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Author Topic: Yoga and Dreams  (Read 9397 times)

Tony Crisp

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Yoga and Dreams
« on: October 21, 2019, 08:11:29 AM »
One of the impressive observations to be found in the literature on yoga practices, yet seldom if at all in Western physiology or psychology, is the connection between the breath and the mind. Such yoga teachings state that there is always a connection between the breath and mental states. It can be observed for instance that when angry a person’s breath is agitated and quite different to when the person is mentally focused on something like a mathematical problem. There is yet another difference in the breathing and the mental state when the person is asleep.

Using the control of the breath, the posture of the body, and other disciplines, practitioners of the various types of yoga in India and other countries in the Far East, explored the dimensions of the mind. From such explorations traditional yoga defined four basic modes of consciousness. These are: 1] Waking consciousness. 2] Consciousness while asleep and dreaming. 3] Consciousness while asleep but not dreaming. 4] Cataleptic consciousness.

Different levels of consciousness
One could add to this the condition of being asleep and dreaming, yet awake in the dream. Apart from waking consciousness, one is usually asleep/unconscious while experiencing these levels or modes of consciousness. But through the discipline of meditation or breath control, the practitioner can gradually enter into these ‘sleep’ modes while still maintaining a form of waking awareness. In modern dream terminology this is called lucidity. See https://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/the-waking-lucid-dream/ and https://dreamhawk.com/body-and-mind/the-end-user/#Bodiless

This has in it something of the situation one faces when entering into a different environment than is considered normal for human life. For instance swimming under water confronts us with quite a different experience of ourselves and the environment than in our normal everyday life of walking around on the surface of the earth. In fact dreams often use the image of the sea, or swimming under water to portray this entrance into our sub-conscious or sub-ordinary life. The reason this ability to remain lucid in sleep is sought, often through long years of discipline, is because of the greatly enlarged realm of mental and physical possibilities open to the successful practitioner. Principally however, it is to find a level of consciousness beyond the limitations presented by ‘normal’ dualistic experiences of thoughts, emotions, pain, pleasure and ignorance.

Entering consciously into the realm of sleep and dreams confronts us with a very different environment or experience than we are used to in waking. Our conscious personality had developed around the experience of life through the physical senses and thoughts. It experiences itself as part of a body – perhaps even as the body. Because of this the loss of body sensation is frequently equated with death. The personality is also used to perceiving all things other than its own body, thoughts and emotions as belonging to an exterior and separate world and beings. It is thus very dualistic in its interpretation of what is experienced, and this dualism is difficult to drop as consciousness enters what is virtually an alien world of experience. In waking, any person or animal we perceive, we can be fairly certain they are an exterior reality. When diving beyond the level of waking consciousness, these rules do not apply. Any being one meets may very well be an objectification of, or unacknowledged aspects of, oneself. See https://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/dimensions-of-human-experience/

There are other differences. In sleep the brain and senses function quite differently to what they do while awake. While dreaming the body is paralysed due to the brain inhibiting nerve impulses to the voluntary muscles. Any waking awareness or lucidity that remains, feels itself much more totally influenced by spontaneous forces, as demonstrated by the dream process itself, where enormous anxieties, sexual feelings, and spontaneous physical movements are experienced and represented by different images or scenes. There is nothing really dangerous about this, but unless one recognises it very clearly as an awareness of the powerful forces of the psyche and body seen without their shielding cover of dull waking consciousness, it can be extremely disturbing. The following example illustrates how someone enters such an experience, and the first levels of what may be found.

The aim of yoga in relationship to dreams is to move through their apparent reality by remaining lucid in sleep as described above. Perhaps another way of describing it is to see if the dream can be resolved into its constituent components. The reason being that the practitioner of traditional yoga was, or is, in search of the real – something that does not break down under analysis or awareness. One of the examples of this is told in yoga when the teacher asks the student to say what a house is. Gradually the student is led to see that it is a sum of parts, the bricks, the mortar, the wood, the nails, the windows, and so on. In breaking it down to its parts it disappears as a house. Similarly when human personality is looked at in the same way, it is not a stable reality, but a sum of parts. So the yogi is looking to see what lies behind the parts, until there is something indivisible. In fact yoga philosophy claims a self existent reality is discovered as the noise of our thoughts and emotions are quietened. An example of this is described below, and excellently shows the sequence of such discovery.

Example: I had been exploring my dreams as fully as I could, and also trying to get under the surface of my mind, so to speak. Then one night I had the following dream. In it I was looking at a plant, rather like a fern. As I watched it unfolded rapidly, its leaves growing before me. At that point I suddenly became aware that there was an unfolding process in my body as long held tensions dropped away, and the dream image of the plant was an expression of this.

Then I was fully awake in my dream and realised that my dream, perhaps any dream, was an expression in images of actual events occurring unconsciously in myself. I felt enormous excitement, as if I were witnessing something of great importance. Quoted from Lucid Dreaming