Two Types of Sleep

One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925-1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in Northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally in 1969, came to the United States where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best known work, Living With the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.

"You may sometimes wonder how yogis can do without sleep. It’s not magic; it’s that they are relaxed all the time, so why would they need more relaxation? Presently, you need relaxation because you are always on the go, physically and mentally, but if you learn to meditate and really rest, you won’t need as much sleep. So you should also regulate your sleep schedule. Yogis reduce the amount of sleep to two and a half hours, and finally to no sleep. They call it “sleepless sleep,” and they go to a state of deep meditation instead of sleep. When meditation becomes your whole life, then this change takes place naturally.

I recommend that those who are really meditators learn to wake up at three o’clock. That time of morning is called brahmamuhurta. When you learn to wake at a specific time, then you will also learn to go to sleep—true, willful sleep—when you want. Then you decide, “I will get up at three o’clock, so now I have to sleep,” and you will simply go to sleep. After all, everything that you do can and should come under your conscious control. Presently you are not under your own conscious control, but under the control of your unconscious. Your goal should be to train yourself to be under your conscious control. This is an important process.

There are two types of sleep. One is the sleep that makes you unconscious, that which you think of as sleep. But that unconscious sleep is not really healthy. Just as eating junk food unconsciously is not healthy, so, too, is unconscious sleep not healthy. It helps in one regard, but not in the deepest way, because even in unconscious sleep a part of the mind still remains awake. Perhaps you are sleeping and somebody touches your body. Even though you are asleep you will brush their hand away, because at some level, your mind is still alert.

Two types of sleepThus, even when you go into a state of deep sleep, a part of the mind remains unrested. What are you going to do with that aspect of mind? You never learn to work with it or develop it; that’s why you need to learn relaxation and meditation, so that you can consciously give rest to that part of the mind which is never rested. That is why I tell you to meditate. It’s important to do that.

There is also a type of conscious sleep you can learn that is called “sleepless sleep.” The sages say that a fool goes to sleep, and comes out a fool, but if a fool goes into meditation he comes out a sage. That’s the difference—a fool goes into meditation, and he changes; he comes out a sage. Meditation is a conscious habit, while sleep is unconscious. Meditation gives complete rest to both the conscious and unconscious mind, while sleep gives rest to only the conscious mind. Meditation is important in order to provide complete rest for your body and mind."

 - Swami Rama in The Art of Joyful Living pages 62-63

Randall

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