Trataka (usually pronounced trah-tahk) is an ancient yogic technique of meditation. It is usually practiced using a candle for a focal point, but a dot, mandala, crucifix or other object can be used.

It is a sanskrit term meaning "intent gazing". Trataka isn't simply looking at a point, but gazing intensly at it.

It strengthens the eyes and increases focal length and power, as well as developing self control and concentration. It is an especially useful practise for students, as it will help ones eyes to keep clear while reading, and train the mind to stay focused during lectures or while studying. Tratak is considered a very good technique for calming the body and mind, particularly before continuing with other meditation.

Trataka on a candle flame is a simple exercise and anyone can participate, although you will gain more from the practise if you consult a yoga instructor before trying it by yourself.

You will need a single candle placed so that when it is lit and you are seated, the flame is at about nose height and almost an arms length away from you.

You should be seated in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair, and the room should be darkened as much as possible, and free from draughts. Your hands should be resting in your lap, or on your knees, and your candle should be lit. Try to keep fairly still in this position throughout your trataka session.

First close your eyes and relax. Take several slow deep breaths and if you like, chant aum three times.

When you are ready, open your eyes gently and gaze softly at the centre of the candle flame, at the very tip of the wick. Try not to think of anything, just look at the flame, and capture the image of the flame with your eyes.

Keep this soft, unblinking gaze until you feel that your eyes are about to start watering. Then close your eyes gently. If possible, don't touch your eyes. Make your hands into slight cups and cover both of your eyes softly with the hollow part of the palm.

You will see a "ghost" candle flame in the darkness behind your closed eyes. Now focus on this phantom flame. It will most likely try to move away from your point of concentration. You can chase it, but always try to keep it steady in the centre of this darkness.

When you can no longer see the flame with your eyes closed, place your hands gently back into your lap or on your knees and open your eyes to the flame once again.

Continue this for several cycles. At the end of your last round, keep your eyes closed, and put your hands in your lap or on your knees. Take several long, deep breaths and if you wish, chant aum three times. Your candle gazing session has now come to an end.

When you first try this practise, you may find that you can't hold your gaze on the flame for very long before your eyes start to water. Over time, you will be able to gaze for longer, and your thoughts will not intrude upon your meditation.

Tratak is most effective when practiced regularly over a long period of time, however trataka on a luminous object should not be practised for more than several months. Gazing at a bright object over an extended period of time can cause damage to the retina. Begin with trataka on the candle flame, and then seek advice from a yoga teacher to further your yogic trataka experience.