Do Trataka Meditation To Reach Mindfulness (Candle Gazing)
Meditating is a sensory experience usually involving controlled breathing or chanting.
If you have difficulty getting into a meditative state with being mindful of your breath or chanting, Trataka is the thing for you.
What is Trataka? Trataka is also called gazing meditation. When doing Trataka, you fix your eyes on a single point or object intently with an unwavering gaze until the mind is calm and focused. This meditation technique can be practiced with external and internal gazing. The benefits of Trataka meditation include improving memory and concentration; corrects certain eye disorders; helps to soothe an anxious mind; improves mental stability, and makes the eye muscles stronger. Trataka is for everyone but is cautioned against people with repressed memories or trauma and severe eye disorders.
All About The Gaze
Trataka is a Sanskrit word that means “to gaze.” It is one of six practices in Hatha Yoga.
The practice is done by fixing your gaze on a specific point, usually the flame of a candle.
The unwavering gaze required for this meditation technique aims to quiet the mind and increase concentration.
There are 2 techniques to practice Trataka – Baharinga (external gazing) and Antaranga (Internal gazing).
Baharinga uses a physical object, typically a candle flame or a black dot against white paper.
Beginners to Trataka are encouraged to master this first before attempting other Tratataka techniques.
The traditional meditation methods of controlled breathing or repeating a mantra to help you reach the focus of meditation can also be applied during gazing meditation.
Antaranga, on the other hand, focuses on a mental picture you imagine in your mind’s eye.
As you become more experienced in gazing meditation, you will not need to look at a candle flame to meditate.
Antaranga is done with the eyes closed while picturing an image or simply a black dot to focus on.
Pranayama or traditional breathing techniques can also be used but long-time Trataka practitioners can meditate and focus without the need for other techniques.
The meditation is done in 3 levels: external gazing with a physical object, external gazing without a physical object, and internal gazing with the eyes closed.
The levels are based on your experience and familiarity with the practice.
The Benefits Of Trataka
A method will not take root if it does not bring any benefits.
The benefits of Trataka has to do with the eye and mind connection.
Difficulty in focusing and making eye contact are possible signs of learning disabilities or anxiety disorders.
The relationship between the inability to track a moving object and poor reading performance, and learning disabilities are illustrated in a study done on children with hyperactivity and learning disability compared with a control group.
The mental and emotional state of a person often registers with irregular eye movements.
Conventional wisdom has shown that people with anxiety disorders and other mental health issues have a harder time establishing eye contact or relaxing their eye movements.
With the eye and brain connection established, here are the significant benefits the practice of Trataka can bring.
- Trataka makes the eyes clearer in appearance, brighter and luminous due to the exercise that meditation brings to the eyes and its muscles.
- Trataka is good for strengthening the eyes’ muscles. Being able to hold a steady gaze for longer periods without blinking improves eye muscle control.
- It relieves and improves the symptoms of eye strain, astigmatism, nearsightedness, farsightedness and headaches associated with vision problems.
- Trataka calms the mind, relieving anxiety symptoms and improving mental stability.
- It is helpful in improving the quality of sleep by overcoming insomnia symptoms.
- It develops willpower and memory. The practice of Trataka improves the brain’s ability to concentrate.
- Previous traumas and suppressed emotions are brought to the surface. This brings healing when these emotional issues are addressed.
- Trataka minimizes distractions which improve cognitive processing.
- Trataka is also said to improve one’s spirituality by helping to harness Kundalini energy
Learn more about the amazing good that meditation brings from our massive compilation of 87 Proven Scientific Benefits of Meditation.
How To Do Trataka Meditation
External Gazing is the starting point for all newcomers to Trataka.
There are 2 techniques that can be practiced with Baharinga – gazing meditation with an object and gazing without.
You can use any object to gaze at but the most common objects used are a candle flame or a black dot against white paper.
The point of this exercise is to fix your gaze at a small point until tears come to your eyes, as they say.
If you will use a candle, make sure the room is darkened and not drafty to avoid the flame flickering.
If you will opt for the black dot, make sure the dot is about pea sized to avoid straining the eyes and squinting.
External Gazing Using A Physical Object
1. Sit on the floor and assume the lotus position or kneeling position. Keep the spine straight with the body and shoulders relaxed. Have a lit candle in front of you an arm’s length away and the flame at eye level.
2. Close your eyes and focus on your mantra (the basic “om” will do) to calm your mind. Open your eyes and look at the brightest spot on the flame without blinking. Do this for 10 to 15 seconds and then close your eyes.
Pro tip: Focus on the red part of the flame, nearest the wick as it is the steadiest and will lessen the strain.
3. Concentrate on the flame’s image in your mind’s eye. Keep your focus relaxed so you do not chase the image away.
4. If you feel your eyes getting tired or feel you are tearing up, rest by closing your eyes for a minute or so. When you feel there is no more strain, slowly open your eyes and continue gazing at the flame.
