One of the nice side effects of my yoga practice is that it has helped to cure my insomnia. By getting up at 4 AM I am, in essence, messing with my circadian rhythms before they mess with me. I am man down by 10 PM if not earlier. This is exactly what Swami Sivananda prescribes for sleeping: in bed by 10, up at 4.
I still have vivid dreams about zombies, things coming to get me that are lurking just outside the door, outside and cabinet doors that will not stay shut, papers due for books I haven’t read.
But, you see, I used to dream about these things when I was awake.
It all started when I was 3. My bladder woke me up. I rolled over and saw a monster at my door. Logic says it was my mom or dad, they were backlit, and my eyes had not adjusted so I saw the outline of a black figure. I never slept well after that.
Logic means squat to a 3 year old.
Somewhere along the way I read about a certain type of demon that appears before sleeping children. I was old enough to know that was not true. At least during the day.
The house we lived in when I was in college was very nice, but I did not sleep a wink there. I could not fall asleep in my room. The physical space creeped me out.The same feeling of being in a nightmare while wide awake.
I needed sleep, so I drank. A lot.
I used to have reoccurring dreams about the house I grew up in. It was on a dirt road off of a dirt road. The kind of location where movies whose 6th installments are named “So-and-so Returns” are set. The dream starts off normally enough, then I can’t lock the door. Or I close the door then turn around to find it opened again. And there is something in the woods. The last time I dreamed about the house I actually saw what was outside the window. I will never go back to those woods.
I would come out of these nightmares hyper-aware. The knowing that something is over there, around the corner, outside, in the shadow above my head remained at the same intensity. I was up for the rest of the night.
I used to dream that I woke up facing the wall (I always go to sleep facing the door of the room, never with my back exposed). Every time I tried to turn myself around and get out of bed, the room would revolve and I remained facing the wall. I screamed myself awake.
Thankfully this pattern that has plagued me for 35+ years has diminished. Going to bed tired is one element. Japa of mantra before bed and immediately upon waking is another. I have had nightmares that have been turned around because I start shouting mantra in my dream. The pattern did not change in an instant; gradually, every so gradually things changed.
Yoga is “The cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” (PYS I.2) The effects of practicing yoga take longer to realize and are much more subtle than the effects of practicing postures alone. Postures will give you nice shoulders and a shapely bum, but a sustained yoga practice will re-wire your very being. I have experienced it in a very real and practical way.
It is nice not to be scared to go to sleep anymore.