WINTER SOLSTICE PRACTICES
A CANDLE GAZING MEDITATION FOR WINTER SOLSTICE:
There is a wonderful candle-gazing practice used by Hatha Yogis called Tratak. I thought this Winter Solstice day might be a good time to introduce you to the practice and invite you to enjoy a tratak-inspired Solstice meditation on the inner light.
Tratak is one of the so-called “Shad Kriyas” or six cleansing practices of Hatha Yoga. It is a Sanskrit word meaning to gaze or to look. During tratak we gaze at an object, placed an arm’s length away, without blinking for as long as possible, perhaps even allowing the eyes to smart and sting (which is said to be cleansing for the eyes). The most commonly used object of focus is a candle-flame. We close the eyes when it becomes too much to gaze any further and with closed eyes we see a negative impression of the object of focus appear in the point between the eyes. In the case of a candle flame, we see an “inner light” in front of the closed eyes which is like a negative impression of the candle-flame. Once this inner impression fades, we open the eyes and begin gazing at the candle flame again. The practice is continued like this, alternately opening and closing the eyes.
Gazing at a candle flame without blinking has a range of benefits. Gazing at any object, holding your whole attention to it, will build focus and concentration. And the control of the ciliary (blinking) reflex is said to stimulate the pineal gland. Add light to the object of concentration as in candle-gazing and there is extra special effect in our winter months. This is said to be beneficial for the pineal gland function and its connection to SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder).
The pineal gland is the smallest member of the endocrine system and is located at the centre of the brain. It produces melatonin, the serotonin-derived hormone that regulates sleep patterns and our internal body clock as well as our adaptation to the seasonal cycles.
I particularly love this practice of tratak in the winter months. When the hours of daylight are at their lowest, focusing on a living flame can be a truly comforting practice. In particular at Winter Solstice time on the 21st December each year, I like to practice a tratak meditation. Tratak prepares us nicely for meditation as it quietens the mind by gathering in all its dissipated rays to one point. Once our mind is made steady and quietened by the practice of tratak, we can close the eyes and shift the visualisation of the inner light at the point between the eyes to the visualisation of a similar light or flame in the heart centre, deep in the centre of the chest.
I love to do this practice on Solstice night. It feels like a beautiful acknowledgement of the return of the outer light to our world and the inner light to our hearts. The full candle-gazing meditation instructions are given below. Why not try it for yourself this Winter solstice? Or on any Wintery morning or evening.
BENEFITS OF TRATAK:
- Improves focus and concentration
- Has a purifying effect on the eyes and benefits eyesight
- Relieves insomnia
- Eases migraine and headache
- Brings stress relief
- Breaks negative thinking patterns
- Boosts brain function
- Stimulates the pineal gland
- Reduces SAD
- Stimulates the ajna chakra (third eye point) which is a centre of wisdom and intuition
- Revitalises the body
- Builds a profound sense of calm and inner peace
- Helps develop will-power
Please note TRATAK is not suitable for people with serious eye conditions, glaucoma or eye myopia. It is also not recommended for people with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and hallucinations.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE CANDLE-GAZING TRATAK MEDITATION:
- Take a candle and place it where the flame will be at eye level as you sit for meditation. Try to choose a candle made from non-toxic materials such as soy. For meditation avoid scented candles.
- The candle is ideally placed one arm’s length away from you, where the flame will be at eye level.
- Remove glasses and contact lenses.
- Sit quietly and comfortably in front of the candle flame, with spine tall.
- Please close your eyes.
- Take a moment to steady your breathing and your mind by inhaling for three or four counts, and exhaling for three or four counts. Repeat this a number of times, until you feel your mind becoming more settled.
- Once you feel the mind has settled, please open your eyes and focus on the candle without blinking. If the eyes smart, we allow it and try to resist the blinking reflex.
- In the beginning it’s a good idea to limit the gazing to one minute and then close the eyes for one minute so that you don’t hurt the eyes whilst they get used to the practice.
- With eyes closed, rest your awareness on the negative impression of the flame (which appears like an old-style polaroid negative) that appears just between and above your eyes.
- When the image fades open your eyes and repeat the practice.
- You can continue like this a number of times, until you feel calm and ready to move into meditation.
- At this point, close the eyes and stay with the negative impression of the candle flame between the eyes for a while, before taking your attention to your heart centre, deep in the middle of your chest, and seeing in your mind’s eye a golden flame there.
- See or sense or feel, the rays of this candle flame increasingly radiating out in all directions to fill the space immediately around you and, ultimately out across the whole planet and beyond.
- Rest your awareness like this, on the image or sense of light in your own heart, filling you up, surrounding you and extending infinitely in all directions around you.
- When you are ready to close the meditation, see all the extending rays of light returning to the light in your heart.
- Lower your chin to your chest, place the hands over your heart centre and take a moment to acknowledge this place of light and wisdom and love within you.
- A nice way to close the meditation is to make a resolve to carry a connection to this light and the qualities of the heart with you through the remainder of your day.
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