Candle meditation: Trataka technique

Scientific studies clearly prove that any form of meditation is beneficial for the mind and body. Here, we’ll introduce a form of meditation you may not have heard of: the Trataka meditation technique, which places candles center-stage. If you already enjoy relaxing by candlelight but have never thought of incorporating it into your meditation practice, read on.

The practice of trataka

Trataka, which in Sanskrit means “to look” or “to gaze”, is an ancient practice of meditation used in Ayurvedic medicine that involves focusing the eyes on an external object. Eventually, with practice, this meditation technique can be done internally, with closed eyes. You can use any object to focus on, such as a black dot on the wall or any image that is appealing to you, but candle flame is usually the preferred object because it is so naturally attractive to the eyes. There is a reason why we use the phrase “drawn like a moth to a flame”. The warm glow of a candle is undeniably beautiful and comforting, which makes it the perfect object to focus on.

To start Trataka meditation, set your gaze on the candle flame (or the object of your choice) without blinking or moving your eyes. Your gaze should be soft and relaxed, not forced. When your eyes get tired or become teary, take your gaze off the candle, gently close your eyes and focus on the afterimage the flame leaves in your mind. After you feel your eyes have rested, open them and try another round. At first, you may feel your eyes get tired after just a few seconds but, with practice, you can slowly increase the amount of time you can focus on the flame.

Experts agree, however, that you shouldn’t practice trataka for more than 10 minutes at a time, especially if you’re using a candle. They also say you should take a two-week break every two months or so to avoid any retinal damage that may occur by staring at a flame for prolonged periods of time. This practice is contraindicated if you have cataracts, myopia, glaucoma, astigmatism or epilepsy. Always consult your doctor before beginning any new practice, especially if you have pre-existing conditions.

Trataka benefits

Considering that Trataka has been passed down over so many centuries, you can be sure that it has some amazing, tangible benefits. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have survived the test of time. Here are just some of the highlights.

Reduces anxiety

A reduction in anxiety is usually the primary goal that everyone aims for when starting any sort of meditation practice. That constant mental chatter in your mind -- the incessant to-do lists and the what-ifs -- can be hard to turn off and can create a continual state of anxiety. By forcing you to focus your attention on an object, especially something as calming as a candle flame, Trataka can help silence that mental chatter for a while. While your attention is directed towards an external object, it is diverted away from the day-to-day worries.

Improves eyesight & strengthens your eyes

With age, our eyes lose flexibility and muscle tone, which can cause a reduction in the ability to focus at various distances and, in turn, several conditions like far-sightedness. Fortunately, Trataka can strengthen your eye muscles and, thus, improve your eyesight. Science still hasn’t identified exactly how Trataka improves eyesight, but it is believed that the improvements experienced by practitioners are mainly attributable to the relaxation response that Trataka elicits. Stress management is crucial to so many aspects of our health.

Improves your concentration and memory

Trataka is essentially an exercise in concentration and the clarity that arises from this practice can make way for enhanced memory. By challenging you to set aside your thoughts and place all your attention on a candle flame, Trataka fine-tunes your ability to concentrate and control your wandering mind. Over time, you will find it easier to set your worries aside, give rest to your multitasking mind and concentrate fully on just one task at a time. By clearing your mind of unnecessary clutter, you will eventually experience an improvement in your memory.

Purifies and it stimulates the 6th chakra, Ajna

According to Ayurvedic tradition, the 6th chakra, also called the Ajna chakra or the third-eye chakra, controls our intuition and mental awareness, and it is believed that Trataka can stimulate and purify this chakra, improving these mental functions. Now, science has identified that this ancient concept correlates with the function of the pineal gland, a tiny gland in the middle of your brain that produces the sleep hormone melatonin and DMT (dimethyltryptamine). While scientists do not fully understand the mechanism behind this phenomenon, Ayurvedic medicine holds that Trataka can help cleanse and thus improve the functioning of the 6th chakra, producing increased mental clarity.

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