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 you are aware that you are dreaming. It is also referred to as conscious dreaming or metacognitive dreaming. Lucid dreaming is a unique hybrid state of consciousness where the conscious mind can meet the unconscious mind directly. Lucid dreams range from short dreamlets which only last a few seconds, to lucid dreams that last an hour or more. They also range from barely lucid to hyper-lucid, dreams so incredibly real that the waking state appears to be the foggy dream. Lucid dreaming was scientifically proven in 1975, and countless studies have shown that you can indeed be dreaming and awake at the same time.
With a lucid dream you become the writer, producer, director, and main actor in an Academy Award winning production of your own mind. It is the ultimate in home entertainment. You can do almost anything you want within the privacy of your own mind. The two most common activities and flying and sex. At more elevated levels, lucid dreams can be used to rehearse things, improve athletic performance, resolve nightmares, work with interpersonal conflicts, facilitate emotional and even physical healing, and a host of other remarkable activities. In short, lucid dreaming is principally psychological in nature, and a fantastic approach to self-fulfillment. But how does it relate to dream yoga?
What is Dream Yoga?
Dream yoga starts where lucid dreaming leaves off. While lucid dreaming is mostly psychological in nature and concerned with self-fulfillment, dream yoga is spiritual in nature and concerned with self-transcendence. It is not concerned with dream content, but with how you relate to and then transform that content. Dream yoga is part of many wisdom traditions, but Tibetan Buddhism seems to have the most to say about it. In that context it is a more advanced form of nocturnal meditation, and offers a profound opportunity to explore the nature of mind and reality. Instead of a home entertainment center, lucid dreams are used as a laboratory to look deeply into the nature of the mind.
So in fancy terms, dream yoga transcends but includes lucid dreaming. It starts when you become lucid in your dreams, but then transcends normal lucid dreaming activity. What we call waking consciousness, from the perspective of someone who is truly awake (“buddha” means “the awakened one”), is not really awake, at least in the spiritual sense. If you see things as solid, lasting, and independent from you, in other words dualistically, then you are spiritually asleep. Dream yoga uses our nighttime dreams as a kind ofexample dream, to show us how we can “wake up” from the nightmare of duality. In other words, it shows how lucid dreaming leads to lucid living. Waking up and becoming lucid in our dreams demonstrates how we can wake up and become more lucid (aware) in daily life. This is the “yoga” part, which shows us how to stretch lucidity into all states.
As profound as dream yoga is, there is actually a further step. With some skill in lucid dreaming and dream yoga, you can progress intosleep yoga, which is where you maintain lucidity or awareness even during deep dreamless sleep. This is like graduate school, and not for everyone. But sleep yoga shows you just how much is possible when you sleep and dream. These nocturnal practices are a profound way to turn one-third of our lives into meditation, and to have fun doing it.
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. According to Tibetan Buddhism, 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. In Greek mythology, Thanatos, the god of death, and Hypnos, the god of sleep, are not just brothers – they are twins. By bringing the light of lucidity into the darkness of ignorance (sleep) with dream and sleep yoga, we not only illuminate and eventually eliminate non-lucid sleep and dream, but also non-lucid death. As the poet Kabir once said of death, What is found now is found then. So when brought to fruition, not only does lucid dreaming lead to lucid living, it also leads to lucid dying.
These remarkable nocturnal meditations are 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”
I also have an on-line community called Night Club devoted to the study and practice of lucid dreaming and dream yoga, as well as the other nighttime practices. We have an awesome worldwide community of supportive practitioners of all levels. Come check it out!
Photo: Getty Images, © Copyright Pskinov