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What is Candle Meditation and How Can It Help You?

What is Candle Meditation?

Candle meditation, also known as candle gazing meditation, or more popularly as trataka or yoga gazing, is a form of meditation. The term trataka is derived from Sanskrit, which is a classical language of Southeast Asia that means to gaze or to look. Nowadays, people are typically so distracted that they have simply forgotten how to relax. From the ongoing COVID-19 crisis to the overwhelming presence of technology in our lives, it has become more difficult than ever before to find a state of calm and focus our minds. However, when you take the time to look at only one object, it helps you empty your mind and focus only on that one object. This is where candle gazing meditation can help.(1, 2, 3)

What is Candle Meditation?

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Historical & Cultural Context Behind Candle Meditation

The history of candle meditation goes all the way back to ancient Indian yoga practices. There are several mentions of trataka in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which is a 15th century Sanskrit manual on yoga.(4) The authors of this manual teach practitioners on how to be calm and gaze steadfastly at any small mark until the eyes get filled with tears. According to a 2018 study, this can help cure many types of eye diseases.(5) Another Sanskrit manual, the Gheranda Samhita, also describes the same practice and its many benefits for calming the mind and benefits for the eyes.(6)

A group of researchers in 2016 studied the impact of yogic visual concentration on cognitive performance. The research team found that the manual Hatha Yoga Pradipika listed trataka as one of the six body cleansing techniques that helps to purify and prepare the body and mind for the following:(7)

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Breath regulation, also known as pranayama
  • Spiritual states
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Candle meditation is also described in great detail in Ayurveda or Traditional Indian Medicine. Ayurveda brings together the five element theory, which is also a founding principle followed by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

According to the Ayurvedic teachings, these five elements include:(8)

  • Agni (fire)
  • Prithvi (earth)
  • Akasha (space)
  • Vayu (air)
  • Jala (water)

As per the Ayurvedic principles, there can be three fundamental combinations that can be made out of these five elements, which are known as the three doshas. These doshas are what govern a person’s mental and physical health. These doshas include:(9)

  1. Pitta (Water and Fire): Pitta dosha primarily governs transformation, and its essential component is known as Tejas. Tejas stands for the vital spark of a person.(10)
  2. Vata (Air and Space): Vata dosha governs movement, and its main component is prana or breath, vital energy or movement.(11)
  3. Kapha (Earth and Water): Kapha dosha is known for creating lubrication and structure. The essential component of Kapha is known as Ojas, which means the nectar or vital essence of life.(12)
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When you look at fire out of all the five elements, it is known to help with cognition and focus. Fire is also associated with the gray matter of the brain and the ability to process information. When doing candle meditation, practitioners invoke this fire element and, in turn, enhance their cognition, focus, mental clarity, and their vital spark.

What are the Benefits of Candle Meditation?

Supporters of candle meditation claim there are many benefits of candle meditation. These include:

  • Improved eye health
  • Improved mental health
  • Better sleep quality
  • Improved spatial attention
  • Improved memory
  • Increased focus and cognitive performance

Here’s what research shows about the benefits of candle meditation.

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  1. Improved Eye Health

    Of course, the most obvious benefit of candle meditation is an improvement in your eye health. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika tells that candle gazing meditation helps prevent many eye conditions and also supports the treatment of several eye diseases. However, modern, peer-reviewed scientific research has gotten mixed results.

    A study from 2014 carried out on 60 participants in the ages of 8 to 30 years looked at the effectiveness of therapies for myopia, a condition that causes nearsightedness. The results of the study found no dramatic changes to the visual acuity in the participants who practiced yoga therapy that included trataka.(13)

    A 2018 study carried out by the Sai College of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation in India did not find candle meditation to be an effective technique for the treatment of myopia.(14)

    Another 2018 study done by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in India concluded that doing tratak exercises may help lower the occurrence of intraocular pressure (IOP) or fluid pressure that builds up in the eyes in patients with glaucoma. Glaucoma is a common cause of irreversible blindness in people, especially those who have diabetes.(15)

    A narrative review in 2021 found that candle meditation did not play much of a role in helping treat eye disorders.(16)

    Another randomized controlled trial done in 2021 concluded that candle meditation may help improve intraocular pressure in patients who have type 2 diabetes.(17)

  2. Improved Mental Health

    Meditation has been used as a tool for relaxation and stress relief for hundreds of years. In 2021, a narrative view found that candle meditation may provide similar benefits in improving mental health.(16) Another study conducted in 2020 on adolescent students concluded that trataka could help reduce anxiety amongst these students.(18)

    Since candle meditation provides the mind and the eyes with a job to do, the other senses no longer remain on high alert to watch out for safety. They know that the mind has been given a simple task to do.

