Nidra: Sleep

Nidra

Sleep

Whatever is the night of all beings,

In that the yogi is awake.

Whatever all beings are awake in,

That is the night for the yogi who sees.

Bhagavad Gita 2.69

 

The next sutra I am covering is nidra, or sleep. This chapter taught me a lot, and I hope it teaches you a lot, too.

 

Here is the recap of the previous sutras, read them and take them in so you may remember them, too.

 

  1. Atha: Readiness and Commitment
  2. Citta: Heart-Mind Field of Consciousness
  3. Purusa: Pure Inner Light of Awareness
  4. Drsya: Ever-Changing Mother Nature
  5. Viveka: Keen Discernment
  6. Abhyasa: Diligent, Focused Practice
  7. Vairagya: Nonattachment to Sensory Objects
  8. Yoga as Nirodha: Silencing the Heart-Mind
  9. Isvara: The Source of Knowledge
  10. Karma and Samskara: Action and it’s Imprint
  11. Parinama: Transformation
  12. Duhkha: Suffering as Opportunity
  13. Samyoga: False Identification of the Seer with the Seen
  14. Vrtti-s: Activity in the Heart-Mind
  15. Pramana: Correct Evaluation
  16. Viparyaya: Misperception
  17. Vikalpa: Imagination

 

Feel free and go back in my cache of blog posts and reacquaint yourself with any of these topics you may either not remember, or not be familiar with at all. They are all equally valuable, no one is more important than the other, and I find more and more how all of them make a difference in my life now that I am more aware of them. I am particularly excited about this post about sleep, because I tend to have really crazy dreams at night.

 

Nicolai Bachman leads off this chapter with this fact about sleep: we spend one-third of our lives sleeping. He acknowledges that too much or too little is detrimental to our health, especially emotional and psychological health, and are both considered obstacles for yoga. The reality is, that not enough sleep or too much sleep is detrimental to our entire day, because if it affects one thing, it affects all things. Bachman used a great Sanskrit word that was new for me in this paragraph: antaraya-s, which means obstacles.

Bachman acknowledged beautifully how meditation and sleeping can look the same on the outside. And, indeed, they do and can. But the inner state of the person experiencing either thing is extremely different.

When sleeping, you are completely unconscious. While meditating, you are conscious, or, as I like to describe how it makes me feel, superconscious.

Bachman defines four different stages of sleep: wakefulness, dream sleep, deep (dreamless) sleep, and beyond. I didn’t feel like Bachman really explained what he meant by “beyond”. I was waiting for it and felt like it the answer for that was never satisfied, other than to assume he means a place of deep connection to within while meditating.

In my Your Brain on Meditation PowerPoint seminar I have a great statistic comparing meditation to sleep. When sleeping, your body can decrease it’s amount of cortisol, the stress hormone in your body, by 30%. This is really great, because 30% is quite a lot! This would explain why sage advice oftentimes is “sleep on it” when tough decisions arise.

When you meditate, however, cortisol levels drop by 70%. This is over twice what sleeping accomplishes. That’s really astounding. Furthermore, in many studies meditation has been shown to improve individual’s handling of stress because different parts of their brains worked in a more integrated way together, and ultimately showed that meditators are better problem solvers over time over non-meditators.

So, clearly Bachman, and, by default, Patanjali, the writer of the original sutras, were both on to something here.

Bachman writes that, “Wakefulness, when your attention is projected outward, is considered a state of sleep since true awakening happens only when our attention is focused inward.”

Recall from the beginning of these blog posts, my first one ever on the Atha post, that our work is to study who we are. This study never ends; it is lifelong, and we are condemned to study it constantly. The enlightened life is when we question what we think we know about ourselves and this world, and choose to take those answers lightly.

And, the great thing about being human, is the answers constantly change.

But our inner light of awareness does not; it is pure and steady constantly. The work of yoga and meditation is to clear away our citta to be able to let our inner light of awareness shine through: that is our ultimate purpose over anything and everything. From clear space, we think, act, and create for the benefit of all.

The Bhagavad Gita verse that opens this post means this: whatever a living being does not see (the inner light of awareness-purusa), the yogi can, and whatever a living being does see (sensory perceptions), the yogi does not. This latter part of this statement means that the yogi is not distracted by that which others see, because of his/her samyoga practice, the practice of going inward.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I have very active dream states when I sleep. My dreams can be so active that I have learned I need to even be aware of what I eat at night, les I will end up with odd dreams and not sleep as soundly. I have, over the course of my life, experienced dreams with the intensity of action movies, and have even played roles in my dreams where even I am unsure if my “character” is a protagonist or antagonist. Sometimes I think I would even switch roles. I always dream in color, and lately, since I started meditating more regularly and using tarot cards, I have felt like I have been getting messages in my dreams. From what I have read from others’ experiences and in some books on the topic, this is not that uncommon. I never thought that using tarot cards would cause me to have very insistent dreams with specific messages, messages that I am keeping to myself for now because I know they are strictly for me alone. And, trust me, they are never anything negative or scary. I have not “seen” any catastrophe or anything, they are just representations of my life experiences, and suggestions of how I should proceed. They are only meant to empower me and move my life forward, just like a good sleep or meditation is meant to do. And, I choose to believe I am interpreting them to the best of my ability.

When you dream at night, there is activity I your heart-mind, your citta. If you recall from previous posts, you know that this is what you are trying to prevent with your yoga and meditation practice. To be quite honest, sometimes I am excited to go to bed and see what comes up for me. I just realized right now when I wrote that sentence that the same gratitude I have for being able to go to sleep mirrors the gratitude I have when I wake up in the morning. In the morning I think: I get to do things today that push me towards my goals, and let me enjoy life! (I may not think these exact words, but it is the feeling I always have). When I go to bed at night: I get to sleep and have adventurous dreams and maybe learn something while I am unconscious. Each morning and night is a constant state of curiosity.

It does occur that I have nightmares sometimes, and even though they can be disturbing and negatively affect my citta, I know that those experiences, like the wakefulness experiences, are just temporary, and the negative emotions associated with them are cleansed through meditation, which reconnects me to source and to the sensation of trust and faith in the universe. That, afterall, is the work of meditation: to cleanse the citta of anything and everything we have picked up along our path, and our path oftentimes includes bad dreams.

“Dream sleep involves the noise of thoughts and feelings dacing around in our heads, yet is completely unconscious,” Nicolai Bachman.

Deep sleep is similar to Samadhi, the Sanskrit word for complete attention, and is the final limb of yoga. Like Samadhi, deep sleep is restful to the body and calming to the heart-mind. No dreams occur here. The difference between Samadhi and deep sleep is that Samadhi is conscious and voluntary, and deep sleep is unconscious and voluntary. I notice this when I achieve deep sleep, I am absolutely aware of nothing. When I am meditating, I am absolutely aware of everything around me: my sense of touch is heightened, I am more aware of the sensation of my skin, and my sense of hearing is heightened. I only meditate outside, so when I meditate I feel extremely connected to birds and other animals that I hear, and I am much more aware of the music of the wind. When I sleep, I do not experience these things.

The citta is affected differently in each state, as well. In Samadhi, the citta is clear and filled with light (sattva). In deep sleep, the citta is dark (tamas) and “…the seer within witnesses blackness.”

What I wrote earlier about Bachman writing about “the beyond” and not really explaining it I must contradict myself about it now. I realize I was just reacting to the emotions I had around it, and that was the fact that I didn’t what he wrote really landed for me. Truthfully, I think I am just being resistant to letting in what he has to say around it.

The “ beyond” (if you are reading that in Buzz Lightyear’s voice, you are not alone. I am too!) is as defined by Nicolai Bachman, beyond sleep. It is where the heart and mind are utterly and completely still.

“We are not even aware that full awareness is occurring.”

I am not sure if I have ever experienced this.

Is her referring to the generation of people completely tuned out of the world and tuned in to smart phones and tablets? Or walking around this earth completely unaware of each footfall and how wonderful each footfall is?

Bachman’s conversation around this part is extremely brief. I suppose he has left his readers to discover what he means in this section for themselves.

Nidra can also mean sleepiness. Sleepiness is good if we are naturally tired and it is time to turn and recharge for another day of action in awareness. It is especially important to rest because our physical bodies oftentimes cannot keep up to the energy of our spirits. It is important to remember that you are a spiritual being having a human experience, so when you get tired do not get frustrated, especially if it means you must “miss out” on some fun event. And give yourself the break of never putting yourself down the next morning if you happen to honor your body and rest when it calls for it. Listening to the subtle call of your body is extremely important because it keeps you vital, strong, and inspirational. Give yourself permission to miss out on some things if it means you can be energetic for the next day rather than tired. It is a matter of choosing to respect yourself and all that you stand for in your life: commitment to your heart, soul, and body through health.

Also, if you are meditating and falling asleep while meditating, it is ok to do that, and it is also ok to skip meditation and save it for the next morning. Meditation is always there for you, as sleep is always there for you at the appropriate times when you need it. If you end up falling asleep during meditation, know that you are interrupting an intentional time of consciousness with an unintentional act of unconsciousness. This is not bad or wrong, just make moves to do what is right for you in the moment.

By consciously remembering and focusing on the calmness we experience during sleep, we can clarify our heart-minds. Be diligent and discerning about the things you allow into your consciousness throughout the day, as they affect what is gently (or perhaps not so gently) regurgitated back into your awareness in your sleeping hours. Everything you let in affects everything in your life, so choose wisely what you allow in and what you don’t allow in. Choose happy and easy-to-digest things, is what Bachman suggests.

A couple things I have noticed that I cannot do before sleep: eat fish for dinner or watch television. I especially cannot watch television in the bedroom (which my boyfriend loves to do). If I do happen to watch television before I go to bed, and am too tired to meditate, I make sure I read a couple pages or a chapter or two from a book I enjoy (particularly a fantasy, I am especially fond of kids’ fantasy novels) to help clear my citta before giving in to sleep. This usually helps, although last night I was so tempted to watch So You Think You Can Dance: Next Generation that would completely explain the odd dreams I had that I journaled about earlier today. (By the way, a dream journal is great. There are a lot of resources online for dream interpretation, but it’s usually best to glean what you can on your own about what you think your dreams mean, if it’s anything at all.)

Certain crystals are great for enhancing your dreams and reducing nightmares: speaking your worries into a piece of malachite and placing it either outside under the night sky, which is preferable, or just placing it in a windowsill is a great way to give up the worries you have from the day so you may sleep clearly at night. Also, peridot crystals are great for absorbing negative energy you may be experiencing while sleeping. Keep one under your pillow, and as always make sure to cleanse your crystals a couple times a week if you use them every day.

Please note: there have been some meditations I have found that calls for you to speak into a piece of malachite, “Show me, malachite, what I must give up in my life,” and place it under your pillow. I found this caused unnecessary stress for me, and therefore clouded my citta a lot while I slept, and woke feeling awful when I went to bed feeling really great. I don’t recommend this type of use with malachite (you also must make sure it’s polished because raw malachite creates dust, and malachite dust is toxic). I learned this one before I learned the technique in the previous paragraph, so I highly recommend using the first technique I mentioned.

If you experience bad dreams, take a look at your bedroom wall décor. If you have a large mirror or many mirrors, know that mirrors are portals for beings to enter your space. This means any kind, high or low vibrational, so it is best to either have no mirrors present in your bedroom, or cover them up when you sleep. This is something I know I need to do in my bedroom, as my home is old and has old closet doors with mirrors on them that face my bed. Windows, however, are fantastic, and it’s great to place your bed in an area where you can see outside of it first thing in the morning, and natural lighting to help wake you is one of the best and most gentle ways to get your day started.

Happy dreams, dear friends and yogis! Hope this post helps you to sleep very well, and have an energized and vital day all day long.

 

Thoughts

Deep, dreamless sleep is restful yet unconscious.

Meditation is restful and conscious.

I can protect and cherish the time I set aside for deep, restful sleep.

I will meditate when I am alert and awake, not when I am tired and sleepy.

 

Bachman includes exercises at the end of each of his chapters, and I do not normally add them in in my posts. This time, however, I really like one, and I am going to copy what it is so you may have an opportunity to do it yourself. I am going to do it, and will most likely make this journal entry and actual blog post in the near future.

 

Exercise: compare how you feel when you wake up from sleep to how you felel after a long session of meditation. Write down what you remember about your sleep versus what you remember about your meditation.

 

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