Humans spend a lot of time sleeping. On average we spend 25 years of our lives exploring the land of slumber, letting our mind and body rest. However, this is an enormous amount of time, and it can be put to much more beneficial use.
The art of dream yoga is one such way of harnessing this downtime for the betterment of the self. It is an ancient Tibetan Bon Buddhist practice, in which monks would induce lucid dreams in order to meditate and converse with their ancestors.
They believe that most people spend their time asleep in the “sleep of ignorance”, a state of sleep where there is no awareness. By entering a lucid state, it allows one to grow and develop as a person. Not only this, but it is believed that the practice of dream yoga also allows for us to understand that life is much like a dream, and is shaped by our perceptions. By learning to see through the illusions of our dreams, we can shape and develop our understanding of the waking world, seeing it in a new light.
Dream yoga is thought to be one of the six-subtypes of yoga outlined by the Tibetan guru Marpa. The ancient practice of dream yoga is still in practice by monks to this day and consists of six stages.
In the first stage, the monk is instructed how to become lucid. Once they are lucid, they start the second stage. In this stage they must overcome all fear of their dream – they must realise that nothing in their dream can hurt them, and that they are in control. For example, they will extinguish a fire with their hands, or something along these lines, to prove to themselves that there is no danger.
The third stage of the dream involves meditating on the notion that waking life and the dream are similar, as they both change and develop – that life is illusionary in both states of awareness, as nothing is set in concrete. Therefore both objects in the dream and in the waking world hold no substance.
Next, the monk will begin to manipulate the dream around them, changing the states of objects so that they defy the normal rules of life, turning large objects into small ones, or making heavy objects as light as a feather.
The fifth stage takes the monk one step further, in which they realise that their body is just as in-substantial as all of the objects around them. It allows them to realise that they are not the “dreamer’s body” present within the dream, but the dream itself. The dreamer’s body can be manipulated in exactly the same way that other aspects can be as well, or even made to disappear.
Lastly, once a monk has reached full understanding, they will focus on the images of deities, meditating upon them with single-minded focus. The images of deities are believed to be a doorway to enlightenment, linking the monk to the clear light of the void and allowing for further spiritual growth.
This is a practice that everyone in life can use to grow. A large excuse for negating the self and spiritual growth is that modern Western lifestyle does not allow the time for it. Work and the busy nature of day to day activity is the mantra of many, with very little emphasis on the self being present. However, everyone must sleep, and it is an opportune time to explore the spirituality within.
Another practice, known as yoga nidra, is also an alternative way to take advantage of periods of rest. This is an ancient Indian tradition that is also known as psychic sleep. The practice of yoga nidra bears similarities to that of dream yoga. Yoga nidra focuses around concepts of lucid dreaming, but is distinctively different. Within a lucid dream, the dreamer is very rarely aware of the waking world. Yoga nidra is a state of in-between awareness, a rejuvenating and deep mental and physical relaxation that boarders the realms of dream, whilst still maintaining a degree of awareness. It is relaxation through the focus of awareness – aimed at balancing our energy.
Yoga nidra is easy to perform, and requires very little in the way of equipment. All that is needed is calm mind and a warm comfortable place to lie down.
The practice is performed by lying down on your back with your eyes closed and your arms away from your body, palms facing up. Legs are spread to hip width, with toes falling outwards. The practice of yoga nidra places a large emphasis on the way the body is lying, and it should be as symmetrical as possible – imagine a central line running from crotch to throat.
Once in the correct position, attention is focused inwards, becoming aware of the rhythm of your breath. Next, awareness is focused on one part of the body, such as a leg or a foot. This awareness is slowly rotated around the body, moving from muscle to muscle, consciously releasing all tension in sync with deep breathing
After this awareness is moved around the body with no tension left, you ease into a calm dreamlike state. As it begins to take hold, feelings of lightness and melting are often felt. Once at this state, awareness is shifted back to breathing, allowing for the calm, contemplative dreamlike state to be harnessed.
Doing this can help expand the consciousness and understanding. Both of these practices can be performed by anyone as part of their night time routine, and do not require extra time in a daily schedule. It is an important process for the body and mind, and regular practitioners report a drastic improvement to both physical and psychological well-being.