candle gazing meditation

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”)? Essentially it is a meditation technique in which we focus our gaze on a candle. And it is one of the most popular meditations in yoga.

The method works thanks to a link between the eyes and the brain.

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, there is also a direct relationship between mental health and eye movement patterns [2]. This is why highly perceptive people can actually determine how you are feeling simply by looking in your eyes. 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) [1] 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.

Candle Gazing Meditation / Trataka Benefits

As we saw when we looked at the science above, 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.

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 research to substantiate the benefits of Candle Gazing Meditation, general agreement among experts is that it offers the following benefits:

There has been very little scientific research in this practice (example). So what we know in terms of its benefits is mostly all anecdotal evidence from practitioners that have devoted years to its practice. In this context, trataka is attributed to have the following benefits:

Trataka Meditation Benefits

Trataka Candle Gazing Meditation Instructions

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.

EXERCISE: Trataka Meditation

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. Part of the key to the technique is holding your eyes as still but also as relaxed as possible. 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 say 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.

You can also practise meditating on the tip od your nose.

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.

Final thoughts

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) so it is hard to advise this as a primary discipline. However, I do recommend you try it and see what benefits you observe.

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About Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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