Thursday, February 15, 2007

Yoga Nidra, Lucid Dreaming, and Paying Attention to Wacky Buddhist Teachings

As a child, when I'd have nightmares, I'd get up in the middle of the night, wake my mother, and tell her about my dream. She and I, together, would imagine a pleasanter ending to the dream, and she'd send me back to bed with the instruction to dream the dream that way.

Sometimes it worked, and I learned to develop a little bit of lucidity in my dreamstate.

As I grew up, I lost that ability, and was interested in recent years to find the practice referred to in yogic and Buddhist texts. In the past week or so, I've rediscovered the exercise.

Its resurfacing started several weeks ago. I was talking with one of my yoga students about why I include savasana (corpse pose) practice at the end of every practice. I made a veiled reference to the interesting mind states that can arise in the practice, and he responded by describing the odd dream/wakeful state that he experienced. After doing some reading of others' experiences with approximately the same experience, I've come to refer to that condition as "yoga nidra." I tend not to discuss it with students or fellow practitioners as learning of it can easily lead to grasping and seeking, two states that tend to work against its occurrence. In my experience, it occurs when we engage in withdrawal of senses, moving inside our minds. It can produce visions, sometimes impenetrable imagaic states, sometimes incredibly meaningful and moving ones. There is, in yoga nidra experiences, sometimes a little volition, sometimes a lot, but engaging the normal controlling state of mind that we usually consider a part of daily consciousness seems to dispel the entire experience. So I've learned to watch and perceive, rather than to try to control or steer the experience.

Anyway, when my student mentioned his experience with yoga nidra (though he called it "weird half-sleep"), it reminded me that I hadn't engaged in it for many months. When I've practiced it in recent weeks since then, I've rediscovered the potential in yoga nidra for simultaneous dream-state and lucidity and consciousness.

That, in turn, seems to have dribbled into my otherwise normal sleep conditions, and several times in the past week, I've found myself drifting off into sleep and dream, while retaining some degree of consciousness. From that condition, it's very easy to release the consciousness and to move completely into the subconscious dream state. The first time this happened, I was napping one Sunday afternoon in a room where other family was still moving around and talking, so I had a stimulus to keep me from going completely out. But a couple 0f days ago, it happened as I was going to sleep one night, and it occurred again, yesterday, while I was in the hospital, following a shoulder surgery.

I remember reading a Buddhist teacher (I forget which one) encouraging a student to be aware of his mindstate, and when the student responded that he was generally aware, the teacher asked him to describe exactly what his mind was doing when he fell asleep. When I read that, I thought that the teacher was just playing with the student -- asking the impossible to keep the self-assured (and maybe overly self-confident) student working hard. Recalling these experiences, I can remember exactly what my mind was doing when it transitioned from wakefulness to lucid dreaming to dream state.

Now I wonder at what other teachings I've missed because I didn't take them as seriously as I should have.