Trataka. Candle Gazing for a Calm Mind
The Sanskrit word trataka means simply to gaze and describes a series of practices that involve gazing at a candle flame in order to build meditative concentration or dharana.
The variation taught here will also work to strengthen and cleanse the eyes, whilst releasing tension from the face and upper parts of the neck and base of the head. Trataka is a wonderful practice for calming an overstimulated mind, and for easing insomnia.
Besides the generally down regulating benefits of the meditation, fixing the eyes on a source of natural red light leads to the release of melatonin from the pineal gland which stimulates the mind and bodies descent into relaxation and ultimately sleep. Melatonin acts by binding with a variety of neural receptor sites that would usually keep us active in order to rapidly down regulate the body. In a modern environment starved of natural light sources this practice supports entraining our own rhythms to the natural world around us. Melatonin not only helps us prepare for sleep, it also helps us stay soundly asleep and plays an important role in regulating temperature, blood pressure and inflammation throughout the course of the day.
This meditation will be most effective in a dark environment. Avoid where possible any draughty areas so that the candle flame will burn steadily.
Light a candle approximately 4 foot in front of you, positioned so that you can sit in a comfortable posture with the spine tall, facing the candle directly with a slight tuck to the chin.
Close your eyes and take several breaths to settle into your posture.
Rub your palms together to create heat and then lightly cup the eyes, allowing tension around the eyes and the brow to soften.
Open your eyes and fix your gaze upon the flame of the candle. Attempt to fix all of your awareness on that point. Holding it there until the eyes begin to water.
Blink several times to cleanse the eyes, then close them and instead focus on an internal visualised image of the flame flickering in the same spot. As the internal image fades let your awareness return to your breath and repeat stages 3-5 once or twice more.
For a beginner to this practice 3 repetitions of around 3 minutes gazing is recommended. As you become more familiar with the practice the time spent gazing will increase and the need for rest and repetitions will decrease, instead the practice will close with a felt sense of completion in the practitioner.
If you are practicing this to aid with sleep then to practice approximately between 1 and 2 hours prior to your bedtime is ideal, ensuring that afterwards you do not turn your attention back to screens or bright rooms, but continue the active process of winding down, perhaps with a book (a real paper one!), or some restorative yoga poses. For those practicing to cleanse and complete the days activity to practice closer towards bedtime is effective.