Meditation is becoming very popular nowadays but it is mainly mindfulness which is getting a lot of the attention. Trāṭaka is a less known type of meditation which appears in stories such as ‘The Monk who Sold his Ferrari’ by Rabin Sharma and ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’ by Roald Dahl.
It involves a gaze at what is typically a candle flame. It is important that the gazer is as still as possible, refrains from blinking and movement of the eyes. And equally important is that the candle is not flickering or moving. This fixed gaze develops concentration.
I must say in my practice it has been easier to concentrate than pay attention, so I have found Trāṭaka more easy to do than mindfulness. It is difficult for the mind to wander too far when you have an external point of focus and your eyes are open.
It is difficult though, especially in the beginning, to prevent your eyes from moving. It is the way we see – either an object must move or we must move our eyes to see an object at all. The eyes have movement even during sleep (Rapid Eye Movement during dreams REM sleep). So to consciously stop the eye movement is difficult to do.
Eye movement is also the way we think. This has been studied in NeuroLinguistic Programing. We gaze in different directions to access memories or create a visual or auditory image. There hve even been studies that show abnormal patterns of eye movement in those with schizophrenia, depression, and other psychological illnesses. So keeping the eyes still has interesting effects on the mind. With the stilling of the gaze, the mind stills too. For moments, there is no thought. In order to see the flame, you must be totally present, just looking and doing or thinking nothing else.
This property of the Trāṭaka exercise makes it have potentially big benefits for various phsycological problems. Apart from this, the benefits of the exercise include increased concentration power and improvement in various eye conditions too. As a Yogic exercise it is clubbed with Kriyas, which generally tend to cleanse internally or externally. Trāṭaka is often done till the eyes water or grow tired. The watering of eyes upon resisting blinking may have a cleansing effect on the eyes.
So next time you think of meditating, if you want to try something new, try Trāṭaka.