Train Your Brain the Yogic Way
Apr 01, 2015 10:12AM
By Anandmurti Gurumaa
Fitness is no longer a temporary fad; it's here to stay. We are conscious of our appearance now more than ever before, happily lifting barbells to tone sagging deltoids, biceps, and triceps. We don't think twice while frantically performing lunges to strengthen our quadriceps, or painfully enduring several reps of abdominal crunches to get rid of extra 'flab'. But when it comes to exercising the brain, the super-organ of the body, we often fall short, doing literally nothing to enhance its functioning. In several spiritual traditions, the brain is considered the seat of the mind and higher consciousness.
One technique to increase the strength and aptitude of the brain is Trataka. It is one of many purification techniques called Shatkarmas, stemming from the Hatha Yoga tradition.
It is said that the eyes are the visible part of the brain; in fact, the eyes are an extension of the brain. Tiny nerves from the eyeballs travel to the deeper portion of the brain recesses, and trigger signals to the brain via the optic nerve. The brain decodes each signal and retrieves a suitable response within microseconds. The frontal part of the brain is the most actively involved in the thinking process, and this is precisely the area that is stimulated when Trataka is practiced. Regular practice also activates dormant areas of our brain that are not used in daily function. Trataka not only strengthens the eyes, but also develops and enhances the signal-response function between the eyes and the brain.
How does it work?
Almost 80% of our energy is consumed through the outward use of our eyes. Therefore, when we close our eyes, our energy is conserved. Ancient practitioners of yoga were the original researchers to discover the direct link between the movement of the eyeball and brain waves. Their findings revealed that when there was no movement of the eyeball, this corresponded to decreased movement of brain waves. As an effect, the thought-filled, “cloudy” mind often slowed down. The brain is the hardware, and the mind is the software. So, when the gaze is steadied by focusing unblinkingly on a stationary object, this stops the mind from wandering. This steady gaze is called Trataka.
Sit in a darkened room in which there is no draught. Place a candle flame at arm’s length distance – the flame should be at eye level. It should be steady and un-flickering. Sit cross-legged in any comfortable asana (yoga position), making the body as steady as you can. Sit like a statue, back erect, keeping the muscles relaxed.
Now, elongate your breath. Continue gazing steadily at the flame, without blinking the eyes at all. Initially, a slight strain may be felt as eye muscles that have never been exercised start getting used, thus becoming stronger. After a while, the eyes may start to water. If there is discomfort, gently shut the eyes and then open them again. Start with a few minutes, and gradually increase the practice up to twenty minutes. With regular practice, initial discomfort eases up and it becomes easier to keep the eyes steady without blinking for a longer period of time. As the practice of trataka unfolds along with the deep breathing, gradually a time comes when the internalized mind starts becoming quiet. Then one simply continues sitting, enjoying the inner blissful silence.
Trataka is of two types – external (bahiranga) and internal (antaranga). External trataka can be done on a candle flame, flower, personal deity, the full moon or the sky, whereas internal trataka could be on the mental picture of the guru or personal deity.
Ayurvedic tip - Most people do trataka on a candle flame. However, it is a lesser known fact that practicing trataka on a diya (cotton wick) made of desi cow’s desi ghee has immense medicinal benefit - it is extremely soothing, cooling and nourishing for the eyes. After the practice of trataka, a drop of desi ghee should be put in each eye - it has been found that this significantly reduces the condition of myopia (short-sightedness). Ghee made from the milk of the Jersey cow however does not confer these benefits.
Benefits of Regular Practice
A concentrated mind is definitely an asset worth cultivating. Whether it is studies at school, research at university level, pursuing a competitive career, undertaking mundane household chores or the practice of Zen archery, don’t we all need a one-pointed, integrated mind? Trataka is a boon for students particularly, as it enhances focus, sharpens memory and deepens concentration. The technique of trataka is immensely beneficial as it strengthens eye muscles by increasing the blood supply as well as cleanses the eyes wonderfully. At the spiritual level it can help in the awakening of the ajna chakra (or the third eye). It has now been proved that the more we use our brain, the longer it stays active and healthy.
Anandmurti Gurumaa is a contemporary mystic whose message transcends gender, religious, political, and geographic boundaries. She will lead a meditation retreat at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront in Melbourne from May 13 to 17. Visit Gurumaa.com for more information on upcoming lectures and retreats in U.S. and Canada.