The Yogic Purification Technique of Trataka
“Looking intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed is known as trataka by the acharyas (teachers)”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 2, v. 31-32.
The above verse is from one of the most important classical texts of yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Svatmarama in the 15th century. He laid out a systematic, preparatory method for physical purification before one embarks upon the path to higher meditation or Raja Yoga. Trataka literally translates to ‘steady gazing’ and makes up one of the six methods of purification called Shatkarmas; shat means six, karmas mean actions.
As mentioned in the verse, the technique is practiced by intently focussing on a small object, which can be a candle flame, a yantra (sacred geometrical figure), or a black dot on a blank wall. However, a candle flame is recommended to start with, unless one has a history of epilepsy or very defective vision. Trataka helps cleanse the impurities in the eyes and releases tension held in the eye muscles. On a subtle level, it helps with internalising before meditation by training the mind and the senses to focus and concentrate. The dormant areas of consciousness awaken as a result of blanking out visual perception. This leads to a relaxation of the brain activities and thought waves.
Physiologically, trataka helps cure short-sightedness, astigmatism, headaches and early stages of cataract. It is also therapeutic in treating depression, anxiety, insomnia, allergies and fatigue. Memory and concentration improves along with willpower. On a spiritual level, the ajna chakra (‘third eye’) is stimulated which results in the development of clairvoyance, telepathy and psychic healing abilities when practiced over a prolonged period of time. It is recommended to practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher as one advances.
Requirements and guidelines for the practice:
• An unscented candle.
• A still, dark room so that the flame remains steady. Trataka should only be practiced on an unmoving object.
• The flame should be at eye level and at arm’s length.
• The body, and the eye muscles in particular, are to be kept still and relaxed.
• Glasses or contact lenses should be removed. If there is trouble maintaining clear vision, adjust the distance from the flame accordingly.
• It is most effective when practiced on an empty stomach at dawn or dusk.
Sit in a comfortable meditative posture with the spine, neck and head in one line. You could also sit on a chair if sitting on the floor is inaccessible. The body should ideally be still and steady throughout the practice. Take a moment to become aware of the whole body and feel its steadiness. Once ready, chant the mantra OM 3 times.
External gazing (bahir trataka)
Open the eyes and gaze steadily at the centre of the flame. Make it a point to consciously relax the eye muscles while gazing. Try not to blink, but if you feel the urge to do so, blink and return to the practice. Do this for as long as it’s comfortable or till tears start flowing. Then close the eyes.
Internal gazing (antar trataka)
Concentrate on the after-image of the flame and try to keep it steady at the eyebrow centre. Keep observing the changes taking place in the colour and the size of the image. The image will appear, disappear and reappear, keep observing this until it fades away completely. If thoughts or any experiences arise, simply witness them.
Repeat the external and internal gazing stages 3-4 times.
Keep the eyes closed and become aware of the effects of the practice. Notice your breath and how you feel in the body. Next, bring the awareness to the eyebrow centre and visualise the candle flame for a few moments. Chant the mantra OM 3 times.
Rub the palms together vigorously to create heat and place them over the eyes. Feel the heat penetrate through the eyelids and into the surrounding muscles. Repeat 2 more times before gently opening the eyes.
Try not to rush into doing anything immediately after the practice. Give it a few minutes and allow the effects to settle into the body and the psyche. Trataka is an excellent prelude to meditation.
Dharana Darshan, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, 1993 Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swami Muktibodhananda, 1985