“Looking intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed is known as trataka…” (Hatha Yoga Pradapika, 2:31)
Trataka Sadhana is a deceptively simple practice. To the outside observer, you just stare at a candle. That’s it. How can that be useful or healthy? In practice, however, tratak is quite powerful. “The mind is subtle and difficult to catch, however gaze can be fixed at a point, and eventually the mind, too, gets focused.” It’s like your eyes control your thought process (do you close your eyes to concentrate? Or look to the upper right/left when trying to remember something?) The complete absorption into a single object (whether a visual item, a sound, or a sensation) induces the withdrawal from the external world. In other words, when you can settle your gaze, your mind can settle, too. And with all of the stimuli bombarding us, our minds race back and forth, we feel stress, we can’t concentrate, and we ultimately miss out on experiencing the present moment. So finding a way to settle our minds is crucial. And tratak is a meditative practice the whole family can participate in together.
Be sure to provide children supervision when using candles. Start with a lit candle between 12″ and 24″ from your face at eye level. Focus your gaze on the flame without blinking as long as you can. You may feel tears beginning to form. Continue to look at the flame, not the candle. You may want to try to focus on the red tip of the wick because it doesn’t move in a draft. Let thoughts arise and float away as you stare at the flame. This portion of the practice is called Bahiranga Trataka, and it is when you gaze at an external object or symbol.
When you feel tears beginning to flow, gently close the eyes. Look at the after-image, the photonegative of the flame behind your closed eyes. Focus on the flame’s image carefully and observe any changes – the color, brightness, size, and clarity. Imagine you are looking at the image through your third eye (Ajna Chakra), the space between your eyebrows. This portion of the practice is completely internal and is called Antaranga Trataka.
When the flame’s image has disappeared entirely, slowly open your eyes but don’t look at the flame again. It is traditionally recommended that you gaze at the greenery of a living plant as you refocus. Note how you feel physically and mentally.
You don’t have to use a candle to practice tratak. You could use a crystal, a mandala, the full moon, a star, a chakra or Om symbol, or even your shadow. And the list of benefits from a tratak practice is lengthy:
- increase in alertness, confidence, mental clarity, concentration, and energy to your pineal gland (the home of your third eye and in charge of sleep patterns)
- promotes eye health
- alleviates insomnia
- reduces eye strain and headaches