Sleep is a moment of rejuvenation and the space of timelessness to incubate our mind, but yogic sleep empowers the mind to expand in consciousness.
Our sleep quality affects the quality of our mind’s abilities to perceive, remember, and produce optimal thoughts. Sleep resets our mind, which is why the quality of sleep matters and is directly proportional to the well-being of our mind and body.
For a yogi, sleep is a sacred moment.
Yogic deep sleep has no dreams. Time condenses, requiring shorter times of needed sleep. Upon awakening from a yogic sleep, we should feel a brand new moment filled with optimism, a supercharged mind, a healed body, and each thought coming from clarity.
Turiya is the attainment of yoga, of a superconscious state of mind. Yogis who master consciousness are able to condense sleep to the extent of going beyond “sleep,” to the state of turiya, often called the sleepless sleep.
My experience of the states of turiya was with my Guru Ayya, who meditated near the peak of Arunachala mountain. He drank a glass of milk a day, never moved, and never slept.
Throughout the night, I would climb up the mountain to be near his cave enclosure and meditate. In the beginning, my need to sit near Ayya came from curiosity—what made Ayya love his solitude and inner journey so much that he completely cut himself off from the external world and journey within?
Once a day, early in the morning, his devotees would remove thorn bushes that blocked Ayya’s cave entrance and Ayya would start a fire to make herbal tea. All pilgrims who came to see Ayya were served this tea. He seldom spoke to anyone other than his helpers. After two hours, the helpers would again close up the entrance of the cave so Ayya could enter back into his solitude until the next day.
I spent my time sitting outside the cave wanting to absorb his meditative energies. Through the night, I heard Ayya speaking to the Divine. Sometimes he would burst into ecstasy, singing. He was in a vortex of powerful energies, in a state of perpetual overflowing joy. It was now easy to understand how Ayya had transcended sleep—he was in realms of turiya.
It was this sublime ecstasy experience that inspired me to create my music Turiya Nada. To know the states of turiya is to know the three states of mind—sleep, dream, and awake—as an observer.
Sleep, and mastery of sleep, is the vital element in attaining the states of turiya.
My quest to learn more about sleep made me eager to ask enlightened masters. In my pilgrimages, during my years seeking my light within through solitude, was another of my Gurus: Siddha Maha Siva Swamy. Maha Siva Swamy lived in a forest shrine of Nambi Hills, a tiger sanctuary, all by himself. I enjoyed every moment with him, as he would always hear my questions and provide answers.
I remember walking with him through the jungle to reach Nambi Hills. Initially, it felt eerie and unsafe, as I knew this was a tiger sanctuary and only a few would walk into this forest. I asked him if he ever felt afraid walking there all by himself. He smiled at me and said, “Tigers walk away from humans, sensing us. But some tigers are too old. One old tiger would sit over there and roar. Its roar was so weak, unlike others. But they never will harm me.” I did not tell him how that old tiger could have become a maneater. I felt safe with him knowing he must have higher vibrations safeguarding him.
When we reached this sacred shrine, after a five-mile walk through the forest, we bathed in the jungle stream and, in the evening, did our puja (worship). As night came, I told Maha Siva Swamy I needed to learn how to sleep. I had watched him enter into samadhi, a state of meditative consciousness, many times, with ease. Any time he entered into samadhi, the whole area around him would buzz in light. I was certain that if he could enter into samadhi with so much ease and meditate through days and nights, he must have mastered the art of sleep.
We lay side by side near the ancient temple entrance on the ground with cloth underneath me. He did not need anything underneath him. I asked him what he was doing with his breath and how he was preparing his mind for sleep. He said, “Go into the mantra fires. Surrender your breath. Descend into your heart. Fall asleep there.”
I spent the next few minutes trying what he told me. A few minutes later, I was ready to ask the next few questions. I said, “Swamy, now that I am in my heart, now what?”—and all I heard was his snoring. He was fast asleep, in another world. Soon, I fell asleep too.
