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.
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.
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.
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.
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