This is a notable example of the impactful outcomes that can arise from venturing beyond conventional routes to chart distinctive journeys toward success.
Like countless other medical students, I committed months to intensive preparation, diligently taking mock tests, revising tirelessly, and faithfully adhering to the trusted USMLE Step 2 study resources. Yet, each mock test I undertook delivered the disheartening verdict of “fail.” It was an emotionally taxing struggle, and despite my utmost dedication and effort, success continued to elude me. People often assert that determination and effort guarantee results, but my experience defied that belief.
Those weeks gradually evolved into sleepless nights filled with introspection, frustration, and despair. I found myself at a crossroads, questioning the core of my abilities and relentlessly pondering what might be amiss in my approach. Then, in a manner befitting our digital age, I stumbled upon an Instagram reel that introduced me to something called Tratak—a yogic practice that held the tantalizing promise of enhancing concentration and memory. Intrigued and desperate for a breakthrough, I embraced it, blissfully unaware of the transformative impact it would soon have on my journey toward mastering the USMLE Step 2.
Tratak, steeped in the Sanskrit concept “to fix the gaze,” emerged as a refreshingly straightforward practice. It invited me to sit in a tranquil, dimly lit space, light a candle, and position myself about 4 to 5 feet away from the flickering flame, placed directly at eye level. In stark contrast to the intricate postures often associated with Hatha yoga, Tratak demanded no convoluted physical contortions. Instead, it required me to focus my gaze steadily on the dancing flame and gradually extend the duration of my concentration. Initially, maintaining focus for 2 to 3 minutes proved challenging, often accompanied by teary eyes. Yet, through daily practice, I succeeded in steadily extending this duration.
Within a week, I observed notable improvements: My memory sharpened, I retained information more effectively, my need for breaks during study sessions diminished, anxious thoughts receded, and I no longer fixated on the fear of achieving a lower score. Instead, I felt a surge of energy propelling me toward my desired goal.
Researchers have extensively investigated the neuroanatomical foundation of Tratak and established a strong correlation between Tratak and the activation in the prefrontal cortex, a brain area closely linked to memory, attention, executive functions, and complex cognitive processes. Further studies have shown how practicing Tratak leads to heightened mindfulness, improved concentration, and decreased wandering thoughts. This decrease in mind-wandering and the subsequent increase in focus likely contribute to the observed improvements in working memory.
Neuropsychological tests, such as the Corsi-block tapping task (CBTT), show enhanced visuospatial short-term and working memory in those practicing Tratak yoga. The dimly lit environments in which Tratak is performed stimulate the release of melatonin, a hormone that positively affects learning and memory. EEG analysis of short-term Tratak meditation has revealed regularization of brain wave patterns, resulting in a profound sense of calmness and reduction in stress.
In summation, Tratak emerged as my hidden ace—a method that transcended conventional study strategies and offered a holistic approach that elevated my exam scores and enhanced my mental clarity and resilience.
Nikita Mehdiratta is a physician.