Republished from the Kumbha Mela Times
An afternoon workshop today at the Himalayan Institute campus with Rolf Sovik (Pandit Upadesh) answered questions about meditation. Sleepiness is a common problem for many meditators. How is it possible to prevent drifting toward sleep while meditating?
Drifting toward sleep during meditation is an experience that all of us have had. There are many factors in daily life that contribute to it. An obvious one is that when we do not get enough sleep, it affects our meditation. Meditating too close to meals, eating too much and thus placing a strain on digestive energies, as well as the many psychological stresses of life all contribute to stupor. And of course, sleep is pleasant so there is additional incentive to use meditation time to indulge it.
In the midst of meditating, however, sleeping must be addressed directly and lifestyle changes will have to wait till later. Here’s an approach you may find helpful.
The background to this approach is the application of classical principles of meditation described by Patanjali in his magnificent work, the Yoga Sutras. He simply states that thought waves in the mind could be gradually controlled. And he includes sleep among the five kinds of thought waves.
Now whatever we give attention to in meditation requires added energy. Thoughts coming forward from the unconscious mind already have a certain amount of energy to them. That’s why they come forward. But to be sustained in the mind they need our attention. The energy we add to them by paying attention is very significant. If we pay attention to a thought arising from the unconscious we give it “legs” and toss it into a disturbance. But if we allow the thought to come and go, without adding energy to it, the thought is merely a passing thought.
Although it may seem odd, you can treat sleepiness in the same way that you manage other thoughts. Do not fight with it, but do not give it the energy of your attention. You’ll find the sleepiness will pass. To make your meditative focus stronger during times of sleepiness, focus on the breath.