have dried. Initially, only one round of Trataka should be performed. As the eyes become stronger, the number of rounds can be gradually increased to five.
When Trataka is practiced on a luminous object – such as a candle flame or the reflection of the rising sun – it should be interrupted after two months. Light can make a permanent impression on the retina, causing damage.