The word Trataka means ‘to look’ or ‘to gaze’. It is last of the shat karmas. It acts as stepping stone between physically oriented practices and mental practices which lead to higher states of awareness. It forms a bridge between Hatha yoga and Raja yoga.
Hatha yoga is described in the early yoga Upanishads and for the first time it has explained shatkarma. It is a very precise and systemic science. ‘Shat’ means ‘six’ and ‘karma’ means action. The shat karmas consist of six purificatory practices. The aim of Hatha yoga and shat karmas is to create harmony between the two major pranic flows ‘ida’ and ‘pingala’, thereby imparting physical and mental purification and balance.
According to both Hatha yoga and Ayurveda, an imbalance of the doshas will result in illness. The shatkarma are also used to balance the three doshas or humors in the body. These practices are used in order to purify the body of toxins and to ensure safe and successful progression along the spiritual path.
Nirukti of Jyoti – Trataka
Jyoti – Darshana, Prakasha – (Amarakosha)
Trataka – Method of fixing the eye on one object – (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)
The word Trataka means ‘to look’ or ‘to gaze’. It is last of the shat karmas. It acts as stepping stone between physically oriented practices and mental practices which lead to higher states of awareness. It forms a bridge between Hatha yoga and Raja yoga. Traditionally, it is a part of Hatha yoga but it may also be considered as a part of raja yoga.
It is an external concentration practice in which one gazes steadily at some small object without blinking, while the eyelids are held slightly more open than usual. The practice is continued until the eyes strain and water. They should then be dosed and the eyes rolled gently a few times, followed by rinsing them carefully and gently with cold water. The purpose of this practice is to coordinate the impulses of the sensory and motor nerves, which assist in producing a state of calmness and tranquility necessary for concentration. Types of Trataka: There are 2 kinds of Trataka
Bahiranga Trataka (External)
– where one fixes their gaze on an external object.
Antaranga Trataka (Internal)
– where gaze is at the third eye (inward and upward). Or the inner celestial spaces such as chidakash or hridayakasha.
By placing a candle at eye level 2 to 3 feet away and sitting in a meditative posture, practicing kaya – sthairyam (steadiness of body) With the intention of being detached from all thoughts arising in the mind. Now begin gazing steadily without blinking at an object such as a still candle flame or symbol like ‘ohm’.
If eyes become strained, imagine that the breath is through the mid – eye brow centre to Ajnachakra. Then when the eyes are closed to rest, the subtle form is seen in the mental space, naturally leading to Antaranga Trataka.
It is important to choose carefully what is the object for focus as a deep impression is made on the mind any many subtle energies and influences are aroused by the practice.
One pointed concentrated focusing on an object seen within the inner celestial spaces of mind. The preparation is the similar to Bahiranga Trataka.
Procedure of Bahya Trataka (Jyoti Trataka) :
- Preparatory eye exercises
- Up and down or vertical movements
- Right and left or horizontal movement of eyeballs
- Diagonal movement of eyeballs (Two directions)
- Rotational movement of the eyeballs (Clockwise & anti clockwise)
Step 1. Effortless gazing or focusing at flame
Step 2. Intensive focusing at the tip of the wick of the flame
Step 3. De-focusing followed by Silence
Guidelines in practicing :
- This practice is to be done in the dark preferably in the evening.
- Remove glasses, wristwatch and belt and make yourself comfortable in the posture.
- Sit with your head, neck and spine erect. Always open your eyes with a few blinks.
- During eye exercises head should not to be moved but the eyeballs.
- Start looking at the floor and then slowly bring your gaze onto the flame.
- Breathe slowly and deeply with awareness during palming.
- Palms are placed in such a way that there is complete darkness in front of eyes. During palming don’t let the palms touch or press the eyeballs.
- The facial muscles, eyebrows and eyelids should remain totally relaxed.
- Trataka should be performed after Asanas and Pranayama.
- Practice Trataka on a steady flame. Avoid undue strain to the eyes.
Precautions & Contra indications:
- Trataka, like other intincate yogic exercise should be learnt under the direct guidance of some accomplished yoga guru; otherwise there is every possibility that eye muscles as well as the nervous system may be damaged.
- Eye should be splashed and washed with clean cold water immediately after the trataka practice. This will stimulate the blood supply in the eye regions.
