Yogic literature explains six cleansing techniques (shatkriya/shatkarma) that are meant for cleansing the organs, namely Kapalabhati (an active breathing technique), neti (cleansing the nasal cavity), nauli (massaging internal organs), trataka (yogic focused gazing), dhauti (cleansing of digestive system) and basti (yogic enema). Trataka, as one of the techniques, is meant for cleansing the eyes and optical pathway.
The literal meaning of trataka is focused gazing or steady gazing without blinking until you shed tears. Its benefits are not just limited to the eyes but have a bearing on cognition and concentration as well. It is also termed as yogic visual concentration. Jyoti-trataka is one of the most practised techniques and involves gazing at a lighted lamp/candle.
What happens when you practise it?
When a person practises focused gazing, the ciliary muscles (that help change the shape of the lens) of the eye undergo continuous contraction and relaxation. These movements improve the outflow of the water-like fluid named aqueous humour that fills in the space between the lens and cornea. This helps in reducing intra-ocular pressure or eye pressure.
This intra-ocular pressure is the force exerted by the fluid inside the eye. This pressure, when too low or high, can damage our vision. An elevated eye pressure can damage the optic nerve, a nerve present at the back of the eye that connects to the brain. This in turn can hamper vision permanently.
12-year-old Ananya Manikandan from Fishers, Indianapolis, US shares her experience of practicing trataka with Happiest Health.
Manikandan says, “Usually when I look at the lamp’s flame it looked yellow or orange. But when I sat down on Jyoti trataka I was able to see different colours. Multiple colours blended smoothly like a painting and that just made me feel really calm.”
“I was still able to see the image of the flame in my mind; that’s because my whole mind was focused on that flame,” she adds.
Initially, she used to focus for five minutes or even less. Eventually, with continuous practice the duration has increased. Apart from helping her focus and providing a calming effect, it has also improved her eyesight.
How to do it
Dr Priyanka Hingar from Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana University (S-VYASA), Bengaluru explains the method of performing this exercise as follows:
- Wash your eyes with cool and clean water
- Place the candle stand at a distance of 1.5 to 2 meters
- Arrange the candle at the level of your eyes
- Do the preparatory eye-exercises including eye-ball movements, palming, diagonal movements of eyeballs, rotation of eyeballs (clockwise and anti-clockwise)
- This focused gazing can be practised in three stages:
- Focusing (on the flame of the candle/lamp)
- Intense focusing (on the flame of the candle more intensely without blinking the eyes for at least 30-50 seconds continuously)
- The final stage includes deep focusing (here the focus should be on the aura of the flame)
- After following this, you should do three rounds of Bhramari pranayama (exhaling with humming sound) to end the session.
Benefits of practising trataka
Dr Priyanka classifies the benefits into physical, therapeutic and spiritual.
|Physical benefits||Therapeutic benefits||Spiritual benefits|
In addition to this, Madhuri Vasisht, yoga instructor from Madhuri Yoga says “Jyoti trataka helps in reducing the ill effects caused due to excessive screen time and environmental pollution.”
From the research corner
Cognition is a process that involves learning, memorising, making perceptions and judgement. It helps to manage effective communication and an independent lifestyle. It also helps to manage the self and perform day-to-day activities. Cognition declines as we age, but this early decline can be managed effectively by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
In 2014, a study conducted by Dr Raghavendra Bhat and team evaluated the immediate effect of yogic visual concentration/trataka at S- VYASA in 30 healthy volunteers in the 18 to 31 age group. The participants were assessed before and after the trataka session. The study revealed that this exercise improved selective attention, cognitive flexibility, and response inhibition.
Relieves digital eyestrain
A 2021 study conducted by Mangaluru’s K S Hegde Medical College in association with Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital evaluated the effect of trataka kriya on digital eye strain, disturbed vision and strain caused due to excessive use of digital devices.
Participants were asked to perform trataka kriya once every alternate day for a month. When the effect was evaluated, the researchers concluded that there was a marked improvement in the symptoms.
Corrects refractive errors
Refractive error is when your eye cannot clearly focus the images. Refractive errors cause visual impairments such as myopia (short-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), presbyopia (age-related far-sightedness) and astigmatism (blurred vision from all the distances due to imperfection in the curvature of the eye’s lens).
A 2020 small-scale study conducted by Sanasam Bibesh Singh at Bengaluru’s S- VYASA yoga university evaluated the effect of this eye exercise technique on myopic youth. The study included 60 participants in the 18-to-30-year group who had myopia. They were divided into two groups (control and experimental). The effect was evaluated before and after three months of trataka intervention.
They found that the potential use of trataka intervention reduces refractive error. However, they recommend confirmation through studies with a large sample size.
Another 2016 study conducted at Maharashtra’s Mahatma Gandhi Ayurveda College, Hospital & Research Centre, Wardha evaluated the effect of trataka on myopia and hypermetropia. They found that trataka minimises the refractive error and associated symptoms such as headache, lacrimation, eye pain and fatigue. They also highlighted that regular practice of it in adolescence can prevent the occurrence of refractive errors in future.
Although these studies include a small population size, researchers and yoga experts suggest that there is a need for large-scale, multicentric studies to confirm the efficacy of this eye exercise.
Checks the progression of glaucoma
In a 2018 study conducted by a team of researchers from the department of Ophthalmology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, evaluated the effect of trataka eye exercise in people with glaucoma.
It concluded that practising trataka leads to significant decrease in intra-ocular pressure or eye pressure and this might halt the progression of further damage. In addition, the study highlighted that this exercise might be effective in preventing the onset of glaucoma in high-risk prone people.
Improves the visual perception in elderly
The effect of trataka was studied in the elderly (above 60 years of age) at Pune’s College of Physical Education, Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University, on 30 people. The study concluded that longer trataka sessions can significantly increase the level of visual perception among elderly people.
Who can practice it
Vasisht says that anybody can practice it irrespective of age. Even kids and elders can practice it for healthy eyes. If you practice at least once a week, it helps to keep your eyes and mind sharp. It also helps to purify the eyes regularly.
Limitations of trataka
- People with epilepsy should avoid trataka (gazing of flickering candles might cause harm)
- Insomniacs (it enhances wakefulness if practised before going to bed)
- Can cause headaches as it tends to aggravate the pain
Disclaimer: Although trataka is a simple and easy to perform exercise, one must seek the help of an expert to learn and understand the entire process.