This is the final part of a three-part series with Charlie Morley on cultivating a dream yoga practice.
Do you wish you had more hours in your day to meditate, practice yoga, and work on your spiritual development? Well, lucid dreaming could be the answer to your prayers.
Lucid dreaming is in itself a spiritual practice—the practice of mindfulness while asleep. “Mindfulness means knowing what is happening while it’s happening, and being lucid in a dream is exactly that,” explains Charlie Morley, a lucid dreaming teacher.
But for lucid dreaming to become Tibetan Dream Yoga, or to become a conscious spiritual practice, we take it one step further. This step is to apply all the same spiritual practices of our daily lives, such as prayer, meditation, reciting a mantra, or practicing yoga postures, to our dream time. That’s a lot extra hours to work on our spiritual growth.
Not only that, but when we apply spiritual practices within a lucid dream, “it’s like multiplying the effect by a thousand,” says Charlie. During lucid dreams our brain starts to exhibit gamma waves—one of the highest frequencies the human brain can emit—and the same waves that are exhibited by those in a deep meditative state. “You’re already in a very deep place when you are lucid dreaming,” he says. “Now imagine what it means to then meditate within that. You are on an accelerated path to accessing the unconscious mind and exploring emptiness.”
“Whatever your path, the lucid dreaming state can connect you to wisdom and result in deep spiritual experiences.” – Charlie Morley
This very deep meditative state of lucid dreaming has been recognized by many cultures as the perfect place for spiritual practices. Toltecs, Shamans, Sufis, and Tantric yogis sit alongside the Tibetan Buddhists as using dream time as a place for practice. In Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga there are certain meditations and mantras that a Buddhist teacher will give the student to practice in the lucid dream state. Similarly in Toltec traditions dreamers receive specific teachings from elders.
But, says Charlie, “whatever your path, the lucid dreaming state can connect you to wisdom and result in deep spiritual experiences.”
It’s not always easy to accomplish a practice in a dream, and it can be overwhelming. Charlie says it took him several months to be able to meditate for more than a couple of minutes in a dream, and that often the feeling of bliss was simply too much. “Just think, that bliss state is what meditation would feel like if we were able to overcome the limitation of the self and the body,” he says.
In addition to praying, meditating, and working with mantras, one practice for spiritual growth during dreams is to request teachings. Once you achieve lucidity you can ask for your teacher to appear. Whether it’s Jesus, Buddha, a totem animal—like a crow or an eagle—or a yoga teacher, it doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter if the person or thing is living or has passed, says Charlie. “Whoever you call upon that you feel is your spiritual teacher is also really an archetype for part of your ‘higher self’—a source of wisdom and compassion.”
Charlie suggests asking questions like: How can I be of most benefit? What career path should I take to be of my highest purpose?
Let’s take another step towards becoming lucid in our dreams so we can work on our spiritual development. Here is our final week’s homework…
1. Work With the Hypnagogic State
The hypnagogic state is the naturally hypnotic period just before sleep—that time when you start to feel very drowsy, imagery appears, and the body sometimes experiences involuntary jerks. The Buddhists, Sufis, and Toltecs all use this state to start sewing seeds of suggestion for lucid dreaming. Charlie suggests reciting an affirmation during this time such as: Next time I dream, I know that I am dreaming. Or: I recognize my dreams with full lucidity. Really feel the affirmation, and aim for it to be the last thing to pass through your mind before you fall asleep.
2. Mid-Sleep Wake-Ups
Lucid dreaming tends to occur in the REM cycle of sleep. The first four and a half hours of sleep are usually deep sleep with only short periods of REM, but after five hours of sleep we start to have much more prolonged REM periods, making those hours prime lucid dreaming time.
The trick, therefore, is to wake up sometime during this latter period, and then plant the suggestion for lucid dreaming within the hypnotically-charged hypnagogic state. Not only will your affirmations be made at a time you’ll be entering directly into a REM cycle, but also the hypnagogic state lasts just five minutes mid-sleep cycle compared to 15 minutes when initially falling asleep. Charlie suggests setting an alarm, or simply giving yourself a chance to go back to sleep if you wake up early, so that you can practice in this peak lucid dreaming time. If you do find yourself lucid but are struggling to make it last, try simply asking in the dream for greater lucidity and stability.
In addition to working with the hypnagogic state, you should continue keeping a dream diary. “That’s now part of your daily routine and should be the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night if you want to make lucid dreaming part of your life,” Charlie says. Reality checks, like repeatedly looking at your hands, should also be a regular practice. “If loved ones aren’t asking you what is wrong with your hands, then maybe you’re not doing enough reality checks!” jokes Charlie.
And finally, don’t be discouraged if you’re not lucid dreaming in three weeks. It can take several weeks, indeed maybe months, before we can train ourselves to lucid dream. There are plenty more practices to work with, and Charlie offers more tips and courses on his website.
Helen Avery is a Section Editor at Wanderlust Media, working on the Vitality and Wisdom channels on wanderlust.com. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie.