While lucid dreaming is mostly about self-fulfillment, dream yoga is largely about self-transcendence. It’s more spiritual than psychological. Lucid dreaming as a popular enterprise has been around for some forty years, but dream yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. This does not negate the power of lucid dreaming, it just helps us put it in proper perspective.
In many ways the Buddha (“the awakened one”) was the ultimate lucid dreamer, but he only used it as a diving board into the deeper nocturnal meditations. The great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung knew about lucid dreaming but was hesitant to endorse it, fearing that people could easily misuse it for self-aggrandizement and egoic inflation.
The point is this: lucid dreaming, if used properly, is amazing. But it does have limitations and subtle traps. Dream yoga exposes those limitations and traps, while also incorporating the remarkable benefits. It transcends but includes lucid dreaming.
The term “yoga” applies to dreams at several levels. First, etymologically, “yoga” comes from roots that mean “yoke, unite, bond” and by extension, “spiritual discipline.” Dream yoga is a spiritual discipline that can unite you with deeper dimensions of your being.
Second, in a more colloquial sense, yoga is that which stretches. In this regard dream yoga stretches the conscious mind into previously unconscious domains. This definition is good to keep in mind because the stretch is not always easy – but stretching is good for growth.
Third, dream yoga is a subtle body, or inner body, yoga. Just like the more famous outer or gross body yogas, there are also inner body yogas. And just like the outer gross body is the support for outer gross (waking) consciousness, the subtle inner body is the support for inner subtle (dreaming) consciousness.
Finally, dream yoga is also a mental yoga. This last definition is connected with our second definition, where dream yoga works to stretch the mind deep into itself. It’s a healthy mental workout — or “work in” — designed to simultaneously open, stretch, and strengthen the mind. Even in classical Indian yoga, what we know as physical yoga is but one of “eight limbs” of yoga. Asana, or “posture,” is merely the third of these eight (the other seven are “yama” or restraint; “niyama” or positive duties; “pranayama” or breath work; “pratyahara” or sense withdrawal; “dharana” or concentration; “dhyana” or meditative absorption; and “samadhi” or bliss/enlightenment). The idea is that “yoga” is a polysemous term, which means it has many different meanings.
Just like lucid dreaming spans a spectrum from short to long, and from barely lucid to hyper-lucid, dream yoga also occurs along a spectrum. It progresses from stages that are fairly easy to those that are quite advanced. There is a correlation between the spectrum of lucid dreaming and dream yoga that I use to this day: when I wake up in a dream and my lucidity is strong, I’ll skip to one of the more advanced stages of dream yoga; if my lucidity is not so strong and my dreams are short, I’ll work with one of the earlier stages. I also use this approach within the context of a single dream, sometimes starting out strong at a higher stage, then dropping to a lower stage as my lucidity starts to fade.
The classic dream yoga texts are pithy and steep. They are also dense, with little commentary. They were written by masters so advanced that perhaps they forgot about us mere mortals! Stretching is indeed good for growth, but we don’t want the stretch to turn into a strain, or to even snap. I’ve taken the liberty to unfold these pithy stages into nine stages, with plenty of commentary. This offers accessible baby steps that encourage rather than discourage the average oneironaut. (Oneirology is the study of dreams). And just like astronauts are intrepid explorers of outer space, oneironauts fearlessly explore the inner space of the mind.
The nocturnal meditations are by nature subtle and solitary. The induction techniques for lucidity, and the stages of dream yoga, sleep yoga, and bardo yoga are not a “one-size-fits-all” affair. We’re all different, and we sleep differently from night to night. At a certain point you become your own meditation instructor, or nocturnal guide. Once you learn the basic tenets, trust your own experience. See what works for you. If something doesn’t feel right with any of these practices, don’t do it. If you discover something that isn’t in the classical presentations, but does feel right, do it.
All the instructions in these posts are like giving you a map and a flashlight to venture into the dark. Like with any other discipline, sooner or later you’ll get the hang of it and be on your way. You’ll be able to drop the map and fearlessly explore the territory, and the flashlight will turn into a headlamp that is always with you. But until then we have these ancient and modern teachings — and each other — to rely on so that we’re not just fumbling around in the dark.
The magic of our Night Club is the collective wisdom that each of us brings, and that will gradually accumulate, giving us everything we need to know to succeed in these remarkable nocturnal adventures.