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Back to Stories

Friends of Six Senses with Andrew Holecek: Waking Up to Dream Yoga

Neuroscientists have taught us that the brain is busy clearing toxins and consolidating memories during sleep, but the spiritual teachers have also taught us that our hours in bed can be as profound a part of our spiritual path as any activity in our waking life.

Six Senses Wellness Pioneer Anna Bjurstam talked with Andrew Holecek, author, spiritual teacher, and Dream Yoga expert about the benefits of waking up in our dreams.

The Nocturnal Meditations

We spend about a third of our lives asleep but for many of us, these hours are not put to much good use. According to Andrew, anything we do in the waking state can be done in the sleep state with equal benefit. Since what we do with our mind changes our brains, practicing Dream Yoga and Lucid Dreaming can supercharge these hours, rewiring our brains while we sleep to make us more aware during our waking hours.

Although there are many stages to what Andrew calls, “The Nocturnal Meditations”, two of the most powerful are Lucid Dreaming and Dream Yoga.

Lucid Dreaming is the state when we are conscious within the dream. It is a hybrid state of consciousness. As our dreams are made by the brain, emerging from our unconscious, it’s a rare opportunity for the conscious and unconscious minds to face each other. It’s a powerful path for psychological development.

Dream Yoga takes this process to an even deeper level because after we wake up in our dreams, with Dream Yoga, we become an active participant in our dreams and conjure up people, situations or scenes where we can process our wishes, dreams and challenges. This takes the nocturnal meditations from a psychological process to a spiritual path to self-transcendence.

Why would we want to work with our minds inside a dream? The main reason is that when we work within the dream environment, we’re working with the roots of our unconscious experiences. Up to 99 percent of what we do is dictated by what’s unconscious and what we’re doing is bringing lucidity to our unconscious realms. What we do under the cover of darkness is not left in the dark, however. These practices work to bring about lucid living, creating greater awareness in our waking hours.

Many of us have a light switch model of consciousness, where we are either awake or asleep. These practices offer us a dimmer model, where awareness goes from very aware to more and more subtle. Nocturnal is a code word for subtle and with practice and it is possible to sustain lucidity through these subtle states.

Awareness itself is the curative ingredient. When we practice Dream Yoga and Lucid Dreaming, we heighten our ability to be more conscious and aware. Dreams are one of the most powerful pathways to cultivate this.

Waking Up

The first step of any nocturnal meditation is to become awake in our dreams. We usually have about five dream cycles every night. Many people say they don’t have dreams but this is very rarely true. It is possible to train ourselves to increase our dream recall and this is an essential preparatory process to doing Dream Yoga.

One of the best ways to improve dream recall is to keep a dream journal by our beds and write down anything we remember when we wake. It could be an image or a small moment. The more we write these fragments down, the more we will remember.

The next stage is to trigger lucidity, that magical moment when you wake up in the dream and realize you are dreaming.

There are many ways to begin triggering lucidity like working with dream signs. Whenever anything strange happens in your waking life, like a bird flying by your window, we can conduct a state check. A state check is a way to train ourselves to start checking what state we are in – awake or dreaming. For example, we could jump up in our chairs after seeing a bird fly by the window. If we sit back down, we know we’re awake. When we dream, things are often very weird but we don’t question it. If we start sensitizing ourselves during the day to weirdness, in the dream when something weird happens, we will conduct a state check in the dream. Because we’ve been practicing this during waking hours, we’ll jump up in the dream for example but then we’ll keep going or we will fall through the earth. As this is not possible in waking life, this will trigger us to become aware that we are dreaming. Now we’re lucid, awake in the dream and can start practicing Dream Yoga.

Dream Yoga

What is the purpose of Dream Yoga and how can this transform our lives?

There are multiple ways this practice can transform our lives. When we’re in the dream arena, one benefit is that once we attain lucidity in dreams, we can do anything. For example, Andrew shared that he is a concert pianist. In many dreams, he’s conjured up a Steinway piano and played an entire sonata in his dream. That may sound enjoyable but is there a benefit? He shared that if he were in an fMRI brain scanner, scientists would determine that his brain would be doing the exact same thing as if he were doing it in reality. The same synapses would be firing as though he were actually playing the piano. Since the brain can’t tell the difference, it’s an incredible time to rehearse, whether it’s free throws if you are a basketball player or a speech or a difficult piece of music. Or if you have an unresolved situation with someone who has passed away, it is a way to have a difficult conversation that may be impossible in waking life. Because the brain doesn’t know that it’s a dream, the benefits of doing these activities accrue in your brain. It is truly a new type of night school.

According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker, lucid dreamers may represent the next evolution in Homosapiens’ evolution. When you’re in a lucid sleep state, the parts of the brain that come back online are the newest part of our brain anatomy. It’s the parts of the brain that apes don’t have. So when you wake up in a lucid dream, the newest parts of the brain get activated. This is one of the explanations for why it is so difficult. It’s a new skill for humans.

Dissolving Nightmares

Andrew loves nightmares. He finds them fascinating and since he’s started doing these practices, he hasn’t had one. He shares that the way he thinks about a nightmare is that they are unresolved parts of our being so in a very real way, when someone is chasing us in a dream, it’s a rejected aspect trying to come back for integration. It’s saying, you may not like me but I’m a part of you. This disowned part is asking for love and integration. Nightmares are signals that healing and wholeness need to take place. When we are lucid in a nightmare and a creature is chasing us, with the strength of our lucidity, we wake up in our dream and say to ourselves, this monster is just a part of me and so you stop in the nightmare and turn around. You face the demon directly. Andrew shared an experience when he looked into the eyes of the monster and then the monster dissolved into his heart. That rejected part of him got integrated, in psychological terms, and healed. The psychological benefits of lucid dreaming are profound.

Sometimes even Andrew has something happen in a dream that he doesn’t understand and when this happens, he recommends requesting another dream to help explain it. Because our dreams are a part of us, they can become great allies to help us with our healing, whether that’s giving us a way to resolve a conflict with a loved one or practicing that difficult portion of a Bach sonata on the piano. They also can give us clues to actions we need to take in our waking lives. Deeper dimensions of wisdom lay in our dreams. We just have to ask.

Six Senses Sleep is

About Andrew

Andrew Holecek is an author and spiritual teacher who offers talks, online courses, and workshops in the United States and abroad. As a long-time student of Buddhism, he frequently presents this tradition from a contemporary perspective – blending the ancient wisdom of the East with modern knowledge from the West. Drawing on years of intensive study and practice, he teaches on the opportunities that exist in obstacles, helping people with hardship and pain, death and dying, and problems in meditation. Known as an expert on lucid dreaming and the Tibetan yogas of sleep and dream, he is an experienced guide for students drawn to these powerful nocturnal practices.

Andrew Holecek is the author of many books and offers seminars internationally on meditation, lucid dreaming, and dream yoga. He is the author of Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep, the audio learning course, Dream Yoga: The Tibetan Path of Awakening Through Lucid DreamingDreams of Light: The Profound Daytime Practice of Lucid Dreaming, and The Lucid Dreaming Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Your Dream Life (See all of his books). Dr. Holecek is a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and the author of scientific papers on lucid dreaming. Andrewholecek.com


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