Trataka means ‘to gaze steadily’. It is a meditative technique common to most metaphysical systems, in various forms.
Concentration is the essence of Trataka – one-pointedness of the mind, the ability to hold one’s attention on one point without wavering.
‘Concentration is the key that will unlock the door to higher states of awareness.’ (Sw. Satyananda Saraswati)
Trataka works on a purely physical level, whereby it improves the eyesight, by strengthening the muscles in the eye. But it is also extremely useful for balancing the nervous system, and for improving memory. Trataka is particularly beneficial in cases of anxiety, insomnia and depression. It is a wonderful prelude to meditation.
The eyes are connected directly with the Pineal gland, a pea-sized gland between the two cerebral hemispheres, and above the cerebellum. Various spiritual systems, west and east, throughout the ages, say this gland is the link or antenna for higher vibrations. Trataka helps induce greater sensitivity of the Pineal gland, and then, via the sympathetic nervous system, influences the whole body.
The practice is very easy and accessible, and will produce good results in a short time. You should embark upon a practise of Trataka in a playful, relaxed manner because, as with many meditative techniques, you will be trying to find that elusive point of balance between effort and relaxation, the fine fulcrum upon which most meditative practice turns. There should be absolutely no straining or discomfort.
The possible objects of concentration in Trataka are various – from the moon, to a flower, to the sea. The most universally suitable object, however, is a candle flame. This is because a burning candle flame attracts the eyes in a magnetic way, and there is a very good afterimage left on the retina when you close your eyes. Also a candle flame is inspirational and uplifting. While some people choose to gaze at crystal balls or mirrors or shadows these practices can result in unpleasant experiences, because there can be a very fast clear-out of the psychic cupboards, and so they are not advisable for beginners. It is possible that simple candle-gazing will also result in a quick up-rooting of buried neuroses and complexes and unpleasant thoughts, though this is quite unlikely. If, however, this does occur, simply practise absolute detachment from any flotsam and jetsam in the mind, concentrate on the flame or its afterimage, and if these methods do not alleviate the problem leave off the practice of Trataka for a while.
‘You should select an object which would at once magnetize your mind and compel it to withdraw itself from all other objects.’
‘When you successfully concentrate on one idea or form, you enter dhyana(meditation)’
People who experience epilepsy should not use a candle flame for concentration practices. Instead they may use a black dot (two to four centimetres in diameter) on a white sheet of paper or card placed at a comfortably visible distance from their eye-line, or any other image that they are attracted to, or a simple flower in a vase.
Before you start, make sure the room is comfortable and dim or dark.
Light the candle.
It should be placed on a surface where it will be steady, out of any draughts, and at one arms-length distance from your face. The flame will be level with your eye-line.
You may be seated in a normal straight-backed chair, or in a cross-legged or other comfortable meditation pose, but, either way, you should ensure that you remain steady throughout the practice. Your spine should be upright and comfortable.
It is best if you practise on an empty stomach.
Close your eyes and mouth and relax the body.
Become completely still.
Be aware of the absolute stillness of your body……
(Continue this awareness of the body being still and steady for some moments. Centred and steady like a mountain….)
Open your eyes, slowly, and gaze directly at the middle of the candle flame, directly at the tip of the wick.
Hold your eyes steady and try to keep them open but relaxed. The aim is to gaze without blinking.
(In the beginning it may not be possible to keep your eyes open, but with practise this ability will develop. At all times keep the eye muscles relaxed and your own attitude playful and at ease. If you have to blink or briefly close your eyes, do so, and then return to gazing steadily at the tip of the wick in the candle flame.)
Hold your eyes steady on the candle flame. If your mind drifts, bring it gently back to the practice.
After a minute or two, or whenever you feel you need to close your eyes, do so. Keep the body completely steady and at ease.
Behind your eyes now, you will see an afterimage. It may take a moment or two to become apparent.
Hold this afterimage steady, in the area of the eyebrow centre. It may have a tendency to drift or drop, but bring the afterimage back to the centre and hold it as stable as possible. Again, no straining – be relaxed and confident.
After some minutes this afterimage will fade, and then you will slowly open your eyes again and direct your gaze once more to the bright centre of the candle-flame before you. It helps if you keep your eyes completely relaxed. Do not open them fully wide, or strain in any way.
Keep looking at the candle flame, steady, holding the gaze.
Again after a couple of minutes, close your eyes and focus on the afterimage. Keep your attention here until the image is fading.
It does not matter what thoughts arise. Let them come and go like waves on a beach. Don’t suppress anything but neither should you run after any thought. Keep bringing your awareness back to the afterimage, held in the area of the eyebrow centre.
Alternate like this between the flame and the afterimage for 3 or 4 times in total.
The whole practice need not take any longer than 10 to 15 minutes. You can practise for a shorter period if you prefer, especially when you are becoming accustomed to the practice.
At the end, focus on the afterimage until it is fading.
Then, keeping your eyes shut, bring your attention to your body. To your senses. To externalising your senses of hearing and touch and smell. To grounding………..
Take your time……..eyes still closed………
Then rub the palms of your hands vigorously together to build up a feeling of warmth. Place the warm palms gently over your closed eyes, and open your eyes slowly in the dark space behind your palms. Gradually move your hands away, and get ready to continue with the rest of your day.
Note that a watering of the eyes in response to this practice is perfectly normal.
Also, for the purpose of alleviating insomnia, practise Trataka for 10 minutes before bedtime.
There is no reason why you could not practise this form internally. In fact the Katha Upanishadrecommends the creation of an image about the size of the thumb in the heart centre (anahata)– therefore you can experiment with what location and object works best for you. I only include a description of Trataka because it is the one I am most familiar with, but it is only a guide. Practise for yourself and discover your own experience.