psychospiritual disciplines of lucid sleep

Happy Valentine’s Day – I’m excited to share with you this two-part article celebrating the 3rd anniversary of Conscious Chimera! I’m marking the occasion by delivering an informational piece about practices that have been a part of my life and hold personal meaning for me. While the title of this article is somewhat of an oxymoron, by reading on you will come across several ideas about awakening through sleep. This February 2019 posting is part one. It draws on some of the writings, thoughts and contemplations of Kamini Desai, PhD, Andrew Holecek, PhD, Clare Johnson, PhD, Joseph Dillard, PhD, and myself. Here, in part one, I compare and contrast lucid dreaming, dream yoga, and sleep yoga (yoga nidra). Part two (available in March) will include an interview with Dr. Dillard focusing on Integral Deep Listening (IDL). Hot off the press – enjoy!

Lucid dreaming (dreaming while knowing you are dreaming) is often used for entertainment and pleasure. This learnable skill has become quite popular in the past several years. Many of those new to lucid dreaming are thrilled to learn that they can control their dreams and do what they most desire. Overindulgence in consuming sweets and fatty fast food, racing expensive cars, beating up enemies larger than oneself, having sex with supermodels (or becoming one), you name it, I’ve heard it all. Well, probably not, but those were the top responses I recall from my undergraduate students when teaching psychology courses for ASU. These lucid dream experiences made going to sleep exciting for them. To each semester’s half-dozen or so lucid dreamers, I would say, “Wow, that’s something.” It was something, as I didn’t expect to meet so many who attended to their dream lives. Then I would ask the experienced students about less materialistic matters: Had they ever talked to a deity or wise person, transported themselves to a sacred site, or even ask to be shown what death is like, or how to prepare for it? The responses were mostly blank stares, contorted faces, including a few scratching their heads as they muttered “nope.” I left it at that.

What one does in the dream state affects both body and brain. You can train your physical body by what you do in the dream state. We know this from countless scientific studies. Training in singing, art, athletics, and solving mathematical puzzles are some examples of purposeful, induced lucid dream activities practiced in order to improve waking life experience or events. I’m sure it’s clear that the experience of dreaming lucidly can lead to self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment (remember my students?). In addition, trauma survivors and military veterans have been taught to lucid dream for therapeutic purposes, as a way to alleviate PTSD symptoms. What a powerful modality to support healing! The wonders of lucid dreaming have impact and purpose, sometimes lasting a lifetime, yet remains relatively secular and focused on the self among contemporary Westerners.

In her 2017 book, Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming: A Comprehensive Guide to Promote Creativity, Overcome Sleep Disturbances and Enhance Health and Wellness, Johnson writes, “Lucid dreaming does not always involve deliberate dream control.” Nor must it involve manipulation. We can remain open when lucid, and go with the flow. Holecek (2016), in his book, Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep, describes ‘witnessing’ dreams as a “type of lucid dream where you prefer not to engage in the dream. You’re lucid, but you prefer to just watch what unfolds without changing anything.”

“Dream yoga picks up where lucid dreaming leaves off,” says Holecek (2016). Self-transcendence is what dream yoga is all about. It is a spiritual practice, essentially. In Buddhist and Hindu worldviews there is the concept of life as maya, a dream, viewing life as illusory. Maya is Sanskrit for illusion. Dream yoga’s purpose is to wake us up out of the dream/illusion. As one’s practice grows and develops, worldly things may start to lose their power, and waking and dream worlds come to be viewed as equally real or unreal.

For the practice of dream yoga, we use our body as a tool, or vehicle, for growth. Consistency in practice matters, which is the case for any discipline. Holecek’s (2016) book offers chapters on both Western and Eastern lucid dream induction techniques, thus reminding us that we can become our own instructor, teaching ourselves how to do this stuff! My teachers taught a combination of both Western and Eastern induction techniques for the purpose of conscious dreaming, which I began practicing regularly. As a deeply curious student, I wanted to engage with my dreaming world in new ways. After a few months of dedication to the set of daily exercises, I met my initial goal. Over-zealous, I added more techniques to my daily routine and set new goals. On one hand, I began gaining increasing levels of competence. On the other hand, like other spiritual or health-based practices in my life, I became inconsistent and side tracked. Later, realizing that I had lost time, I set lofty goals, which led to feeling frustrated and pressured. Disillusioned, I gave up for a time. This happens to some of us – it can be considered normal human activity. The moral of the story is to monitor the ego, and to be gentle and kind to oneself while making daily commitments, and not set deadlines or huge goals that are in opposition to a preferred long-range lifestyle choice.

