An early casualty of the pandemic was the pleasant nature of my dreams. For over a year now, every night has been given over to the most vivid and unusual dreams. I am in places I don’t recognize with people I don’t know, and always, just around the edges is a Greek chorus with enough familiar faces to ground each dream in an unsettling kind of reality.
Just this past week I stood in my backyard with my neighbor, John, as we watched the back of my house crumble and fall in a distressing pile of rock, brick and plaster. John’s house, on the other hand, stood straight as a sentinel, all tidy and reflected in a large pond as the sun began to set.
He reckoned it was the stream that ran behind our properties. It must have diverted underground in some way, eroding my firm foundation. I groaned to think what fixing this would cost, and wondered, even, if it was fixable at all.
My house, you must know, is neither brick nor crumbling, nor built on rocky soil. And while John is the best of neighbors and knows lots of things, he wasn’t correct about the stream having gone underground. The only thing that runs behind my house is an alley, a very nice alley that is wide and well-paved and my mother admired it so much she would go out of her way to drive down it.
And there is no reflecting pond beside John’s house but sometimes, when it rains really hard, water will stand for a few minutes in the gutters. But I don’t dream of my mother or rain-filled gutters. I dream this nonsense. Every night, all night long.
It isn’t enough to have one such dream. I have several each night. They don’t seem to be repackaged do-overs of my day the way some dreams are. And while they aren’t nightmares, they aren’t good dreams, either. I do many things in these dreams that are worrisome and odd and and discombobulate me.
But, in the end, I am doing everyday kinds of things in these dreams and that is one of the horrors of it. My mind is on an endless loop of unfamiliar and undesired activity, none of it of my choosing, and I am not even flying or rescuing my buddies from the jungle.
Last night I didn’t have odd dreams.
Last night I slept deeply and well almost all night long. Last night I listened to yoga meditations for six hours straight, right there, on my phone, by way of YouTube. I have just gotten up and I can’t wait for nightfall so I can do it again.
We know that sounds heard at different megahertz impact the brain, creating states of high concentration and arousal to deep relaxation and sleep. Breathing helps us relax, too, especially deep, intentional breathing, sometimes called the deep yogic breath. Anyone can learn this, no spandex required.
Yoga Nidra is the practice of yogic sleep, or that state between waking and slumber where your body is relaxed and your mind is still aware. But it is a hop, skip and a jump from that to a good night’s sleep, if you do it right. Guided imagery is part of Yoga Nidra, with a calming voice directing your thoughts while you lay flat out in corpse pose, my absolute favorite.
In Yoga Nidra great attention is paid to getting comfy. All that tossing around and pulling at the covers and smoothing out the blankets and adjusting and re-adjusting your head and limbs is a crucial part of it, and the yogi gives you plenty of time to get yourself sorted.
All your movements are calm and unhurried and the voice is gentle and warm and some of us may even be tempted to suck our thumbs.
Then, the music. Or what I will call music although there must be another word for it. There are droning low notes and tones that wash over you while the quiet voice guides you through imagined meadows or perhaps does a body scan which is rewarding, too. Who knew thinking about your right pinky or your left ankle could be so relaxing?
There are hundreds to choose from, deep sleep meditations and Nidra offerings, or deep sleep music with no one talking. I wish I had found them months ago, when I was in the middle of the river, giving motivational speeches from the back of a coal barge to all the 4th of July boaters gathered around…all night long.