Trataka is the specialized practice that yoga recommends for improving the eyesight, focus and concentration. It is one of the six kriyas. Kriyas are essentially meant for cleansing and strengthening the nerves. With trataka our aim is to exercise and purify the nerves which connect the eyes to the brain and the different muscles achieving calming down of the mind, slowing down of the breath. The practice of trataka does wonders with building concentration.
What is Trataka?
“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)
Trataka is a practice of intense gazing without blinking the eyes at a fixed focal point. This point can be anything: a dot, a flower, the sun or even the moon. The gazing practice of Trataka is of two types: external (bahiranga) and internal (antaranga). External Trataka is performed by steadily gazing, without blinking at a small object. A candle flame is good for this practice.
Why to Practice Trataka?
"Trataka eradicates all eye diseases, fatigue and sloth and closes the doorway to these problems"- Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.32
According to Gherand Samhita (5.54), Trataka promotes clairvoyance or perception of subtle manifestations. Modern science also proves through multiple researches the benefits of Trataka for relieving certain eye conditions.
We heard many times that eyes are the windows to the soul. Out of our five senses, sight is may be the most powerful. With our eyes we can perceive objects and landscapes miles away. Actually, 80% of all sensory data we process comes through our vision. After the brain, our eyes are the most complex organ in the body, containing more than 200 million connections. Eye muscles are also the fastest muscles in our bodies. The transmission of information has the speed of light and it is so important that only 1/6 of it is exposed outside.
Even though sight is considered to be so developed in humans, it is the most abused of our five senses. Average person spends over eight hours a day staring at screens- smartphones, computers, laptops etc. This leads to problems such as blurred vision, dry, itchy eyes, headaches, migraines, double vision, and so on. It is known that there is deep connection between the eyes and the mind. Tension around the eyes also affects the brain causing stress and anxiety.
Therefore, we must notice that when we close our eyes, our mind also relaxes.
Why is that? Because of the optic nerve!
The optic nerve transmits all visual information including brightness perception, color perception and contrast (visual acuity). It also conducts the visual impulses that are responsible for two important neurological reflexes: the light reflex and the accommodation reflex. Actually, the optic nerve has been classified as the second of twelve paired cranial nerves but it is technically part of the central nervous system, rather than the peripheral nervous system because it is derived from an out-pouching of the diencephalon (optic stalks) during embryonic development. Simply said, the optic nerve is like an extension of your brain, guiding so many processes in the whole body.
The Pineal Gland
Between your eyes lies your biological clock, following the circadian rhythms of the nature- the pineal gland. From the point of view of biological evolution, the pineal gland represents a kind of atrophied photoreceptor. In the head of some species, it is linked to a light-sensing organ, known as the pineal eye or third eye.
René Descartes believed the human pineal gland to be the "principal seat of the soul".
The primary function of the pineal gland is to produce melatonin. Melatonin has various functions in the central nervous system, the most important of which is to help modulate sleep patterns. Melatonin production is stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light. Trataka and meditation are yogic techniques which help in regulating the pineal gland's function.
Only healthy diet intake and sleep are not enough to take the necessary care of our eyes. Yoga plays a significant role to help improving the functioning of the eyes through practicing specific asanas and kriyas.
Our Distracted Minds
Our eyes can focus on multiple things every second. This restless scan of the environment, much like our fight or flight response, was a necessity when living in the jungle. In our modern lifestyle, however, our inability to turn off this anxiety producing pattern does not contribute to our survival or quality of life. Yet, the intensive use of computer and smartphones is training us to be ever more restless with our eyes. This is one of the reasons why our attention span keeps getting shorter.
Let’s run a quick experiment. Look for a few seconds at the two images below.
You’ll notice that in the first picture, the wheels appear to be rotating, while in the second one the black dots seem to be blinking.
Now look at them again, but instead focus your eyes on one of the dots in the image, and be attentively concentrated that your eyes don’t move even a bit. If you manage to do that, the movements will disappear, and you will see the images for what they really are- totally static. You might have also experienced a stillness of your mind as well. If not, it becomes evident with a bit more practice.
Conclusion: Distractions in the mind translate to micro movements in the eyes or eyelids, and vice-versa. Stillness of eyes brings stillness of mind, and vice-versa.
Some of the benefits associated with Trataka are:
Improves eyesight and vision.
Improves concentration, intelligence and memory. (Hence, it is also recommended for school children)
Excellent method as preparation for meditation.
Regulates the pineal gland
Enhances self-confidence, patience and willpower.
Improves work efficiency and productivity.
Calms the mind and provides inner peace and silence.
Brings greater clarity in mind and improves decision-making ability.
Helps to overcome mental, behavioral and emotional ailments.
Provides stress relief and deep relaxation.
Helps in sleep related disorders such as headache, insomnia, nightmares. Note that people with high myopia and other serious eye disorders should avoid Trataka. How to Practice Trataka?
Prior describing the steps for Trataka, it is important to describe what to do immediately after practicing it. Cupping the eyes is essential after completing trataka or meditation. You may also splash your eyes with room temperature water afterwards to refresh the eyes.
