In this guide we will be looking at Candle Gazing Meditation (Trataka meditation): the benefits, instructions, and how to use the technique.
So, what it Candle Gazing Meditation (or “Trataka Meditation”)?
Trataka (Sanskrit Tratak) is a yogic meditation, a modification of a tantric practice used to energise the third eye Ajna chakra. It was popularised in the West by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), who explained the method in Dynamics of Meditation.
Essentially it is a meditation technique in which we focus our gaze on a candle. Although it can be also done focusing on a yantra, black dot, your own reflection in a mirror, a deity or guru. And in Dzogchen (traditional Buddhist teachings) it is recommended to do sky-gazing meditation.
Trataka meditation works thanks to a link between the eyes and the brain.
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 the 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, 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.
Effect of Trataka Meditation on Mental Health
Numerous mental health conditions like ADHD and anxiety correlated to increases in erratic eye movement. The breath works similarly—most people are already aware of the fact that when they are stressed or anxious they begin to breathe shallowly.
Now, if mental health conditions cause erratic eye movements, what would happen if we deliberately held 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 the mind.
That’s why when you feel stressed or anxious you might like to try Trataka meditation. Benefits of the technique include: relaxation, better mental health, and enhanced concentration.
Science is now beginning to realise the benefits of still-gazing. The 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.
In summary, we know from science and from yoga that still gazing can improve our mental health, and this is where the benefits of Candle Gazing Meditation come from.
Trataka Meditation Instructions (Candle Gazing)
The principle behind Trataka meditation technique is focusing the eyes in a relaxed way on an object directly in front of you, and then closing the eyes and holding the image inwardly.
Here is an example of Trataka meditation with a candle.
- Before starting make sure that you are sitting 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.
1: Focus on the external image
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. Focus on the object while holding your eyes still.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika described it as “looking intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed.”
We must hold the eyes still without strain.
After three minutes you will notice tears rising. Gently close your eyes for a brief period and then open them and continue to gaze at your object.
When you finish this section, wash your eyes with cold water. Do not practice every day or you could potentially end up with a permanent image on your retina.
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.
2: Internalising the process
After you have gazed at your object internally, close your eyes. You will see an image of your meditation object behind your closed eyes. Meditate on this internal image for ten minutes.
Candle Gazing Meditation / Trataka Benefits
When we are anxious or stressed our eyes make more microsaccades, which are microscopic jerking movements. This happens because if we hold our gaze still for long enough objects tend to disappear from our vision.
One of the benefits of Trataka meditation is that the gaze is still, stopping those microscopic motions and allowing the mind to become still too.
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 why Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, yoga, and other spiritual sects have adopted meditations with the eyes open.
Plus, the side the eyes move to has an effect on the dominant half of the brain and on 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 is where the majority of Trataka Meditation benefits come from.
Although there is little scientific evidence to substantiate the benefits of Candle Gazing Meditation, general agreement among experts is that it offers the following benefits.
Candle Gazing Benefits:
- Enhances concentration, memory, and willpower. Trataka is one of the best meditations for the style of concentration that Patanjali advocated in The Yoga Sutras.
- Heightens visualization skills
- Clears accumulated mental/emotional complexes
- 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 and patience
Trataka, or “Candle Gazing Meditation” is a powerful method for calming your mind and developing your focus. It also make a wonderful alternative to the conventional eyes-closed meditations, which is why many people like to use this method as a complement to their primary practice.
Sadly, there is less scientific research into Trataka than into certain other form of meditation (like Vipassana or Mindfulness). Therefore, it is hard to advise this as a primary discipline. However, I do recommend 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 practiced 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 Kaballah (Jewish mysticism) has a practice of meditating on divine geometry.
Clearly, holding the eyes still has been a practice used in many different cultures all over the world.