5. Alternate gazing at the flame and then close your eyes to gaze at the afterimage. As you continue to practice, you will be able to gaze at the flame for a minute straight and focus on the flame’s image for 4 minutes.
You can read about Trataka and watch a short video in our article about the 26 Meditation Types.
Some considerations in the practice of Baharinga.
- Practice candle gazing in a darkened room so you’d effectively gaze at the flame without straining your eyes.
- The opposite is true if you will use the black dot. The room should be well lit to avoid eye strain.
- Some Trataka meditators advise alternating between a flame and another physical object to gaze at. This is to avoid damaging your retina. Alternate the object you are gazing at every few weeks.
- Keep the gaze relaxed. Do not squint or glare at the object. The more stress you put on the eye, the easier your eyes will tire.
- If you were corrective glasses for astigmatism, nearsightedness, or far-sightedness, use it during practice. The point is to lessen the strain on your eyes and not add to it.
- Pace your practice. Consistently practice 3 to 5 minutes a day until you can comfortably gaze without discomfort or tears.
- Keep the object at your eye level so you would not have to stoop or slouch. Make sure the object is also a comfortable distance away from you. Adjust according to your visual preference. Most practitioners find that an arm’s length away works best for them.
External Gazing Without A Physical Object
As your eye muscles strengthen and you can gaze for longer periods, you can move on to external gazing that does not use physical objects.
These 2 are Nasikagra Drishti, gazing at the tip of your nose and Shambhavi Mudra, gazing at the space between the eyebrows.
Nasikagra drishti are Sanskrit words that can be broken down into three – nasika for ”nose,” agra which means “tip” or “end,” and drishti which translates to “sight.” this practice is used in other meditation forms like Kundalini or Kriya.
Nose tip gazing is helpful in calming down an anxious mind.
Doing nasikagra drishti for a few minutes before an activity that overwhelms you is a practical application.
To start your meditation of nasikagra drishti, find a quiet space where you can practice undisturbed.
Sit on the floor in the lotus position or kneeling position.
Use mindful breathing or focus on a mantra to calm your mind.
Clench your fist with the thumb sticking out.
Touch your thumb to the tip of your nose.
Move the finger from your nose to about 5 to 7 inches away.
Gaze at the tip of your finger until you become used to it.
Bring the finger an inch closer to your nose while holding the gaze.
Do not move the finger closer until you get used to it again.
If your eyes start to feel tired, close for a few minutes until the eyes relax.
Continue moving the finger until it has reached the tip of your nose.
Keep your gaze on the tip of your nose but remove the finger.
Practice for a few weeks until you can do it without causing your eyes to tear up.
Limit your practice time to a maximum of 15 minutes.
Once you feel confident with your nose tip gazing skills, you can transition into shambhavi mudra.
Shambhavi mudra is gazing at the space in the eyebrows’ center.
This internal gazing technique is used in Kundalini, Kriya, Tantra, and other meditation and yoga methods.
It is specifically used to develop intuition and open the third eye.
Some of the benefits the practice of shambhavi mudra brings are the balancing out the communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain as well as improving interpersonal communication skills.
Follow the steps as with nose tip gazing.
Make sure that your thumb is at the level of your eyebrows.
Again, keep the gaze relaxed and rest your eyes if it becomes tired or starts to tear up.
If you have reached this point, you are likely to have developed stronger eye muscles and can hold the gaze for longer periods of time.
After several weeks of regular 15-minute Trataka, you can now progress to practicing with your eyes closed.
Trataka, as with all, meditation techniques require consistent practice.
It is something that cannot be learned after a few tries.
Pace your practice so you reap its benefits and not cause harm or discomfort.
Once you master external gazing, you can move on to internal gazing.
With Internal gazing, you do not need a physical object to look at.
You imagine one and anchor your focus on that.
Internal gazing or Antaranga can be done in 2 ways also.
The first one is to find something to focus your gaze on.
Gaze at a scene or an object and close your eyes.
You can focus your gaze on a candle and let the image of the flame be your focal point.
Focus on the space between your brows and let the image build.
While the second one is to come up with a mental image to “gaze” at.
Another way to do this is to visualize a small circle of light in your mind’s eye.
Practice internal gazing at the same pace as you did the external gazing techniques described previously.
By this point, you will be skilled at keeping your focus and can practice without tiring easily or getting distracted.
Trataka Meditation: Video Walkthroughs
Instructions work but some would prefer to be walked through a process.
The video that follows by Jai Sugrim is a short but engaging introduction to Trataka.
This video from Clinical Hypnosis is a longer guided meditation that is more soothing and can help you get into a focused state
The next 2 videos are for external gazing without a physical object that will transition you to more advanced internal gazing.
Here’s a simple walkthrough of how to nose tip gaze from Sapna Padmanabhan.
This is a quick guide and can be done even at your work desk.
While this guide is a detailed explanation of shambhavi mudra and its benefits to the body.
The guided meditation is a peaceful experience that is easily followed.
How Effective is Trataka in Healing Eye Disorders?
Although it is often repeated that Trataka heals eye disorders, it is more reasonable to say Trataka helps lessen symptoms instead of heals.
Many factors may affect the ability of the eyes to function fully but the use of alternative methods help to address some symptoms of eye disorders and bring relief to patients.
These factors include the severity of the disorder, how long the patient had the condition, and the treatments that are used to manage the condition.
Despite these careful statements, studies have been made and results have shown that Trataka is effective in improving symptoms of eye disorders.
In a study comparing the efficacy of Trataka and eye exercises, both were found effective with improvements in the “clarity of vision, contrast sensitivity, and fineness of objects” but Trataka gave better relief.
This study notes that Trataka and eye exercises can be used as additional therapy in addition to medical management for eye disorders.
Research performed on elderly patients showed 6 weeks of Trataka sessions made improvements on their visual perception.
Although a longer duration of Trataka sessions may bring more significant improvements in visual perception in the elderly study subjects.
Other Studies On Trataka’s Benefits
Trataka had an immediate effect of improving concentration on cognitive performance.
The study used the Stroop color-word test, a psychological test which measures the semantic interference when naming the color printed on paper of a different color.
Test results revealed an increase in “selective attention, cognitive flexibility, and response inhibition” for those who practiced Trataka meditation compared with the control group.
A study of 30 adolescents who practiced Trataka has shown a marked decrease in anxiety symptoms.
The practice of yogic gazing helped to calm the mind and also lessened erratic eye movements.
The decrease in anxiety symptoms is helpful for people who suffer from it as an additional mode of therapy.
Eye Gazing In Other Cultures And Teachings
The practice of Trataka is based on Hindu culture and ancient Hatha Yoga Pradipika texts but other cultures and beliefs also have their own versions of gazing meditation.
Gazing in Zen meditation requires the meditator to sit in a comfortable meditative kneeling position with their eyes half-closed and the gaze lowered to the floor.
The meditator faces a wall and does not gaze at the wall but “gazes” through it.
The point of this exercise is to open the peripheral vision and intuition.
The attention is on the breath to keep the mind and body in a focused, meditative state.
Gazing meditation in Tibetan Buddhism requires the practitioner to fix their gaze into the clear blue sky.
The meditator can be in a relaxed seated position with the face tilted to the sky.
The meditation can also be done laying on your back.
Find a spot that is elevated but would not be exposed to direct sunlight.
it is also important to not look directly into the sun to avoid damaging the eyes.
An alternative is to gaze at clear, flowing water.
The aim of this meditation is not concentration but resting in a natural state and being one with nature or Tao.
In Western philosophy, the Greeks practiced navel-gazing while meditating on human nature and the universe.
There are other gazing meditations based on various other beliefs like Christianity, Sufism, and other branches of Buddhism.
How long is a Trataka meditation session? If you’ve only started practicing Trataka meditation, 3 to 5 minutes is fine. The length of time is not as important in the beginning as much as the consistency. As you become more adept in Trataka, you can practice up to 15 minutes a day. Remember to rest your eyes when you feel eye strain set in, close your eyes for a few minutes before resuming practice. Longtime practitioners recommend two 10-minute sessions daily.
When is the ideal time of day to practice Trataka? Traditional yogis recommend practice between 4 am to 6 am in the morning because it is a time when not everyone is awake. The peace and the uninterrupted session will help you to focus. Another bonus is you’ll catch the sunrise. But again, this is only a suggestion, do it when your schedule allows, the important point is to do it and do it consistently.
What are eye conditions or disorders that should not practice Trataka? People who have advanced cases of near-sightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, cataracts, and glaucoma are discouraged from doing Trataka to avoid further stressing the eyes. There are a wide variety of meditation practices that you can do instead. Check our list of 26 Types Of Meditation to find an alternative.
Is Trataka yoga or meditation? Yoga is a way of life. Depending on the discipline, it can be made up of 6 to 8 parts which include the poses, breathing, and meditation. There are different practices to yoga so there are also different approaches to meditation based on the yoga practice you follow. In the case of Trataka yoga, the meditation used is candle gazing.
What other objects can I gaze at aside from a candle? Traditional Trataka practice uses a candle’s flame or a black dot for external gazing. Other alternatives that may be used include gazing at your right eye in the mirror, the first few minutes when the sun rises, even the moon. Other practitioners recommend using a ghee lamp for its low-flicker flame.
What medical conditions is Trataka practice cautioned against? Trataka isn’t recommended if you suffer from epilepsy because the flickering lights may trigger an episode. The same is true for untreated migraines.
The practice of Trataka is not advised for those with schizophrenic tendencies or are prone to hallucinations. They may be highly suggestible and could experiences episodes.
Trataka might also uncover repressed emotions and trauma so it is suggested that you train with an experienced practitioner so there would be a support system that can pull you back and guide you.
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Yogapedia staff. (n.d.). What is Trataka? Retrieved from https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/6533/trataka
Candlelight Insight: Trataka. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://yogainternational.com/article/view/candlelight-insight-trataka