A common problem experienced by meditators is feeling sleepy. Most people do everything only halfheartedly and use only one-tenth of their concentration, causing them to lose focus. If we are tired or become bored, it is also easy to fall asleep.
According to Healthline, “the brain waves active during meditation may be similar to those in early stages of sleep.” These low-frequency Alpha brain waves are associated with feeling relaxed but awake. Especially if you are a new meditator, your body may interpret your new meditation practice as an invitation to get some shut-eye.
To be successful in meditation it is essential that we concentrate with our full attention, otherwise our efforts will be mechanical, diffused, and lack power. Only in deep concentration can you access the hidden depths of your spiritual nature.
Paramhansa Yogananda taught that the key to overcoming sleepiness in meditation is to use your will power to shake it off. “Tense the body all over, and sleep will disappear,” he said in How to Awaken Your True Potential. “Fresh air also keeps one awake.”
He provided this suggestion to a devotee who was having difficulty remaining awake during meditation: “Squeeze your eyes shut several times, then open them wide and stare straight ahead,” he said according to Essence of Self-Realization. “Repeat this practice once or twice more. If you do this, sleepiness will cease to bother you.”
You can also try concentrating very deeply – but without strain – at the point between the eyebrows.
Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda, took a harsher approach with himself, according to his book The New Path. At the time, he was a new monk living at Mt. Washington in LA with Yogananda:
“For some time…I was disturbed by periods of almost obsessive sleepiness during meditation. I no sooner sat for meditation than my head began to nod. One day I felt particularly joyful inside and was eagerly looking forward to that evening’s meditation. To my immense disgust, however, the moment I sat to meditate drowsiness descended on me once again like a dense fog. I was furious with myself.
‘Since you insist so much on sleeping,’ I scolded my mind, ‘I’m not going to let you sleep at all!’
I stayed up all that night, typing letters, walking around the grounds, drinking tea, anything to beat down my insistent craving for sleep. When daylight came, I went outdoors and worked hard in the garden. By the following evening my mind had become so submissive, terrified, I imagine, lest I abuse it with sleeplessness a second night, that my meditative drowsiness ceased completely, and didn’t return again for many months.”
For most of us, a gentle approach is probably better. Remember that completely quieting the mind is the goal of meditation, not something everyone will necessarily experience right away.
Think of concentration as a skill that you can improve with practice. You can be patient with yourself as you learn. Just as most people don’t master a musical instrument instantly, you probably won’t have perfect concentration right away.
When you falter, try being kind to yourself. Just refocus and try again. If you keep at it, you will improve.
Nayaswami Bharat said: “To increase your ability to concentrate, strive to make each meditation deeper than the one before. When you meditate with this kind of intensity, you will find your practice helped tremendously.”
Spiritual awareness depends on two things: the amount of energy and how that energy is focused. You can increase your level of energy and focus by commanding your mind’s attention with such practices as chanting, prayer, yoga postures, breathing exercise and Energization exercises. These practices generate a strong flow of energy, which then can be used for meditation.
Energization exercises are the unique contribution of Yogananda to the science of yoga. They are a system of exercises that teach us to use the power of will to control the conscious life force or prana that flows through us. By consciously directing the life force to certain parts of the body, we are able to send energy and awaken our body cells, revitalizing body, mind and soul. The exercises include a series of muscle tensing and relaxing exercises that incorporate a revivifying “double breathe” to oxygenate and detoxify the blood.
Deep states of concentration are possible only when our life-force is interiorized, because the mind follows the direction of the flow of prana in the body. When the energy flows outward, our attention goes outward, too, while reversing it interiorizes the mind.
Keeping the eyes uplifted during meditation helps you stay more alert. It also attunes you to higher states of consciousness. When we achieve the superconscious state, we are guided by intuition and heightened metal clarity. While the conscious mind is limited by its analytical nature, the superconscious level is unitive and sees all things as part of the whole. At this level, we are in flow and more is possible from us.
Swami Kriyananda wrote in The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, “The position of the eyes suggests the general portion of the brain in which the consciousness is centered. In particular, when the mind slips toward subconsciousness and the energy becomes centered in the lower brain, the eyes tend to look downward; when one is involved in the world, or otherwise active on the conscious level, the energy becomes centered more in the mid-brain, and the eyes tend more naturally to look straight ahead; and when one enters a state of superconsciousness, the eyes are drawn automatically to gaze upward.”
If meditation sleepiness still is a problem, you might find it helpful to shorten your meditations and focus on making them as dynamic as possible. Then gradually lengthen your meditations. Try also to meditate during those times of day when you’re the most alert and energetic.
You may experience times where feeling sleepy during meditation is a recurring problem. If this is the case, don’t worry about it; it’s usually just a phase. Meditating with energy and calm intensity — plus a positive attitude — is the key to breaking through.
Kriyananda wrote in the article “A Key to Concentration” that will power can always help. In it, he gave a story about waking up one morning feeling tired and unambitious.
“I realized that if I did bother to get up, a bad night’s sleep would swamp my desultory concentration with yawns. But then I suddenly determined to be enthusiastic. At once, my sleepiness vanished, I jumped out of bed and, my cobwebs of lethargy gone, I felt wide awake and ready for concentration. We don’t have to wait until something interests us. We can be interested all the time, focusing our minds with complete enthusiasm on everything we do. Concentration without enthusiasm becomes haphazard musing. But if we cling to enthusiasm in our every activity, we will find our concentration growing very strong. We will be able to turn it one-pointedly on worldly things, achieving complete success in everything we attempt. More important than that, we will be able to focus it one-pointedly on Spirit, quickly attaining the state most devotees strive so long to find.”
Start a New Meditation Practice or Inspire Your Current One
The 10-week Ananda Course in Meditation online course is designed to provide in-depth instruction in scientific meditation techniques that bring more peace, deeper relaxation, and focused concentration to every area of your life, regardless of outer conditions.
These techniques are based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi.