Yoga’s anti-aging benefits are extensive, from increasing muscle strength to improving flexibility. That’s why I love finding new routines and returning to my favorite ones. I can’t go wrong either way, because it’s a great workout, mood booster, and flexibility session regardless. However, I recently tapped into a new form of yoga that challenged me not physically, but mentally; it’s called Trataka (also known as candle gazing).
This ancient yogic practice correlates with improved memory, eye health, and mood in older adults, so I was excited to give it a go. I spoke with certified yoga instructor Rohan Shroff to learn more about the benefits of candle gazing and some easy ways to do it at home.
What are the benefits of doing Trataka?
Trataka (which means “to gaze” in Sanskrit) is a meditation technique that involves staring at a single point, or a candle flame. Typically, meditators gaze at the flame for no longer than two minutes once a week or even daily.
According to Shroff, the practice helps improve concentration and calms the eyes. This is important, because aging eyes can become more strained due to constant blue light exposure from our phones and devices. “By [doing this] constant activity, the eye muscles are strained and need relaxation and exercise, just like the physical body. And, Trataka helps in both,” he says.
In addition to eye health, candle gazing may help you avoid cognitive decline. A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Yoga, for instance, revealed that one month of candle gazing correlated with better working memory, focused attention, and concentration in older adults.
How do I practice Trataka?
To learn how to practice candle gazing, I followed Shroff’s breathing and meditation courses in MyYogaTeacher’s live virtual group sessions. (Visit his MyYogaTeacher profile to book group or private yoga sessions.) Here are some of his top tips keep in mind as you practice:
- On a yoga mat or blanket laid on the floor, sit comfortably and upright, with your legs crossed.
- Position a long candlestick at least three feet away at eye level on a small table. (The candle should be non-toxic and odorless when burning.)
- If you desire, perform a few physical yoga poses such as “Asanas” and breathing exercises, including “Pranayama” and “Kriya,” to bring yourself into the right mindset.
- Meditate on the candle for a couple of minutes. “The first 30 seconds [of candle gazing] can be de-focusing on the flame,” Shroff says. “Then, [try] one to two minutes of focusing on the flame, and then closing the eyes and focusing mentally for as long as comfortable. [The idea is to] concentrate on external objects and then internal.”
Shroff notes that early mornings or evenings are great times of day to practice. If you’re short on time, practicing for even just once a week is better than not practicing at all. He adds that insomniacs even practice Trataka for one hour or more before going to bed, as the technique has been linked to improved sleep quality.
And though Shroff says this practice is for anyone, he warns against epileptics focusing on flickering flames, and suggests they “choose a totally steady object to gaze at.” People prone to headaches should avoid candle gazing as well, as it may aggravate head pain.
My Experience With Trataka
A beginner at yoga myself, Shroff’s group sessions were very easy to follow. I really loved the candle gazing portion of the class, especially during the evening, because it gave my eyes a much needed break after spending the day on my phone and laptop.
“Yoga is experiential. Try it until you see the results. Once you see it, you will adapt to this healthy lifestyle,” he adds. To try candle gazing during one of Shroff’s online breathing and meditation classes, start your free trial at MyYogaTeacher.com. Enjoy the great perks of this practice to ward off signs of aging over time!
This article was not sponsored by My Yoga Teacher. Classes were offered by Rohan Schroff at no cost to our editor.