Meditation is difficult, but its mental and physical health benefits of different forms of meditation are widely documented.
Once dismissed as unscientific, there is now widespread consensus that meditation leads to a reduction in stress (as measured by heart rate variability), a decrease in diastolic and systolic blood pressure, enhanced cognitive performance (as measured by “trail-making” tests), and enhanced dexterity and bimanual coordination (as measured by Purdue Pegboard tests). In addition, meditation is shown to improve perceived stress and emotional well-being.
Given the overwhelming evidence for why we should be meditating, why do so few people meditate? The most common reason is that meditation can be hard! It is difficult in our world of frenetic attention--from app to app, post to post, notifications pinging rapidly and without pause--to simply stop …
… and calm our minds.
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Our goal when building Mesmerize was to make meditation more widely accessible to a modern audience. The health benefits are too great for people to be scared away by the thought of simply being alone and without distraction. To help, we turned to an ancient yogic meditation practice known as Trataka for inspiration.
A Sanskrit word, Trataka means “to gaze steadily.” Trataka is a practice similar to mindful meditation which comes from ancient yogic visual concentration practices. Ritual-like, the practice of Trataka involves sitting in a darkened room and staring at a fixed point (traditional “candle Trataka” or "flame Trataka" uses a candle flame) for several minutes, breathing deeply, without blinking, until tears run down the cheeks, before lightly palming one’s eyes in meditative relaxation. Though this type of “external” concentration of Trataka on the candle flame is most common, practitioners of a different form of Trataka, known as “internal” or “inner” Trataka, gaze at an imagined point in their mind instead. In lore, the technique of Trataka is said to clean and purify the eyes, as well as channel energy to the ‘third eye.’
With a renewed scientific interest in yoga, meditation, and other ancient relaxation practices, a number of studies have been conducted in the last decade on the benefits of Trataka and its effects on the body and mind, which piqued our interest.
These studies found that people who practice Trataka meditation show a decrease in scores on anxiety, depression, and tension surveys after one month of regular practice, as well as decreased salivary cortisol, decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure, a decrease in pulse rate, and an increase in HRV--all indicators of decreased stress--after a single session of about 30 minutes. Other research found that elderly women who did Trataka improved cognitive performance, as well as short-term memory, working memory, and selective and focused attention. It has thus been proven that Trataka is an excellent method for promoting relaxation.
Most important to us, however, was the finding that “steady gaze reduces central nervous system and autonomic nervous system activity through the diminution in proprioceptive feedback to the reticular activating system.” Essentially, this means that the act of Trataka-style gazing meditation results in a quieting of outside stimuli.
By creating a meditation app that incorporates gazing Trataka, we found a way to ease the process of quieting the mind that troubles so many first-time meditators. As you focus your gaze on the images, breathing in time with their movement, and listen to Mesmerize’s soothing psycho-acoustic music, clearing your mind will come absolutely naturally. Sit in a comfortable chair and use Mesmerize in your Trataka for five minutes--you will be relaxed in three.
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