Trataka is one of the six Shatkarma from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika – a purification and preliminary step prior to beginning pranayama.
Steady practice can improve eyesight and assist in managing depression, allergies, anxiety, insomnia and fatigue. Not bad for just staring at a candle for 10-15 minutes per day!
Develops intensity, precision and single-pointedness in focus and concentration on and off the meditation cushion.
Subtle Body Benefits
Awakens ajna chakra, brings the mind and therefore, the prana to stillness. Where the mind goes, the breath follows, and vice versa.
If you thought that staring at a candle was a lesser practice, think again! Working at awakening any crucial point or chakra with the intent to bring all the winds into the central channel and attain highest Samadhi will ripen very quickly into the realization of all your goals – worldly and spiritual. This is really the goal of all the Hatha Yoga Pradipika practices – perfect meditative stillness, which is the minimum prerequisite to seeing emptiness directly. Those 10-20 minutes of communion with ultimate reality are a pivotal “moment” in a human life because after that, all scriptures say that total enlightenment must follow very soon. With tantric practice you can reach that goal in this very life. Side effects of the practice if performed regularly and diligently are psychic visions and experiences as well as clairvoyance. These manifestations pale in significance compared to seeing emptiness directly and are not the ultimate goal. The best measure of how your practice is going and how well you are creating the causes for these karmic benefits is an increased level of happiness.
External trataka involves staring at an object without blinking for as long as is comfortable. When your eyes fatigue, focus on the afterimage that you will see when you close your eyes. You can use objects such as a crystal ball, the moon, a photograph of your heart teacher, a picture of a psychic symbol or an image as your object of focus, but one of the most powerful is the steady, unwavering flame of a candle in a dark room. This provides a very clear afterimage. Internal trataka is performed by focusing only on the internal image. This is more difficult, so we suggest you start with external trataka until you are able to comfortably hold a clear image of your object with eyes closed for quite some time without it wavering, shifting or disappearing.
Tips from Deep Retreat
Imagine that the flame is your Teacher’s heart, brilliant and shining.
Use a tealight candle, because long tapered candles rapidly change height as they burn down. Use tealights that are all natural - pure beeswax or soy wax. Try to find wicks that are non-toxic as regular mass produced wicks contain a zinc or lead core which you inhale as it burns. The wicks should be as thick as possible so you can get a really bright flame. This makes for a more powerful afterimage.
Do the practice on an empty stomach, in a very dark, draft free room. Try to practice at the same time every day - early morning before meditation is good, or late at night before bed.
The candle should be exactly at eye level as you sit in a comfortable meditative posture. Be careful if there are shelves above your candle as even the heat from a tealight can burn the underside of the shelf. We made some very simple wooden stands here in long retreat that exactly match our different heights.
It’s best to have the candle against a completely bare wall, as anything behind or around the candle is very distracting.
The candle can be up to arm’s length away, but we find closer is better, even 6-8 inches, as this provides an extremely powerful afterimage when you close your eyes.
Completely relax your whole body, especially your temples, jaw, eyes, skull, throat. Check constantly that your forehead and eyes stay soft.
Start out gently, don’t force or strain the eyes. Keep your sessions short to begin with. Stare at the flame directly above the wick.
When you close your eyes, keep them closed and focus on the afterimage for as long as it remains. To begin with it may wander around, but in time it will become unmoving at your third eye point.
If you do even just a few minutes of this practice directly before performing mental tasks that require concentration, like memorization, reading, writing – we found it greatly improves the ability to focus.
Support your occiput - the ridge at the back of your skull – with your left palm. Place the palm of your right hand on your forehead between your eyebrows and rub gently to massage and relax the nadis - channels. Then reverse hands and repeat.
Trataka is not recommended if you have myopia, astigmatism, cataract, glaucoma or epilepsy. Check with a qualified teacher for alternative practices. Never practice trataka on the sun.