- Avoid using any external eye-medicine or solution after trataka. Also avoid rubbing the eyes even if in the beginning of trataka, you feel some eye strain which would be usual due to new adaptation to eye exercises.
- Never practice trataka in the strong rays of the sun. but for enjoying the full advantage of healthy effect of scorching sun-rays, it is advised to sit with the closed eyes, facing the sun. Sun tratakas with open eyes should be performed in the early morning and the late afternoon. However the trataka at the full moon of poornima is the best.
- Some bodily exercises before and after the trataka are necessary to bring back the tissues and the nerves etc to normal course.
- The continuous repetition and reflection upon the symbol of isvara i.e. Aum during the trataka practice will be spiritually very beneficial. Also the auto suggestion of various noble ideas.
- Do not practice if you get headache during Trataka.
- In case of eye aliments like eyestrain, myopia, astigmatism and the early symptoms of cataract, it is advised to gaze at a black dot instead of flame.
Benefits of Trataka:
It keeps away the eyestrain by strengthening the eye muscles and by giving deep relaxation to them. It makes the eyes clear, bright and radiant. It cleanses the tear glands and purifies the optical system.
- It is known to correct refractive errors and beneficial in relieving nervous tension, anxiety, depression and lack of desire to sleep (Insomnia).
- Many of the eye troubles are due to lack of proper blood circulation to the eyes and strains upon the muscles of the eyes. Trataka helps to relieve the strain of the eye muscles and improves blood circulation to the eyes.
- This practice makes the eyes clear and bright. It balances the nervous system by relieving nervous tension, anxiety, depression and insomnia. It helps to improve memory and strong will power.
- Trataka, which cures eye diseases and wards off sloth etc, should be valued and preserved with effort as one does a casket of gold.
- By constant practice of this, the sambhavi mudra is facilitated; diseases of the eyes are cured and acute vision is acquired.
- It helps to develop concentration and also improves memory.
- It is known to increase will power and is an excellent preparation for meditation.
- Trataka activates Ajnachakra. It is an excellent preparation for meditation.
- Trataka is a fine exercise for a wandering mind. It gives total concentration and/thoughtless state.
Psychological cleansing process:
- During initial practice of Trataka, the sub – conscious and the unconscious mind gets activated and thus helps to bring back certain repressed experiences to the level of consciousness.
- Intensity of the thoughts disappear in the long practice and one gets relaxation, calmness, lightness and pleasant feelings and wishes to continue Trataka with these feelings.
- Trataka gives improved sleep pattern, more balanced state of mind and emotional stability.
Effect on the Nervous System -Brain waves:
- Alpha waves are often seen in a relaxed individual with eyes closed. Normally the alpha rhythm is blocked when the eyes are opened.
- During Trataka alpha activity was not only persisted but also increased slightly. The visual stimuli could not block the alpha rhythm as they became less sensitive to the external stimulation.
- The increase in alpha activity is an indication of pleasant mood, less mental disturbance, absorptive, high state of one pointed-ness and no fluctuation of ideas or thrusts in the mind of the practitioners.
Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system:
A shift of autonomic balance from sympathetic to parasympathetic predominance was indicated and diminution in central activity shuts out the inner and outer world’s of the practitioner and keeps in a state of alert awareness, which may lead to higher state in yoga.
Effect on mental health:
- Steadiness of gaze is directly related to steadiness and concentration of mind.
- The relaxed mind needs less time and the disturbed mind needs more to complete Trataka.
Effects on visual perception:
Effects of visual perception are also considered important in inspiring the unconscious mind as they create significant impressions on it.
- The unconscious mind stimulates specific bio-electrochemical reactions according to the type of the visuals perceived by it. These reactions affect the entire body.
- Experimental research of Dr. Lasslie M Lecron of America has also proved that the flame of a lamp or a candle has significant applications in psychological and psychiatric healing.
Trataka is a very effective procedure with multidimensional benefits at physical, mental and spiritual aspects. For effectively counteracting the increased instances of psycho – somatic illnesses occurring now a day, this procedure should be popularized in the society for practice by one and all.
1. Asana pranayama mudra bandhana’ by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bihar school of yoga 1996 edition)
2. Hatha Yoga Pradipika
3. Gheranda Samhita
4. Light on Yoga by Sri B.K.S.Iyengar
5. Yoga and Ayurveda by Dr.Subhash Ranade