by Daniel Allen Kelley © 2018
It was a hot August afternoon. The year was 1998. Having just arrived home from a brutal 13-hour workday of hanging sheetrock, I was looking forward to my first lesson with Dr. John Mumford (Swami Anandakapila Saraswati). I was going to be taught the true purpose of the Savasana pose of Hatha Yoga, called Yoga Nidra (Conscious Sleep). Sleep, conscious or not, was most welcome as far as I was concerned! Little did I know that I was about to have my mind blown wide open.
Dr. Mumford begins with the typical instructions for “progressive relaxation.”
Starting from the feet and slowly progressing up toward the head, you gently lead your awareness into each zone of the body (called “marmasthanani”) and relax the area fully before moving on to the next zone. It’s important to stay alert and keep the mind engaged in the exercise, otherwise you’ll likely fall asleep (I certainly almost did!). This combination of deep relaxation and concentration results in a gradual descent into Conscious Sleep.
I should point out that I had no knowledge of the different phases of the sleep cycle. I simply performed the technique as instructed, step by step, and didn’t know what to expect. It would take several years of practice before I’d come to see the importance of this exercise and the skills it develops.
After about half an hour in, I noticed I was having considerable difficulty maintaining awareness of my body. My mind was wobbling and wavering between following the instructions and getting lost in absurd dream scenarios. My breathing would suddenly seem to stop, and I’d briefly come back to awareness with a gasp. Still, I persisted in following the exercise through to the end.
Once the progressive relaxation had reached the top of my head, there began the second phase of Yoga Nidra. At that point, my awareness of myself as “Daniel Kelley” wasn’t something I could easily define if asked to do so. Rather, I just was. That is to say, I was consciousness without a body, without reference or content. Years later, I discovered that this was simply the first phase of the sleep cycle, and I was experiencing it consciously!
The second phase of Dr. Mumford’s instructions for Yoga Nidra involved rotating my awareness counterclockwise, in ever-expanding circles, around my body.
These sweeping spirals of awareness were gradually led upward and away from my body. It was precisely here, as I lay supine on the floor, that my breakthrough occurred. As I spiraled my awareness round and round, I suddenly became aware of my body once again. Only this wasn’t my physical body! I felt strange electrical currents coursing through me, and it felt as though the entire universe was rocking and waving in a circular motion.
Then it hit me…I had experienced this before! In all my years of spontaneous Lucid Dreaming and Out-of Body Experiences (OOBE), there were moments when I felt these exact same sensations. The act of gradually entering the sleep cycle through the practice of Yoga Nidra had allowed me to consciously glimpse the liminal phases of Conscious Sleep I had experienced as a child. Moreover, this practice had shown me the exact phase of the sleep cycle where the beginning phases of OOBE emerge. Today, Yoga Nidra is one of many methods for inducing what has come to be called Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming (WILD).
I went on to practice Yoga Nidra for the next twenty years, adding to it and refining it as new experiences occurred. But the essence of Yoga Nidra lies in its power to produce what’s been called the Causal state of consciousness. Generally speaking, the Causal state is just that: the cause of all other states of awareness. Think of it as the root of self-awareness.
The Causal state is the aim of such disciplines as Zen meditation, the “cloud of unknowing” of the Gnostics, and the “clear light” meditation of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s also the essence of Pellucid Sleep and Dreaming.
The term “Pellucid Dreaming” was first introduced by the famous Integral philosopher, Ken Wilber, in his book One Taste (Shambhala Publications 2000). Sometimes called Translucid Dreaming, Pellucidity is the less popular sibling of Lucid Dreaming. This is unfortunate. For one thing, Pellucidity is the very root of all other forms of Conscious Sleep. Without strong Pellucidity muscles, you wouldn’t be able to sustain consistent Lucid Dreaming. This is one of the most common reasons why many people experience Lucid Dreams only once in a while, randomly and seemingly without any rhyme or reason.
Pellucid Sleep and Pellucid Dreaming are different in that the latter occurs during the REM (dreaming) phase of the sleep cycle, whereas the former occurs during the NREM (dreamless) phase. Unlike Lucid Dreaming, which involves an active participation with the dream narrative (to a greater or lesser degree), Pellucid Dreaming is a passive witnessing of the dream state and tends to find the sleeper unwilling (but not unable) to interfere with the dream.
Does this sound familiar? It should. That’s just another way of describing the aim of mindfulness meditation!
So it follows that Conscious Sleep can’t be reduced to Lucid Dreaming alone. Conscious Sleep is a multifaceted tapestry that contains Lucid Dreaming, OOBE, Meditation, Mindfulness, Astral Projection, NDE, Vision Quests, Soul Retrieval, and so much more. Lucid Dreaming may be the coolest kid in class right now, sure, but her popularity comes on the heels of Pellucid Sleep and Dreaming. It relies on meditation carried deeper and deeper into the sleep cycle.