How to practise
When practicing trataka on a candle flame, there must be no draft in the room.
Sit comfortably with the spine, neck and head upright.
Place the trataka stand directly in front of the body, an arm’s length away. It is advisable to have a plain background. Adjust the height so the wick is exactly at eye level. This helps keep the body upright and avoids eye strain.
Light the candle and close the eyes.
Spend several minutes settling the body and mind. Let the whole body become still and steady.
Open the eyes and gaze at the tip of the wick. Keep the eyes soft and steady, neither too wide or narrow, a relaxed gaze. Avoid blinking.
Hold the gaze steadily on the tip of the wick.
If the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the practice. Keep returning to the flame, the wick.
If the intensity of awareness is sufficient then gradually everything else will drop away, the body awareness will disappear, the background will disappear and only the flame will remain. The mind will be absorbed in awareness of the flame.
As soon as the eyes become tired, if blinking occurs more often or if tears begin to form, then lightly close the eyes.
Gaze at the after image in chidakasha, the space in front of the closed eyes. Gaze steadily at the inner image of the flame. After a while the image is likely to start moving, up, down, left, right, keep bringing it back to the centre of chidakasha. Observe the movement, observe the change in colours, keep bringing the inner image back to the centre of chidakasha.
After sometime, the image will begin to fade, keep bringing it back to chidakasha. Keep visualizing the flame inside, without strain, relaxed concentration.
Once the image fades, open the eyes and repeat the practice, gazing at the tip of the wick.
Practice a couple of rounds. As you become more familiar it will become possible to hold the gaze for longer both externally and internally.
After completing the practice, when the inner image fades, keep looking into chidakasha, the mind space, be aware, witness. Remain still for a few minutes observing the effects of the practice.
Palming can be performed before opening the eyes.
How does trataka work?
The most important aspect of trataka is to gaze steadily, without blinking or moving the eyes. Whenever we move our eyes, our mind follows, and we are stimulated by our environment. When we close our eyes we are also stimulated, but by our inner environment, in the form of thoughts or images. The yogi's realised this connection and created the concept of focusing the eyes on an object, as a way of reducing stimulation and anchoring the awareness. As one develops relaxed concentration, the inner image can be experienced in the same way as the outer image, and it can be created at will. The purpose of this is to have an anchor point to return to when exploring the un-chartered inner space during meditation. This anchor point is known as the psychic symbol, which is used during mantra japa and meditation practices.
We know from sleep studies, that when we dream there is rapid movement of the eyes, showing that our mind is active. There is an intimate relationship between activity of the mind and the movement of the eyes. In yoga asanas we still the body to still the mind, and in trataka we also give the eyes a method to become still, thus reducing stimulation even more. The first stage of trataka is to keep the eyes steady and focused on an external point of focus. When we begin to practice trataka it is difficult to hold the gaze steadily, we realize how dissipated we are, and begin to observe the workings of our minds.
"In character analysis it is observed that a person who moves his eyes rapidly is easily distracted and lacks concentration and willpower." Swami Satyasangananda, Vijnana Bhairava Tantra
Once we learn to relax and the mind begins to focus, it becomes possible to hold the gaze for longer periods of time. When this focused relaxation is achieved, suppressed emotions and previously unknown sources of tension are able to arise. These feelings and experiences are usually unable to surface due to too much clutter in the mind, and in this way trataka has a purifying effect on the mind, emotions and personality. Trataka is the last shatkarma (cleansing practice) in hatha yoga, and acts as a stepping stone between the body purifying practices of hatha yoga, and mind purifying and focusing practices of raja yoga.
Trataka is primarily a technique of achieving sensory withdrawal, pratyahara, by reducing the stimulation to one point. When this focus is able to be held during prolonged concentration, the experience moves into dharana.
Trataka affects us physiologically and psychologically in many ways:
- It induces relaxation.
- Makes the eyes healthy, clear and bright, and improves eye sight.
- Balances the nervous system, relieving nervous tension, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
- Produces physiological changes by affecting the production of hormones in the pineal gland.
- This in turn could help protect against cancer, by producing anti-carcinogenic hormones, such as melatonin.
- Clears complexes, problems and suppressed thoughts from the mind.
- Improves the memory and helps to develop good concentration and strong willpower.
- Activates ajna chakra.
- The practice of trataka is a great way of improving our concentration and of becoming aware of, and then improving, our state of mind and our thoughts. This in turn improves our experience of life on all levels.
- It is an excellent preparation for meditation.
Trataka is a mental cleansing practice. As with any practice it is better to go slow and steady rather than burn out with over enthusiasm. Observe what is happening during and after the practice, see how it effects your mood, energy, dreams etc. If trataka brings up too much mental disturbance, then ease off the practice for a while.
Hari Om Tat Sat,
Sanyamatma, founder of Inner Eye Yoga Products.
As with all yoga practices, it is best to receive instruction and guidance from an experienced teacher.