How can you improve your eyesight, meditate, and develop willpower at the same time? Practice trataka. This yogic practice of candle gazing is a little odd, but most yogis who try it love it. Trataka serves as the perfect bridge between yoga’s external and internal practices.
Trataka means “to look” or “to gaze.” In this practice, you steadily gaze at a candle flame without blinking. Even after closing your eyes, you continue to concentrate on the internal image of the flame, which develops one-pointedness of the mind. All of this focusing is excellent prep for meditation. Trataka is also one of the shatkarmas, or the six yogic cleansing practices that keep the body free of disease.
Why practice trataka?
- Brightens the eyes
- Improves eyesight
- Balances the nervous system
- Relieves stress
- Improves concentration
- Improves memory
- Develops focus
- Develops willpower
- Activates ajna chakra (third eye chakra)
- Releases suppressed thoughts
Because you will need a dark room for trataka, it’s best to practice in the wee hours of the morning or after the sun goes down. These are also great times to meditate and are energetically conducive to practices that require intense concentration. Those suffering from insomnia and sleeplessness will benefit from practicing trataka just before bed.
- You will need a dark room without any draft for this practice. Set yourself up so that you can sit comfortably with a candle’s flame at eye level. If you are sitting on the floor, for example, place the candle on a low table. The candle should be about an arm’s length away.
- Come into a comfortable meditation posture. Sit on the edge of a firm cushion or folded blanket to ease the strain on tight hips and take the slump out of the spine.
- Close your eyes, relax your jaw, and release any tension in your shoulders. Commit to physical stillness.
- Open your eyes and gaze at the flame. Keep your gaze steady and try not to blink. Notice the flame’s colors—its reds, whites, and blues. Observe as it flickers and changes shape. Feel its subtle warmth. Every time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the flame. Do this for a minute or so, closing your eyes when they feel tired or start to water.
- Now, even with your eyes closed, keep your focus on the image of the flame that appears between your eyes. When the image wavers, try to bring it back to the area of the internal third eye.
- When the inner image of the flame is gone, open your eyes and again gaze at the candle’s flame. Do this for a minute or so and then close your eyes. Again, focus your awareness on the image of the flame at the internal third eye.
- Repeat this cycle one or two more times.
- Close your eyes and rest for a moment. Then rub your palms together until they are warm. Gently cup them over your eyes and hold them here until they no longer feel warm. Repeat this one or two more times.
When first starting trataka, you will probably find it very difficult to gaze at the candle without blinking. Try your best, and whatever you do, don’t strain! Practice for two or three minutes max.
Work your way up to five or 10 minutes if you practice regularly.
Trataka is a great practice to teach in meditation workshops. Because it verges on a physical/external practice, it appeals to people who are new to meditation and not yet comfortable with going inward.
Set up several stations and have three students sit around each candle. It should be a short practice—a few minutes at most—but remind your students not to strain.
When Not to Trataka
People with glaucoma or epilepsy should not practice trataka. Those with eyestrain, astigmatism, or early cataract can modify this practice by gazing at a black dot drawn on a white wall, an arm’s length away, either in daylight or with soft lighting.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust, 2008.