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sleep of the yogi

Posted by on January 19, 2012
R. Sharath in Chakra Bandhasana

dreams of chakra bandhasana

Some thoughts on dreaming, waking and how ashtanga yoga ruined my nightlife.

स्वप्ननिद्रा ज्ञानालम्बनम् वा ॥३८॥
svapna-nidrā jñāna-ālambanam vā
- Or through knowledge that is derived from a nocturnal dream. ~Patanjali Yoga Sutras I.38

Dreaming: Lately I’ve been dreaming of India. Not a surprise as our departure date for Mysore fast approaches. They are abstract, nothing much happens, it is sort of a dream of the shape or idea of India. Me trying to make sense of a place and a world I’ve never been to before. The other dreams I’ve been having lately are of free and open, painless backbending and otherwise general upward lifting direction in my practice. These came about after 6 months or so of steady effort in chakra bandhasana (brutal!). Kate says this is good as it means the prana is moving in the right direction, even if the body is not there yet. That’s pretty cool.

sleep dream wake bed

wake me when the sun comes up

Sleeping: I have to confess, I fall asleep in savasana. It used to be this sort of asleep yet awake feeling, lucid and dreamy at the same time. But now I definitely find myself waking up in savasana (usually woken up by sound of my own loud, drowsy breathing), which leads me to believe that I must have been sleeping. Wasn’t I? Its curious, it isn’t for long, and I’ve been trying to stick it out, stay awake, but its like I am just sailed away. Kate told me a joke once, about all these ashtangis doing all this asana and then lying down to sleep like lazy people. What’s going on here? Its something I wonder at the end of a class, when all those yogis are on their mats, in the dark, eyes closed. What are we all doing? Sleeping? Dreaming? Something in between? There are so many anatomical and energetic resources on all of these postures. What of savasana? While I know that sleeping is not appropriate here, I do wonder what is the desired state? So if you hear me snoring, I warned you.

Waking: My alarm goes off at 4:50 AM Monday through Friday. When I started this practice, my alarm was set for 5:30AM. Then it was 5:15. Then 5. Now I’m working on the pre-5 AM wake up call and sometimes, its a little rough. I’m still convinced I’m a night person. (So if you’ve been avoiding morning Mysore practice because you are not a morning person, neither am I! Do it anyways. You’ll be amazed at what is possible.)

Obviously, keeping these sort of hours had a significant effect on my nightlife. Not that I would be out every night,  carousing with the band, eating late night gyros and drinking champagne in the streets of Boston. Still, it would be nice to have the option (sigh).

Resigned to my fate, my goal bedtime is now 9 PM, though its pretty rare that I actually make it by this time. I eat a late dinner with my partner, or meet up with friends in the evening, answer work emails and have a 2 hour Skype date, or just stay up into the wee hours watching season two of Battlestar Galactica (busted!). I used to get really worked up about not making it to bed in time, but now I take these evenings in stride. They are what keep me balanced, participating in my life, a life supported by my yoga practice (not the other way around). I’m a Westerner, a householder, I’m married, and I have  job. It seems my fate is not to be a yogi living in a cave, so with the early mornings and the evening activities, I just do what I can as I go. Some mornings I’m really tired, and its hard. And that’s when I have to work on regaining some balance in the other direction.

And there are those sleepless nights. The nights when I go to bed in the 9 o’clock hour, and lay there, watching the numbers tick by on the clock. My mind is racing but with nothing much in particular. Existential uncertainties that don’t really matter much when I’m participating in the flow of life. While missing a day or two of practice seems to make it even harder to sleep at night, when that clock rolls past 2:30AM, and I’m still awake, I turn off my 5 AM wake up call and just do what I can. This may not be the correct method of practice (6 days a week, excepting saturdays and moon days!) but as I once read online from another Ashtangi, “I’m a person, not a method!” I just let it go. And go easy on myself.

Having trouble falling asleep at night? My favorite Ayurvedic remedy is to rub coconut oil into the soles of the feet before bed to calm the nervous system. Or drink a glass of warm milk with a pinch of nutmeg and cardamom. If you practice Pranayama, try Chandra Bhedana Pranayama (left nostril breathing) before bed to cool down and ease into your parasympathetic nervous system. Sweet dreams, ashtangis.



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