    Candle gazing meditation helps take the mind beyond the material world by using the third eye chakra, which is known as the intuitive or internal eye. This is a calming technique commonly used during meditation and yoga. The third eye chakra is believed to be located in the middle of your forehead, just above the area between both eyebrows. The third eye is commonly associated with perception and spirituality.

    Candle meditation also produces or invokes tears, which is a purifying experience for the whole body, especially the eyes.

    When you practice this form of meditation until your eyes begin to water, it has a cleansing impact on the eye as it clears away any debris on the surface of the eye. At the same time, though, according to Ayurvedic and yoga practitioners, it also clears away the debris that collects in your mind.

    The mental health benefits that you derive from candle meditation go much beyond the practice. Candle meditation not only helps you relax but also gives you internal strength. And when you are internally strong, you are better equipped to deal with the challenges of daily life. You will learn to react less and stop throwing tantrums whenever something goes wrong.

  3. Better Sleep Quality

    Candlelight meditation helps promote relaxation, which helps improve sleep quality. A small study done in 2020 with just 29 participants who all had insomnia found that practicing candle gazing meditation for 45 minutes every day for ten days helped reduce the severity of insomnia and also improved sleep quality.(19)

  4. Better Focus and Performance

    It is typically found that people who have trouble focusing tend to have constant eye movement. Constant eye movement is often a sign of an unrested mind. When you practice candle meditation, it involves focus. This helps train a person to focus.

    In 2021, a narrative review through 37 articles found that candle meditation enhanced cognition.(20) Another smaller study from 2021 with 41 volunteers found that trataka boosted spatial memory, working memory, and spatial attention.(21)

    A study from 2016 suggested that candle meditation may enhance selective attention, response inhibition, and cognitive flexibility.(22)

    And a 2014 study carried out on older adults found that trataka improved cognition in the elderly population.(1)

Are There Are Risks Of Candle Meditation?

While there is still a lot of debate on whether candle meditation actually helps your vision, it is typically known to be safe for most people. However, there are certain safety considerations you should keep in mind. You should not do trataka if you have any of the following:

  • You are prone to seizures
  • You have taken alcohol and drugs
  • You have a mental health condition that promotes psychosis, such as schizophrenia
  • You have glaucoma, myopia, or another serious eye disorder

Additionally, never leave the candle unattended or within easy reach of children and pets. It is also better to consult your doctor before starting any new practice.

How To Do Candle Meditation?

Doing candle meditation is a simple process, and all you need is a candle and a quiet place where you can sit and practice the technique. Here are the steps to do candle gazing meditation:

  1. Choose a time of day when you are entirely free.
  2. Find a quiet, dark space where you won’t be interrupted.
  3. Sit straight and light the candle, keeping it at eye level.
  4. Take a few deep breaths and focus on your intention.
  5. Set a timer for 1 minute to begin with.
  6. Keep following the movements of the candle flame with your eyes.
  7. Observe the thoughts that pop into your mind, but let go of them gently without judgment.
  8. Try to blink as little as possible.
  9. Develop a feeling like your eyes are merging and becoming one eye, thus invoking the third eye chakra.
  10. Finish with a commitment to return and gratitude.

Most people prefer to practice trataka first thing in the morning, especially when they are just starting out.

Conclusion

Candle meditation is not a new technique. It has been an integral part of meditation and Ayurvedic teachings for centuries in the East. Many ancient yoga texts talk about the benefits of candle meditation. This meditation practice, popularly known as trataka, involves focusing on the candle flame for a minute or longer. Candle meditation is known to have benefits like improving your focus, mental health, sleep quality, cognition, and many others. However, more research is still needed to confirm all the benefits. People prone to seizures or having an eye disorder should refrain from practicing candle meditation.

References:

  1. Talwadkar, S., Jagannathan, A. and Raghuram, N., 2014. Effect of trataka on cognitive functions in the elderly. International journal of yoga, 7(2), p.96.
  2. Gopinathan, G., Dhiman, K.S. and Manjusha, R., 2012. A clinical study to evaluate the efficacy of Trataka Yoga Kriya and eye exercises (non-pharmocological methods) in the management of Timira (Ammetropia and Presbyopia). Ayu, 33(4), p.543.
  3. Mallick, T. and Kulkarni, R., 2010. The effect of trataka, a yogic visual concentration practice, on critical flicker fusion. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(12), pp.1265-1267.
  4. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://bookshop.org/books/the-hatha-yoga-pradipika-the-original-sanskrit-and-an-english-translation/9780971646612?sscid=21k6_sedr3&utm_source=ShareASale&utm_medium=Affiliate&utm_campaign=314743&utm_term=1535322> [Accessed 27 February 2022].
  5. Sankalp, T.D., Yadav, R.K. and Faiq, M.A., 2018. Effect of yoga-based ocular exercises in lowering of intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients: an affirmative proposition. International Journal of Yoga, 11(3), p.239.
  6. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://bookshop.org/books/the-gheranda-samhita-a-treatise-on-hatha-yoga-9781447402374/9781447402374?sscid=21k6_seevg&utm_source=ShareASale&utm_medium=Affiliate&utm_campaign=314743&utm_term=1535322> [Accessed 27 February 2022].
  7. Raghavendra, B.R. and Singh, P., 2016. Immediate effect of yogic visual concentration on cognitive performance. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 6(1), pp.34-36.
  8. Jaiswal, Y.S. and Williams, L.L., 2017. A glimpse of Ayurveda–The forgotten history and principles of Indian traditional medicine. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 7(1), pp.50-53.
  9. Hankey, A., 2005. The scientific value of Ayurveda. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 11(2), pp.221-225.
  10. Agrawal, S. and Gehlot, S., 2017. Variations in the functions of Pitta Dosha as per gender and Prakriti. CELLMED, 7(4), pp.18-1.
  11. Hankey, A., 2010. Establishing the scientific validity of Tridosha part 1: Doshas, Subdoshas and Dosha Prakritis. Ancient science of life, 29(3), p.6.
  12. Travis, F.T. and Wallace, R.K., 2015. Dosha brain-types: a neural model of individual differences. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 6(4), p.280.
  13. Bansal, C., 2014. Comparative study on the effect of Saptamrita Lauha and Yoga therapy in myopia. Ayu, 35(1), p.22.
  14. Tiwari, K.K., Shaik, R., Aparna, B. and Brundavanam, R., 2018. A comparative study on the effects of vintage nonpharmacological techniques in reducing myopia (Bates eye exercise therapy vs. Trataka Yoga Kriya). International Journal of Yoga, 11(1), p.72.
  15. Sankalp, T.D., Yadav, R.K. and Faiq, M.A., 2018. Effect of yoga-based ocular exercises in lowering of intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients: an affirmative proposition. International Journal of Yoga, 11(3), p.239.
  16. Swathi, P.S., Raghavendra, B.R. and Saoji, A.A., 2021. Health and therapeutic benefits of Shatkarma: A narrative review of scientific studies. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 12(1), pp.206-212.
  17. Ismail, A.M.A., Saif, H.F.A.E.A. and Mohamed, A.M.E.M., 2021. Effect of Jyoti-Trataka on intraocular pressure, autonomic control, and blood glucose in diabetic patients with high-tension primary open-angle glaucoma: a randomized-controlled trial. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
  18. Sherlee, J.I. and David, A., 2020. Effectiveness of yogic visual concentration (Trataka) on cognitive performance and anxiety among adolescents. Journal of complementary and integrative medicine, 17(3).
  19. Shathirapathiy, G., Mooventhan, A., Mangaiarkarasi, N., Sangavi, S.A., Shanmugapriya, V., Deenadayalan, B. and Gayathri, A., 2020. Effect of Trataka (yogic gazing) on insomnia severity and quality of sleep in people with insomnia. Explore.
  20. Swathi, P.S., Raghavendra, B.R. and Saoji, A.A., 2021. Health and therapeutic benefits of Shatkarma: A narrative review of scientific studies. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 12(1), pp.206-212.
  21. Swathi, P.S., Bhat, R. and Saoji, A.A., 2021. Effect of Trataka (Yogic Visual Concentration) on the Performance in the Corsi-Block Tapping Task: A Repeated Measures Study. Frontiers in psychology, 12, pp.773049-773049.
  22. Raghavendra, B.R. and Singh, P., 2016. Immediate effect of yogic visual concentration on cognitive performance. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 6(1), pp.34-36.
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