As we develop along our psychospiritual path, we may want to bring a waking life practice into the dream state. When dreaming lucidly, try engaging in a form of meditation. What happens? Holecek (2016) claims that “the meditation you accomplish in the dream state is up to 9 times more effective and more transformative than what you do in the waking state.” So, why not? Even in fully lucid dream states, where we have control and clear decision-making capacity (such as the decision to meditate), we may come into contact with the unexpected. For example, in most dreams (even lucid ones) people often run away from their disowned aspects – think powerful, hideous monsters. “Dreams are truth-tellers,” writes Holecek, in his article The Art of Lucid Dreaming published in Conscious Lifestyle Magazine. He adds, “Dream yoga will show you a great deal about who you are, and where you stand…” In dream yoga, integration of our unwanted, split-off parts is one way to go. In this example, we turn toward (a monster, in this case), instead of away. At the very least, we do not resist. By doing so we can gain awareness, illumination and transformation through acceptance. Some dreamers turn toward the scary creature and ask a question. “What do you represent?” or “What do you need?” are examples. Others simply remain with the experience. By clearing out the cobwebs, or moving deeper into the monster’s lair, we have an opportunity to tap into a deeper core, a greater awareness.

Due to the conscious awareness in this dream state, which becomes more common with practice, we can do much more, such as fly, manipulate the body, transform into an animal, converse with a deity, pass through seemingly solid objects, practice tai chi or qi gong, meditate, and more. As one moves along the dream yoga path, exercising greater levels of spiritual discipline is evermore encouraged, and this is where deeper meditation practices come into the picture. This is another area where I struggle and stir. Once the fun has been had, the simple curiosities expunged, and the egoic explorations complete, the mind is often pulled toward more of the same. This pattern is a way for me to see my own inner distractions, as well as face the part of me that fears thinning the self, not wanting to wake up from the perpetual dream called life (a serious question!). With further growth, trust, gentle practice and dedication, plus a little patience, this too shall pass.

Nidra means sleep in Sanskrit. Johnson (2017), who teaches yoga nidra, explains that “the experienced yoga nidra practitioner can carry this conscious awareness right through the sleep cycle and effectively stay lucid all night long while the body sleeps.” This is true even during the deepest state of sleep. What is so unique is that yoga nidra (aka sleep yoga) is associated with delta brainwaves similar to states of coma or under anesthesia. Such states are restorative and healing for the physical body. When in this deep meditative space, one disidentifies – there is no separate “I” in that all personal identification diminishes. This is a reason that this practice is considered a “yoga” – a psychospiritual discipline of awakening – as it takes the practitioner to places typically only experienced by advanced meditators. In addition to his many books, Dillard produces two highly informative websites on the topics discussed in this article: and On lucid deep sleep, Dillard writes, “All of us think that we are awake, but few of us are. Those who are most likely to be most awake, and therefore have the most credibility regarding how to wake up out of our self-created life dream, are those who can stay awake while in the deep sleep state. Can you?”

In her 2017 book, Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep, Desai points to the research demonstrating the increased delta activity, which is “associated with empathy, compassion, intuition and spirituality,” among experienced meditators and even monks. The point of sleep yoga is to train oneself to access such states consciously so as to bring them back to waking consciousness! Now one may experience states of ‘higher consciousness’ during lucid dreaming – this is often reported. However, the yoga nidra practitioner’s focus is of cultivation and deliverance of what I understand to be transpersonal growth, and virtue in my opinion. The mission is to train the consciousness to be awake 24/7. This is no easy task – few have achieved such mastery and enlightenment.

There are a million and one ways to lose concentration and focus. After all, the mind likes to wander and stay busy. This is referred to as monkey mind in Buddhism. With consistent practice though, there is improvement – the monkey can be tamed! We have a lifetime (and possibly many more) to continue working at it. Those with dedication to such practices can, and do, advance along the path with steady pacing and persistence, all the while gaining increased clarity, intuition, empathy, compassion, self-decentralization, and more. Those that have mastered the yogas of dream and sleep are considered some of the enlightened beings that have walked this earth throughout history.

Since I began on, for me, the seemingly interwoven path of meditation, conscious dreamwork, and yoga over a decade-and-a-half ago learning the lessons has not been perfect, nor linear, yet it has been necessary to pick myself up and return to the practices time and time again when motivation declines and distractions arise. I have found reward, not only in the benefits mentioned earlier, but also by enhanced creativity, patience, humor and hope. And during these times, we know how we can all use more of that!

Please click FOLLOW so that you will be alerted when Conscious Chimera releases part two of this report. No matter where you are on this path, I say to you “All the strength”…and “Namaste.”