'Trataka - yogic gazing meditation
Out of the main five senses, sight is arguably the most powerful. Indeed, 80% of all sensory data we process comes through our vision. After the brain, your eyes are the most complex organ in the body, containing more than 200 million working parts. They are also the fastest muscle in your body, and can function at 100% at any given moment, without needing to rest.
Sight is so important that almost half of the brain is dedicated to vision and seeing. If you can focus your eyes, you can focus your mind. Your vision is tightly connected to your mind. Your mental/emotional states affect your eye movements. You can also affect your mind, and even manage trauma, by doing certain practices with your eyes.
Stilling the eyes is not the only way to achieve stillness of mind, but it is a powerful way, and the feedback is much quicker. Schools of Yoga, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism have developed open eye meditation techniques based on this principle. Trataka is a meditation technique which involves focusing the eyes (and, in turn, the mind) through intent but relaxed gazing. Initially, this practice is done with open eyes on an external object. It then progresses to internal practice (with eyes closed), and to gazing the void. There are many ways of doing trataka, candle gazing is one of them (the most popular). In all forms of trataka, you can integrate breath awareness or the repetition of a mantra if you find it helpful.
- improves concentration, memory, and willpower;
- improves visualization skills;
- improves cognitive function;
- cures eye diseases;
- makes the eyes stronger, clearer, and brighter;
- helps with insomnia;
- clears accumulated mental/emotional complexes;
- brings suppressed thoughts to the surface;
- increases nervous stability;
- calms the anxious mind;
- balances the activity in the two hemispheres of the brain.
Stage One: External
The first level of the practice is external gazing. The object can be almost anything, though the most popular choices are a candle flame, a black dot in a white wall, or an image with particular significance for you. Other objects used are your image in a mirror (your right eye), a transparent glass, a needle, a current of water, the moon in the sky, or the first minutes of the rising sun.
Set your gaze on the object, and keep it there without blinking and without letting your eyes move. After 1 to 3 minutes, your eyes will be tired or tears may be coming. Then close your eyes for a few minutes, and gaze at the afterimage of that object in your mind, if you can see it. When you are ready, open your eyes and go for another round. At the end of your practice, gently wash your eyes with cold water.
Tips & Precautions
Using a candle is a often preferred because the flame has a natural attraction for many people.
If you practice with a candle, and practice it every day, take a couple of weeks of break from the practice every two months. Or swap to another object.
Don’t practice external trataka for more than 10 minutes (especially the candle-gazing version), unless you have the guidance of a teacher experienced in this technique.
The trick in mastering trataka lies in relaxing the eyes as much as possible, otherwise your vision will soon blurr and the eyes will flicker.
Place the object at eye level on a little table or support ahead of you, in a way that it is level with your eyes. As to the distance from you, some teachers recommend an arm’s length distance, while others recommend up to 5 feet away. Experiment and see what makes most sense for you.
Be sure you can see the object clearly, without blur. If needed, wear your glasses. If you are using a candle, make your room completely dark, and make sure there is no wind (as the flame ideally needs to be still). For other objects, dim light is preferred, and the source of light should be behind you.
Try not to blink, but don’t try too hard. The less thought you give to not blinking, the easiest it is.
Don’t strain your eyes. If you feel discomfort, then blink the eyes and continue the practice. But don’t move the pupils.
Don’t do trataka on a candle if you have cataracts, glaucoma, myopia, astigmatism or epilepsy.
Stage Two: Internal
With time, your concentration and visualization abilities increase, and you progress to practicing internal gazing exclusively. Here, you are either looking at a mental image of your object, or simply visualizing a dot of light on your“mind screen” (the black space in front of your closed eyes).
Stage Three: Space
After mastering internal gazing, you can proceed to gazing into the void.
Even thought you could do this from the start, it is advised to first master external trataka. Otherwise, your mind won’t have the stability needed to make the best use of these practices, and you will likely get often lost in distraction or lethargy. Through trataka, all the attention and power of the mind is channeled in one continuous stream.
In many lineages of Yoga, it is considered the alphabet of meditation. In the ladder of Yoga, trataka is often considered the bridge between the body-oriented practices – like postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama) – and the mind oriented practices of meditation (dhyana) and the superconscious state (samadhi)...'
(This text is part of the wonderful essay "Trataka meditation: still eyes, still mind" by Giovanni)
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