What I learnt from these moments with Guru Ayya and Guru Maha Siva Swamy is that our minds are on a journey. They travel between states of being awake, asleep, and in realms beyond sleep, in altered states of consciousness. These yogis have mastered consciousness itself by being able to enter the sleepless sleep realms of turiya.
Ever since, I have delved deep to make sense of sleep and to understand sleep as a tool of well-being, an instrument to intense meditation, and a proponent to enhance the mind’s clarity.
Yoga Nidra—Practical steps to Yogic Sleep:
>> Throughout the day, attain, maintain, and generate an ease of mind. Do yoga, meditate, and do pranayama; run, play basketball, or walk. Doing physical activities tunes the mind into a long-lasting meditative experience.
>> Doing puja (worship of the Divine) or offering prayers helps set the mind in a meditative state throughout the day. Prayers help us discard worries, anxieties, and stress.
>> With every breath, enter into your core of harmony with retention, mindfulness, and awareness. Being in a continuous meditative state throughout the day nourishes the mind so it requires less time to revitalize. The meditative mind sleeps effectively.
>> Set a daily time to shut down your work and prepare for bed. Scheduling sleep helps the mind subconsciously tune into the sleep-ready mode.
>> Just before getting to bed, shower, bathe, or wash your face and forehead. Water, as an energy, cleanses away unwanted thoughts.
>> Do gentle stretches or yin yoga before bed if feeling unable to cope with stress or worries. The best yoga always happens when our mind is low. Yoga helps us come back into our body.
>> Meditate using mantra chants, even if for just five minutes. Make this moment a time of prayer. Surrender all experiences, thoughts, anxieties, needs, wishes, fears, and emotions into the mantra fires. Let go of realities to the Divine Source, God. No realities belonged to us before birth; now in sleep, consider it the moment of death when all realities are surrendered to Source.
>> Select consciousness-expanding books. Set a habit to read before sleeping every day. Reading conscious books imprints the mind with good thoughts.
>> Lay down on the bed, turning over to the left side. Use pillows or your elbow as a prop and start reading. Be aware of the right-side breath that gains predominance as we rest our body on the left. We are tapping into the moon energies of breath, the energies that activate sleep.
>> Sleep will come soon, especially if the book is philosophical in nature. Chase sleep away by choosing to read more; affirm for yourself that the night is young and we have all night to read. Sleep will come as a threatening lion or a cute puppy wanting to be held. Chase it away! Close eyes a minute when sleepiness gets heavy. Then start reading again.
>> Now, we are ready to sleep. Put away the book. Flip over to the right side. Start reciting a mantra that makes us feel connected to Source. Enter into the heart, like allowing ourselves to float away into the womb of light.
>> Step into the timelessness of sleep, like meditation. The mind flows into states of deep sleep where dream occurrence is rare. With practice, in this womb state, we gradually activate more awareness of our mantra vibration, of our unconscious mind connected to Source. In this sleep, our mind is incubated like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly; we transform from human to angelic. This yogic sleep reduces in time due to its depth and intensity and ability to serve the mind and body in rejuvenation.
>> Upon waking up, the first thoughts on arising out of sleep is reaching out to the mantra recitation and connecting our mind to Source. Our first thoughts, “Please God Source, give me the right thoughts.” For your first prayer, rub both the palms together, thinking of our Mother as our left palm and our Father as our right palm. Feel gratitude in every cell in your body for our mothers and fathers. Place your hands over your eyelids in gratitude.
>> Let gratefulness be your vibrancy, gifted by the depth of your sleep. We are now the vibrations that align and manifest all that our hearts intend.
Interesting Observations about Yogic Sleep:
>> In this depth of sleep, there are no dreams. Sleep is like death.
>> The amount of time we need to sleep is reduced.
>> We wake up feeling like we slept “a hundred years.”
>> We wake up with a crystal clear mind.