This method became popular in the West when Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) wrote about it in Dynamics of Meditation.
When we practice Candle Gazing we focus our gaze on a candle or another object such as a yantra, a black dot, your own reflection in a mirror, a deity or guru. And in traditional Dzogchen (Buddhist teachings) we focus on the sky.
This simple practice of focusing our gaze has quite profound benefits. I’ll discuss those in just a moment. But first, let me show you how to do Tratak.
Trataka Meditation Instructions
- You can choose any object to focus on. However, most people like to focus on a candle flame.
- Place the object directly in front of you so that you are not looking to the left or right.
- Sit with good posture. You can sit in Lotus position if you like. Otherwise, sit on a chair with good posture. Place your feet squarely on the ground at shoulder-width. Place your knees directly above your ankles. Make sure your spine is straight but relaxed and that your lumbar feels comfortable. Roll your shoulders back then relax. Gently open your heart space.
- Focus on the object while holding your eyes still.
- We gaze in a specific way. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says that we must “look intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed.” We must hold the eyes still without strain.
- After a few minutes you will probably notice tears rising. Gently close your eyes for a brief period and then open them and continue to gaze at your object.
- Make sure you do not strain your eyes at any time during the practice. And if you have cataracts, do not meditate on a candle.
- After you have gazed at your object for five minutes or so, close your eyes. You will see an image of your meditation object behind your closed eyes. Meditate on this internal image for ten minutes.
Benefits of Candle Gazing
Did you know that holding your gaze still can have a fabulous effect on your health?
Research from neuropsychologist Marcel Kinsbourne shows that there is a scientific link between the eyes and the brain.
As you likely know, sight is the most powerful of our five primary senses. We perceive the world through sight firstly, and then touch, taste, smell, and hearing. Plus, unlike other senses, we can actually perceive the world indirectly through sight in the way of photographs and video. Because of this, an estimated 80% of our perception of the world comes via the sense of sight.
Not only do we create the majority of our perception of the world through sight, but there is also a direct relationship between mental health and eye movement patterns .
Indeed, highly perceptive people can determine how you are feeling simply by looking in your eyes. The way you move your eyes reflects your emotions and thoughts.
Most importantly, when you hold your eyes still, your mind becomes still. And this is why there are so many benefits of Candle Gazing meditation. Let’s take a look.
Numerous mental health conditions like ADHD and anxiety are correlated to increases in erratic eye movement.
Just as the breath may be shallow when we are stressed, our eye movements are also affected by states of mind.
Now, if mental health conditions cause erratic eye movements, what would happen if we deliberately hold the eyes still?
This is a question that yogis were interested in answering. And they discovered that by focusing the eyes and holding them still it is possible to relax and focus the mind. Hence why candle gazing helps.
The same concept is used in a form of therapy known as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)  has been used since 1987 to help cure problems such as trauma and PTSD—indeed, in one study by the National Institute of Mental Health, EMDR was found to treat PTSD more effectively than medication.
When we are anxious or stressed our eyes make more microsaccades, which are microscopic jerking movements. This happens to prevent objects from disappearing from our vision (when we hold our gaze still for long enough objects tend to disappear from our vision).
But again, these jerking eye movements are related to stress and anxiety. One of the main benefits or Trataka, then, is that we reduce these eye movements, and this, in turn, reduces stress and anxiety.
Put simply: Still eyes = still mind.
According to Anandmurti Gurumaa, by fixing the eyes on a single point we bring the mind to a halt.
The eyes are incredibly important. They are the windows to the soul of the subtle body, and the most complex of all organs.
Nearly half the brain is dedicated to vision. Little distractions in the mind cause the eyes to move. But when we deliberately hold the eyes still the mind settles. This is one reason Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, yoga, and other spiritual sects have adopted meditations with the eyes open.
The direction the eyes move effects which half of the brain is dominant, and also influences our emotions. By focusing the eyes on an object directly in front of us we create harmony between the two hemispheres of the brain. This creates balance.
Do note that this is from limited scientific evidence.
- Enhances concentration, memory, and willpower.
- Heightens visualization skills
- Clears accumulated mental/emotional issues
- Allows suppressed thoughts to surface
- Can reduce insomnia
- Heightens cognitive function
- Increases nervous stability
- Makes eyes cleaner and stronger
- Helps with anxiety
- Balances brain hemispheres
- Can help with numerous diseases of the eyes
- Enhances self-confidence
- Increases patience
Trataka is a powerful method for calming your mind and developing your focus. It also makes a wonderful alternative to the conventional eyes-closed meditations. Indeed, that’s why many people like to use this method as a complement to their primary practice.
Sadly, there is less scientific research into Trataka than many other forms of meditation (like Vipassana or Mindfulness). Therefore, it is hard to recommend this as a primary discipline. However, I do recommend that you try it and see what benefits you observe.
It is interesting to note that gazing is used as a practice in many other cultures and traditions.
- Philosophers in classical Greece practised navel-gazing (omphaloskepsis),
- In the Orthodox Church, there is the practice of gazing at images and statues of saints.
- Theravada Buddhism includes Kasina Meditation, which is very similar to Trataka.
- In Taoism, there is Flower Gazing.
- And Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) has a practice of meditating on divine geometry.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison