When articles about lucid dreaming are appearing in such a diverse mixture of periodicals from The Atlantic, Scientific American, The New York Times and Women’s Day, you know there is growing interest in the field. Many people who get into lucid dreaming and have some success with it often ask how can they take it further, perhaps deepen the practice. This is where I have found dream yoga to appeal to many people.  As someone how has studied and taught about dream yoga for many years, I often get asked  what the difference is between lucid dreaming and dream yoga.

What is Lucid Dreaming?

Lucid dreaming is a dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. For most people, when they are lucid dreaming and wake up inside a nighttime dream, they simple have a good time within it.  You can do anything you want in a lucid dream because mind has become reality.  While entertaining, lucid dreaming will not get you enlightened.

What is Dream Yoga?

Dream yoga is not the same as lucid dreaming. For the Tibetan Buddhists who developed dream yoga, they believed that instead of falling asleep each night we can use that time to practice “waking up.” They assert that we are sleep walking through life.  What we call waking consciousness, from the perspective of someone who is truly awake (“buddha” means “the awakened one”), is not really awake.  If you see things as solid, lasting, and independent from you, in other words dualistically, you are asleep. Dream yoga is a set of meditations that transforms the way we relate to sleep and dream.  It is a profound way to turn one-third of our lives into meditation, and to have fun doing it.

Dream yoga starts where lucid dreaming leaves off.  You wake up inside a dream, just like with lucid dreaming, but instead of indulging your mind you start to train it.  This is the yoga part.  It’s like stretching your waking mind into the dream state.

You’ll find that dream yoga teaches us how to first wake up in our dreams (same as lucid dreaming), but then extends the insights from that process to help us wake up from the dream — sometimes the nightmare — of daily life.  When you gain some skill with dream yoga, you progress into sleep yoga, which shows you how to maintain a subtle awareness even in deep dreamless sleep.

The Dream Yoga Journey

The progression of sleep and dream yoga is something like this: first you learn how to remember your dreams; then you learn how to wake up in them; then you train your mind in the dream; then you learn how to stay awake in dreamless sleep.  All the while you are taking the insights from the night and transposing them into the day.  Not only are you transforming the night into meditation, but you begin to transform your life.  You start to wake up, in the spiritual sense.

Dream yoga is also one of the best ways to prepare for death. The mental body we have after death is almost identical to the mental body we have in dreams, and the experiences in dream and death are also similar.  By bringing the darkness of ignorance (sleep) into the light of consciousness with dream and sleep yoga, we not only illuminate and eventually eliminate sleep and dream, but also death.

So while dream yoga is fun, it is also a powerful way to penetrate the nature of mind and reality.  It is a way to bring sleep, dream, and even death onto the spiritual path. You will not sacrifice your rest with these meditations, but you will sacrifice your ignorance.

To learn more about dream yoga, check out my book, “Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep

Photo: Getty Images, © Copyright Pskinov

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  • Joe

    Hi, I'm writing a paper on the yogas of sleep and dream in the context of the six yogas of naropa and the Kagyu tradition. The Kagyu is the only tradition in buddhism that I am aware of that has laid out a specific dream and sleep yoga practice, I'm wondering if you or anyone can point me in the right direction with regards to other traditions that deal with the yogas of dream and sleep? Thanks

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