Trataka is a meditation technique which involves focusing the eyes (and, in turn, the mind) through intent but relaxed gazing. Initially, this practice is done with open eyes on an external object. It then progresses to internal practice (with eyes closed), and to gazing the void. Sometimes it’s spelled tratak or tratika.
You’ll notice in the beginning the wheels appear to be moving. Now look at them again, but instead focus your eyes on one of the dots in the image, and be attentively vigilant that your eyes don’t move even a bit. If you manage to do that, the movements will disappear, and you will see the images for what they are. The second image will probably be more challenging.
If you really stilled your eyes for a minute or two, you might have also experienced a stillness of your mind as well. If not, it becomes evident with a bit more practice.
Conclusion: Distractions in the mind translate to micro movements in the eyes or eyelids, and vice-versa. Stillness of eyes brings stillness of mind, and vice-versa.
In all forms of trataka, you can integrate breath awareness or the repetition of a mantra if you find it helpful, although it’s not commonly taught this way.
There has been very little scientific research in this practice. So what we know in terms of its benefits is mostly all anecdotal evidence from practitioners that have devoted years to its practice. In this context, trataka is attributed to have the following benefits:
- Improves concentration, memory, and willpower
- Improves visualization skills
- Improves cognitive function
- Cures eye diseases
- Makes the eyes stronger, clearer, and brighter
- Helps with insomnia
- Clears accumulated mental/emotional complexes
- Brings suppressed thoughts to the surface
- Increases nervous stability
- Calms the anxious mind
- Balances the activity in the two hemispheres of the brain
- Improves vision in the dark (if practiced on a candle flame)
- Soothing effect on the cranial nerves
- Enhances self-confidence and patience
Technique I :
The first level of the practice is external gazing. The object can be almost anything, though the most popular choices are a candle flame, a black dot in a white wall, or an image with particular significance for you. Other objects used are your image in a mirror, transparent glass, a needle, a current of water, the moon in the sky, or the first minutes of the rising sun.
Set your gaze on the object, and keep it there without blinking and without letting your eyes move. After 1 to 3 minutes, your eyes will be tired or tears may be coming. Then close your eyes for a few minutes, and gaze at the afterimage of that object in your mind, if you can see it. When you are ready, open your eyes and go for another round. At the end of your practice, gently wash your eyes with cold water.
Some more practical considerations:
- Using a candle is a often preferred because the flame has a natural attraction for many people.Fire is like magnet for the eyes and mind. Also, it leaves a very clear after-image in the mind.
- Don’t practice external trataka for more than 10 minutes (especially the candle-gazing version), unless you have the guidance of a teacher experienced in this technique.
- The trick in mastering trataka lies in relaxing the eyes as much as possible – otherwise your vision will soon blurr and the eyes will flicker. Don’t worry if all you can do is 10 seconds without blinking; with time you will be able to go long periods without blinking.
- Place the object at eye level on a little talbe or support ahead of you, in a way that it’s level with your eyes. As to the distance from you, some teachers recommend an arm’s length distance (this works for me), while others recommend up to 5 feet away. Experiment and see what makes most sense.
- Be sure you can see the object clearly, without blurr. If needed, wear your glasses.
- If you are using a candle, make your room completely dark, and make sure there is no wind (as the flame ideally needs to be still). For other objects, dim light is preferred, and the source of light should be behind you.
- Gaze with purpose, as if you are looking for something. Moment after moment, all you are doing is watching that point, without thinking about it.
- Some Yoga texts mention trying to “pierce the object with your gaze”; others say that it should be a relaxed gaze. Probably a matter of experimentation to see what’s best.
- Try not to blink, but don’t try too hard. The less thought you give to not blinking, the easiest it is.
- Don’t strain your eyes. If you feel discomfort, then blink the eyes and continue the practice. But don’t move the pupils.
- Don’t do trataka on a candle if you have cataracts, glaucoma, myopia, astigmatism or epilepsy.