Trataka (त्राटक) is one of the six cleansing techniques mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the classical text on the practices of Hatha Yoga. The six techniques are: Neti (nasal cleansing), Basti (yogic enema), Dhauti (digestive tract and intestinal cleansing), Kapalabhati (breathing technique involving forced, short bursts of exhalation), Nauli (abdominal churning) and Trataka (eye cleansing and concentration).
In an effort to find the origin or the derivation of the word ‘trataka’ I tried looking it up in the dictionary. Surprisingly, however, when I checked Apte’s dictionary I couldn’t find the word there. In Monier-Williams also it just states that it is a yoga technique for cleansing the eyes – nothing about its meaning or how the word is derived. In his commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swami Muktibodhananda simply states that Trataka means to gaze steadily at an object.
In shloka 2.31 of Hatha Yoga Pradipika Trataka is defined as "looking intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until the eyes begin to tear, is called Trataka by the great teachers".
Trataka can be either internal or external; that is the object that is gazed upon can be an internal object (for example the third eye) or an external one (for example the flame of a candle). In general, however, the most commonly practiced form of Trataka involves gazing at a candle flame. That is the technique that I will be describing in this article.
- Light a candle and place it on a small table around 3 to 4 feet in front of you.
- Sit in a comfortable posture with the spine upright and the arms and shoulders relaxed. You can assume any meditative posture which you can maintain without any movement for the duration of the Trataka practice.
- Make sure that the flame is at the level of your eyes. Also, make sure that you are facing the candle directly without having to turn the neck even slightly.
- It is important that the flame remains steady during the concentration routine. So, make sure that there no breeze around of any kind to disturb the flame. If needed, turn off any fans or air conditioner in the room.
- Take a few deep breaths to relax. Close the eyes and watch your breath as you inhale and exhale for about five to seven breaths. This will allow the breath to settle down and bring you into the present moment.
- Now, gaze at the flame intently and keep your gaze on it without getting distracted towards outer disturbances and thoughts.
- Keep your vision focused and steady on the flame without blinking, for as long as it is comfortable to you. Try to avoid any kind of body movement during the entire practice.
- Keep your gaze anchored on some part of the flame, rather than the candle or wick. If thoughts come up in the mind, just become aware of them and then ignore them. Try to maintain your awareness and focus on the flame.
- Continue to gaze at the flame until you cannot keep your eyes open and tears start flowing. Once this happens, close your eyes.
- When you close the eyes, you may be able to visualize an after-image of the flame with closed eyes. Try to bring this image at the point between the eyebrows at the center of the forehead (the third eye location).
- The depth and level of your concentration will determine how clear the after-image is. If you cannot visualize the after-image of the flame with closed eyes, or it wavers constantly or looses clarity, then re-apply your concentration to restore the position of the after-image.
- When the image begins to fade out completely, bring your awareness back to your breathing and begin to watch the flow of breath at the tip of the nose for about 7 to 8 breaths.
- You can open your eyes at this point and repeat the full gazing routine as given above one more time.
In the beginning you may feel that the eyes begin to water after only a few minutes. However, with practice, your eyes will be able to continue the gaze for longer periods and you can practice Trataka for up to twenty minutes or so.
Benefits of Trataka
Shloka 2.32 of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika states "Trataka eradicates all eye diseases, fatigue and sloth and closes the doorway to these problems". Some of the benefits associated with Trataka are:
- Improves eyesight and vision.
- Improves concentration, intelligence and memory.
- Excellent method as preparation for mantra meditation.
- Enhances self-confidence, patience and willpower.
- Develops greater work efficiency and productivity.
- Calms the mind and provides inner peace and silence.
- Brings greater clarity in mind and improves decision-making ability.
- Helps to overcome mental, behavioral and emotional ailments.
- Provides stress relief and deep relaxation.
- Deepens the sleep and cures sleep related disorders such as headache, insomnia, nightmares, etc.
- According to Gherand Samhita (shloka 5.54), Trataka promotes clairvoyance or perception of subtle manifestations.
Tips for Trataka Concentration
- Trataka is best practiced on an empty stomach during early-morning hours or late evening hours just before going to bed. If you practice it during the daytime, make sure that the room is dark so that focusing on the flame is easier.
- Try getting a decent sized flame by adjusting the size of the wick. It will help in achieving a better after-image of the flame and it will be easier to visualize it with improved concentration.
- Do not strain your eyes while gazing on the flame. The eyes adjust naturally in due course of time and it becomes easier to concentrate and gaze on the flame for longer periods of time.
- As I mentioned earlier, because Trataka develops deep focus and concentration, it is used as a very effective pre-meditation stage. At the end of the Trataka routine, you may continue with your own mantra meditation.