The Ancient, Lost Art Of Trāṭaka Meditation
There are many paths to prepare and do meditation- breath, pranayama, asana (postures) etc, all these techniques calm the body and focus the mind.
But one practice in particular is wonderful to do before and during meditation for focus: Trāṭaka.
Trāṭaka is the practice of staring at an external object, and is also known as Yogic gazing.
It is one of the cleansing techniques (shatkarmas).
This fixed gazing is a method of preparing for meditation, and is a meditation in of itself.
Concentrating on a single point such as a small object, black dot, or candle flame, it’s used in yoga as a way of developing concentration, strengthening the eyes, and stimulating the ājňā chakra (the point between the eyebrows).
“Looking intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed, is known as trataka by the acharyas.” (“Hatha Yoga Pradipika” 2:31)
Benefits of Trāṭaka
According to the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ of Swatmarama, ‘Trataka abolishes all eye diseases, fatigue, and laziness, and closes the doorway creating these problems.’
Trāṭaka Is therapeutic for depression, insomnia, allergies, anxiety, postural problems, poor concentration, and memory.
It unlocks the inherent energy of the mind and channels it to the dormant areas of the unconscious.
Yogi Swatmarama mentions the renewal of clairvoyance but other capacities such as telepathy, telekinesis, psychic healing, etc., can develop.
“Trataka eradicates all diseases associated with vision.” (HYP II.33)
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
There are many other equally effective symbols for trataka apart from the candle flame, such as a crystal ball, a shiva lingam, yantra, mandala, the full moon, a star, the rising or setting sun (when it is orange, not yellow), a chakra, the symbol om or your own shadow.
These are the most effective, but trataka can also be done on a rose, a tree, a mountain, the sea, the sky, a rock, a black dot or any object of your choice.
A steady flame of light is the most practical and safest.
2 Ways To Practice Trāṭaka
There are two forms of the practice: one is ‘bahiranga’ or external trataka, and the other is ‘antaranga’ or internal trataka.
Bahiranga is easier to practice because one simply has to gaze at an object or symbol.
However, antaranga trataka involves clear and stable inner visualization of an object.
- Practice in a comfortable space in a room with low light or even dark.
- Place a candle at arm’s length in front of you with the flame at eye level- it’s important that the flame does not flicker in the least .
- Sit in a comfortable meditative pose, preferably siddhasana/siddha yoni asana and place the hands on the knees in either gyana or chin mudra – relax your whole body, close your eyes, and prepare yourself just like any meditative practice -make yourself calm and quiet and be prepared to keep your body perfectly still throughout the entire practice.
- Open your eyes and gaze at the middle portion of the flame (ideally one should focus on the red tip of the wick as it does not move due to draft)
- Gaze for as long as possible without blinking and without strain until the eyes begin to water or tire – you will be able to increase the time gradually with practice to ten minutes – remain the silent witness (sakshi) throughout, observing all thoughts and feeling which may arise – when you close your eyes keep them fixed on the impression.
- If the after image moves, bring it back to the centre and continue gazing until the impression disappears -once you can stabilise the afterimage, study it and look intently at its colour.
Prepare yourself as in the technique for bahirangatrataka.
- Keep the eyes closed throughout and concentrate on your symbol – if you have no symbol try to visualize a point of light, like a twinkling star, or a crescent or full moon – try to see the object clearly and steadily in the dark space or in front of the closed eyes; practice for five to twenty minutes. (This practice has to be cultivated over a long time.)
- You can also imagine that your breathing in a straight line from the point of concentration through the eyebrow center, and straight back to ajna chakra at the back of the head. When you close your eyes to gaze at the counter image, continue with this awareness
Trataka can be done at any time but is more effective when performed on an empty stomach.
The most suitable time is in the morning after asana and pranayama practice.
If you wish to delve deeper into the mind, trataka should be done late at night before going to bed and before japa or meditation.
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