Cupping the Eyes
Gently rub your palms to generate warmth and form a cup. Place the "cupped" palms on your eyes to transfer the heat. Then blink few times in the warm darkness, followed by sliding down your palms.
Now, when we know how to finish, we should decide how to begin. There are 2 types of trataka- bahiranga (external) and antaranga (internal). Bahiranga trataka is easier to practice and recommended for beginners because one simply has to gaze at an object or symbol externally. Antaranga trataka involves clear, detailed and stable inner visualization of an object.
Bahiranga Trataka- Candle (Jyoti) or Object Gazing
Practice in a comfortable space in a room with low light, not too dark, not too brright.
Place a candle at arm’s length in front of you with the flame just a bit lower than your eye level- it’s important that the flame does not flicker and is steady (no wind or air should disturb the flame).
Sit in a comfortable meditative pose, preferably siddhasana/sukhasana/padmasana or on a chair and place the hands relaxed on the knees or tights or in any mudra – relax your whole body, keep your neck and spine erect close your eyes, and prepare yourself, make yourself calm and quiet. In case you decide to use symbol like yantra or other object, instead of a candle, place it at the same distance. The point of attention must be as small as possible.
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 or the blue light where the wick and flame meet)
Gaze for as long as possible without blinking and without strain until the eyes begin to water or tire. Make sure not to strain your eyes. Do not stay unblinkingly for too long – you will be able to increase the time gradually with practice to ten minutes – remain the silent witness (sakshi bhava) throughout, observing all thoughts and feeling which may arise – when you close your eyes keep them fixed on the impression.
Now you can choose to move on to antaranga trataka. Close your eyes and visualize the object or try to see its detailed image within for as long as it starts dissolving. With time and practice you will be able to hold the visualization longer in your mind.
When the image starts to disappear, cup your eyes and slowly open them.
Practice for few minutes. Not recommended for serious eye disorders, glaucoma and high myopia. This exercise is not suitable for people with psychic problems – schizophrenia or hallucinations.
Bahiranga trataka- Surya, Chandra, Tara or Graha (Sun, Moon, Stars, Planets) Gazing
Choose a place where you can sit quietly and gaze at the rising or setting sun (which is red and not too bright only in a small-time frame) or any other chosen celestial body, such as the moon, star, planet.
Sit in any comfortable posture and stare at a point within your chosen object.
Once your eyes grow weary, tears come or you wish to blink, close your eyes and try to visualize the picture in your mind.
When the image in your mind begins to fade, cup your eyes and gently open your eyes. With practice you will notice that the time you are able to concentrate on your image will gradually increase from few seconds to minutes.
Make sure never to overdo tratak and to rest your eyes whenever needed.
Prepare yourself as in the techniques for bahiranga trataka.
Keep the eyes closed throughout and concentrate on your object. Try to see the object clearly and steadily in the dark space or in front of the closed eyes. Practice the visualization for five to twenty minutes. At first you will be able to hold the picture in your mind only for few seconds. Be patient with yourself. This practice of internal concentration can to be cultivated over a period time with practice.
Dynamic Trataka Techniques- Eye Muscles Exercises
Alternating Focus- This exercise can be done to relieve eyes after prolonged computer work. It is recommended to be done every 20 minutes. Steps- 1. Choose a faraway point of attention and stare at it for few seconds. 2. Choose a near point of attention and stare at it for few seconds. 3. Keep alternating the focus few times 4. Cup your eyes and release.
Dakshina & Vama Trataka- Eyeball rotation from right shoulder to left shoulder. Keeping the eyes open, gaze straight ahead at one point. Slowly, without moving the head move the eyeballs to the right shoulder in one slow, continuous movement. Rest the gaze on the right shoulder for a few seconds, without blinking (Dakshina Jatru). Gently, begin moving the eyes to the center and then towards left shoulder (Vama Jatru). Return gaze to the center point.
Upward and Downward Gaze- Look at the one point ahead of you. Bring the eyes upwards and hold for a few seconds without blinking. Return to center and take the gaze downwards . Return gaze to the center. Repeat few times.
Bhrumadhya & Nasikagrah Trataka- Between the eyebrows and on the tip of the nose. Focus both the eyes on the space between the eyebrows (Bhrumadhya). Return to center. Now fix both the eyes on the tip of the nose (Nasikagrah). Return to center. Repeat few times and cup your eyes.
Eyeball Rotation: Keeping the eyes open, gaze straight ahead at one point. Rotate both eyes in clockwise and then anti-clockwise directions.
Peripheral Sight- Look straight ahead at one point. Try to look at the sides, left and right while the center is vanishing. Now look into the distance and close the eyes.
When to Practice Trataka?
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, before japa and meditation. Kapalbhati can be best practiced prior trataka. If you wish to dig deeper into the mind, trataka should be done before japa or meditation. Also bhramari pranayama, helps to improve focus and coordination between both eyes prior trataka.
You can finish all practices by splashing water on eyes with mouth full of water which is one of the most refreshing techniques for eyes.
Take care of your eyes and practice trataka.