Definition of Trāṭaka: Still Eyes, Still Mind
Trāṭaka or Trāṭak (meaning ‘look’ or ‘gaze’ in Sanskrit) is both a yoga purification practice (one of the shatkarma, meaning ‘six actions’ in Sanskrit) and a tantric method of meditation that involves focusing on a single point, such as a small object, black dot, a spiritual symbol (known as yantra in Sanskrit), a mirror, a meaningful image or a candle flame. This meditative practice is traditionally said to bring energy to the ‘third eye’ (ājňā chakra in Sanskrit), support healthy eye function, promote intuition, while also increasing the power of memory and brings the mind to a state of awareness, attention and focus. By fixing the gaze the restless mind too comes to a standstill. Trāṭaka as a practice can enhance the ability to concentrate, as such it can be categorised as a ‘concentrative’ or ‘fixed attention’ meditative practice.
A Brief History: Ancient Practice, Modern Times
Anthropologists have speculated that our early human ancestors first began to meditate by gazing into a fire without the immediate need to avert threat. Although the oldest known written records of Trāṭaka meditation comes from the great yoga tradition of Ancient India, Trāṭaka is likely to have evolved across cultures. There are countless forms of meditation originating from various schools of philosophical thought. Trāṭaka is detailed in the Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā, a 1500CE instructional manual of classical yoga by Swami Svatmarama. Alongside the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita, Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā is one of the three most influential surviving texts on classical yoga.
Practice Guidance: Steady your Gaze, Immense Yourself
There are two forms of the practice: one is externally focused (Bahiranga Trāṭaka) and the other is internally focused (Antaranga Trāṭaka). The following practice combines both but begins with Bahiranga Trāṭaka. Ideally, practice Trāṭaka on an empty stomach between 10 and 40 minutes at your preferred time of day as follows:
Take up your meditation posture, which should be relaxed but with the spine straight, chest lifted and your disposition wakeful, vigilant and open;
Light the tealight candle and set it at least two feet in front of you, with the flame positioned at eye-level so as not to strain your neck;
Ensure the space in which you are practising is dark and draft-free;
Begin by closing your eyes, survey your body and observe the breath until it becomes calm and regular;
Then open your eyes and rest your gaze on the middle part of the flame, right above the tip of the candle wick;
Keep your eyelids slightly more open than usual and maintain your gaze without blinking or blurring your vision for as long as possible;
Observe any thoughts that arise, watching them come and go without becoming engaged;
Close your eyes only when they begin to strain and water, and you can no longer sustain the gaze;
Then find the afterimage of the flame in your mind’s eye, resting your awareness at the ājňā chakra, or the point between your eyebrows;
If the image moves up-and-down or side-to-side, stabilize it by bringing it back to the centre, and continue to fix your gaze until the impression disappears.