Each night during our sleep we re-create the world. Stories and pictures dance through our minds even if we are unaware. We dream roughly every ninety minutes, but the frequency and duration of our dream life varies from night to night.
On a typical night, after falling asleep our first dream cycle of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is short, about 5 minutes; the second is about 10 minutes, and the third about 15 minutes. But toward morning, we are fortunate to have our longest dream of the night, lasting from thirty to sixty minutes. You are dreaming even if you don’t know it. If you happen to wake up during your dream, try to replay it in your mind. You can think about it or write it down. If you are too sleepy to review the dream, even for just a few moments, it will be lost to memory.
We know from sleep research that REM sleep is essential for mental recovery. When people are deprived of dream sleep for several days at a time, they become anxious, irritable, and unable to concentrate.
In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad it is written:
When he goes to sleep, the worlds are his, he becomes a great king, or a learned man; he enters the high and the low. As a great king, taking with him his people, moves around his country as he pleases, even so here, taking with him his senses, he moves around in his own body as he pleases. When a man goes to sleep, he takes along all the material of this all –containing world, tears it apart, and builds it up again in his dream, illuminating this inner world with his own light…. There are no joys here no happiness, no pleasures. But he projects from himself joys, happiness, pleasures. There are no pools there, no lotus ponds, no streams. But he projects from himself pools, lotus ponds, and streams. For he is the Creator. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 2.1.18
Yoga Nidra: Resting in the Lap of Mother Earth
Yoga nidra is a meditation practice that produces deep relaxation in mind and body. Unlike deep sleep, in yoga nidra you remain aware and alert, open to the whisper or shout of your own wisdom. Most hatha yoga classes end with the Savasana, or Corpse Pose. I often refer to Savasana as “resting in the lap of Mother Earth.” In this pose of deep relaxation we can experience the fruits of our asana practice. Feeling the after-effects of a practice session strengthens our commitment to come back to the mat the next day. Rather than rushing off to our next task, we linger with the silence within, allowing our practice to deepen.
A regular practice of hatha yoga and meditation, including yoga nidra, will deepen the quality of our sleep, leading to better dream sleep, where we can be the creators of our inner worlds.