TRATAKA ~ Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati~
Trataka means to gaze, and it is an important practice of pratyahara.
It is the last practice of pratyahara, which leads to dharana.
In trataka the mind is fixed right from the word ‘go’ on an object, a visual object. In your practice of yoga nidra, you go
through a gradual introversion. From body awareness you move to sound awareness, then to rotation of consciousness
through body parts, breath awareness, and so on. You gradually go deeper, withdrawing the mind from its external
associations and connections. In trataka it is one hit, you are there, you have to be there, for there is no gradual movement to concentration. You have to have that state of concentration right from the word ‘go’.
Sage Gorakhnath’s mastery
Trataka involves sight, and sight is connected to ajna chakra.
There is a story that Sage Gorakhnath, one of the main propagators of hatha yoga, perfected hatha yoga spontaneously
Once he was sick and bedridden. On the wall of his room was hanging an earthen lantern with a burning wick, as it use to be in the olden days.
In the dark room the lamp would be burning continuously, and lying on the bed he would gaze at the lamp.
By doing this he perfected trataka. While he was sick, he watched the flame and perfected his trataka. That perfection bestowed certain special abilities upon him, and then his guru Matsyendranath came and took him as his disciple.
Different methods of trataka
Trataka is a visual practice and it uses sight to bring about a state of concentration. It uses vision to still the dissipations of the mind, and therein lies its beauty.
There are many methods of practising trataka and each brings about a different experience. For therapy purposes the method is different, for achieving mental concentration the method is different, for psychic experience the method is again different.
Trataka is not one practice, though usually only one method is taught as that is the safest. If the other methods were taught, you could have experiences that you may not be able to manage. Remember, this is not a subject of curiosity or of bravado that you can manage it; you have to work from where
you are and gradually go up.
It is believed that trataka opens up the human psyche.
It activates ajna chakra, due to which you begin to foresee things; you become the seer of events. That, however, is the final attainment of trataka. In the primary class of trataka,
it is practised for two purposes: therapy of the eyes and concentration. At the Bihar School of Yoga, trataka has not been taught for psychic discovery or awakening.
In terms of therapy, the practice improves the eyesight.
In fact, whenever you feel that your vision is deteriorating, perhaps at the age of forty or forty-five, practise trataka.
When you begin to have a little blurriness in the vision and notice that you need to hold the paper away from yourself, at that time
if you practise trataka regularly for six months your eyesight will get better. After some time, when you again notice a slight
blurriness and there is an urge to move the paper away, again practise trataka for fifteen days. That is how trataka is used
for therapy purposes.
For the purpose of concentration, to stop the dissipation of mind and improve concentration, trataka on a candle flame is practised at night.
That is the technique used in the Bihar Yoga system more than any other. Rather than trying to practise and teach twenty different variations of trataka, which will not be used properly, this single practice helps improve the eyesight and concentration.
Swami Satyananda was the first person to use this particular technique while everybody else was doing trataka on yantras,
symbols and black dots. Swami Satyananda said, “No, they may be practices of hatha yoga but they are irrelevant to the
needs of today. What is relevant in relation to physical and mental health is what we are going to use.” Thus, in the Bihar Yoga system, trataka using a candle flame is the style that Sri Swamiji introduced.
Stages of trataka
There are four stages of trataka. First is bahir trataka or external trataka. This uses an external object on which the vision is
fixed; one has to look at it without flickering the eyelids. That is the rule of trataka: while you are looking at something you cannot flicker the eyelids.
The moment you have the urge to blink or move the eyes for any other reason, you have to stop the external gazing, close the eyes, look at the after-image, and remain with the eyes closed until that inner image disappears.
Initially, when you are not used to the practice, the nerves and the muscles get tired quickly and there is a strong urge to close the eyes, and when you close them tears begin to flow.
The tear ducts become activated due to the pressure exerted on them by steady gazing, and that is a good sign, as the eyes are being lubricated. This is known as bahir trataka.
The second stage is antar trataka, internal trataka, and here
a symbol is used. For example, at the beginning of a class
during Shanti Path you are asked to visualize a candle flame
at the eyebrow centre. That is the beginning of antar trataka,
where you are recreating the image of a flame in your mind.
You have to recreate the flame as a 3D image: the colours, the
height, the width, all have to be seen. In antar trataka, the effort
is to actualize the form that you visualize or think of.
Then the third stage of trataka, after bahir and antar
trataka, is shoonya drishti. Shoonya drishti means gazing into
nothingness, into void. How this is practised will become clear
if you recall the practice of antar mouna. You would have
noticed that in antar mouna when you are asked to become
aware of your thoughts, there are no thoughts, you find that
you cannot think. That is because the moment you begin to
observe something, that activity stops. The moment you move
your mind away, again the thoughts begin to come. That
applies to trataka as well.
Vision is considered to be one of the major causes of
dissipation in the brain. You receive information through all
the senses, whether touch, smell, taste or sound, but the volume
of information received through the eyes is much more than
all the other four senses put together. Out of the two billion
bytes of information that your brain receives every second,
maybe sixty percent is vision-related, ten percent is hearing,
ten is touching, ten is smelling and ten is tasting. Therefore,
it is the vision that always creates mental disturbance, and in
trataka the vision is being focused.
If you close your eyes and remain with the eyes closed for
five minutes, your brainwaves will change. They will become
alpha waves. Then, when you open your eyes and reconnect
with the world, the brainwaves will again change instantly,
as the shapes, forms and colours are being again recognized
and absorbed. At that moment beta waves will predominate.
In bahir trataka you are focusing your jnanendriya, the
physical organ of the eyes, on an object, and with that the
agitations connected with sight stop. The brain becomes
less active, as the influx of information has reduced. When
you practise antar trataka, there is disconnection from the
outside influx and you are self-contained. You don’t move
out of yourself into what is outside. With the intensity of
concentration, all chatter is forgotten and you come to a state
of shoonya, nothingness, void. The mind becomes absolutely
still, not a single thought comes. Even if you try to think, you
will not be able to, you won’t know where to pick a thought
from. It is a condition of absolute void.
The fourth stage of trataka is chaitanya trataka or continuous
trataka. It refers to one’s ability to remain focused at all times.
Once I said to Sri Swamiji that it will be nice to have an
ashram in the mountains, in the Himalayas. He looked at
me and said, “The idea is good but remember the purpose.
If you are thinking of peace, then you won’t find peace in
the Himalayas if your mind is not at peace. If your mind is
at peace then even in a place like Munger you won’t hear a
single sound, as you won’t be distracted by what is around.
You will be one with the experience of peace.”
That is chaitanya trataka, where the focus and the sharpness
of the mind is so intense that there is no deviation of attention
or awareness. Right now your awareness can fluctuate at any
moment. A big bang behind will make everybody turn around
and question, ‘What was that noise?’ In chaitanya trataka,
when you are maintaining the state of trataka continuously,
you can be in the middle of a battlefield and remain as peaceful
One who is able to maintain equipoise in all the critical
conditions of life practises chaitanya trataka. One who enters
the state of samadhi experiences shoonya drishti. One who
becomes established in pratyahara and dharana experiences
antar trataka. One who learns about disassociation and
disconnection from the external influences performs bahir
Benefits of trataka
The benefits of trataka became clear during an incident. Once
I was giving yoga classes to a group of violent prisoners
accorded maximum security in San Francisco, USA. There
were about fifty of them in the room. Before I went into the
class, the warden said to me, “They have difficulty sleeping at
night. Can anything in yoga make them sleep better?” I said,
“Let me think about it.”
While giving the class, an idea came, ‘Why not make them
do trataka in their cells at night?’ So I said to them, “Would
you like to try one yogic experiment tonight? It is something
you can do in the quiet of your own cell.” They said, “Sure.”
I asked the warden if he could organize candles for them. He
said, “Well, swami, there are safety issues. They may burn
anything.” I said, “Let us try for one day. If need be, you can
put a guard in front of every cell to see that nobody is burning
anything.” In this way, we tried trataka.
My instructions were being boomed through the speaker
system. I was not watching them, but I was able to see them on
the CCTV screen. I led them through the practice of trataka for
half an hour, and then we finished. I returned to the guesthouse
with the warden.
About twenty minutes later as I was having a cup of tea
with him, he received a phone call: “All the people who have
done that funny eye exercise are sleeping.” They slept like
babies that night, and the next day they were late risers. This
incident left an impression and later when other people said
to me, “Swamiji, we cannot sleep at night,” I asked them to
practise trataka, and it worked.
The reason trataka helps in sleep is that you experience a
very deep relaxation in the practice. Not just that, when you
wake up the next morning the freshness and relaxation that
you experience in the body is unique. Trataka rejuvenates the
whole mind by disconnecting it from its sources of distraction.
That is the trade secret of trataka.