I’ve Been Falling Asleep While Meditating


When ever I meditate for a long time I tend to sleep, but for a few seconds only. I start dreaming, then all of a sudden I realize that I have started to sleep and dream.

Thanks a lot.

—A, India


Dear Friend,

Whenever I teach a beginning meditation course, I talk about the relationship between meditating and falling asleep, for, as you have discovered, they are more closely related than you might think. And certainly closer than we want them to be!

We tend to think of the three states of consciousness – subconscious sleep, waking consciousness, and superconscious meditation – as linear, with “sub” and “super” nicely separated by the waking state.

In fact, all three meet at what you might call the horizon line of awareness.

Meditating and sleep also share certain characteristics. Both involve the cessation of physical action, mental activity, and sensory input. The all-important difference between them is that to enter superconsciousness requires an increase of energy, whereas to enter subconsciousness requires a decrease.

We go to sleep when our energy has run out. If we are filled with energy — mental or physical — we can’t enter subconsciousness, but have to do something with all that energy before sleep will come.

One of the challenges of meditation is to learn how to increase our energy in a non-physical, non-mental, totally relaxed way. At first this seems impossible, but gradually we learn. For all the energy we need is already within us. It is a matter of learning how to direct it.

Another obstacle to entering superconsciousness is that we already have a fixed habit of what to do when we withdraw our energy from body, mind, and senses: we go to sleep.

What is happening to you (which is common) is that, finding yourself with your energy withdrawn you naturally go where you are accustomed to going, which is sleep, not meditation.

The key to breaking that cycle is the concentrated application of will power and energy, which makes sleep impossible. Naturally, this takes time to learn.

In meditation classes, I draw a diagram to illustrate this point. I’ll try to explain it in words here and hope you can see what I mean.

Think of a capital Y. Now imagine that Y is lying on its side, with the single straight line pointing to the left (as you look at it) and the V opening to the right.

The leftmost point of that straight line is waking consciousness. When you decide to sleep or to meditate, you travel along that straight line, to the right, closing down as you go all your usual expressions of energy – talking, moving, thinking, hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling, etc. – until you reach the intersection where the V meets the straight line.

At that point, you have a choice to make. If you continue to decrease your energy, you fall into subconscious sleep. If, however, at that point, through devotion, techniques, concentration, willpower, etc., you increase your energy instead, you go into superconsciousness.

It’s like watching a movie. When you watch a great movie it is easy to be fully concentrated on it and be full of energy, but if the movie is boring and uninteresting, it’s easy to lose focus and feel sleepy.

If during the course of your meditation, your energy decreases, you sink back past that junction until you find yourself suddenly on the “low road,” not meditating at all, but dreaming and sleeping.

The solution is simple. When you find yourself suddenly subconscious, increase your energy through any one of the many methods you have to draw upon in Kriya Yoga or whatever path to Self-realization you are following.

Eventually, you will create a superconscious habit stronger than your subconscious habit, and this will cease to be a problem for you.

Of course, when and where you meditate also influences your success. Perhaps you are meditating too late at night. Perhaps you need to do the Energization Exercises before you meditate, or go outside and get some fresh air before you begin. Keep the room cool; maybe sit by an open window. Don’t meditate sitting on your bed but have a special place where you only meditate, so the habit and vibrations of superconsciousness will build up there.

Meditation is both a science and an art. Self-realization as Paramhansa Yogananda teaches it includes numerous techniques, which is the science of it. The art is to learn what techniques work best for you and when to apply them.

Most importantly, don’t give up. Any effort to meditate, no matter how distracted it may seem at the time, will bring great benefit. When we first start meditating the mind can be like a runaway horse. Our first efforts to concentrate are comparable to the first tentative tug on the reins. It seems like nothing is happening. But eventual mastery of that runaway horse begins with the first feeble, “Whoa horsey!” We have to start somewhere.

Nayaswami Asha

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