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Keep falling asleep
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4/19/12 8:08 AM
i like to practice my meditation in the morning, i usually get up between 6 and 7 am to do so. but sometimes i just wake up at that bad REM cycle or didnt get enough sleep and im just too sleepy to be able to focus during meditation. if i keep my eyes open they keep pulling down and if i keep them closed i literally doze off to sleep. i drink coffee but that still doesnt help usually, try to just energize my state, but theres only so much i can do to actually change how sleepy i am or not. it can really ruin my practice for the day. i need to have a certain level of alertness when i meditate, and certainly not be falling asleep. I'm thinking i'm going to try taking cold showers before i meditate, maybe that will help. anyone have any tips??

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 8:21 AM as a reply to Brian K..
I used to struggle with this. If it's continuing even after you've had coffee, and coffee usually keeps you awake, then it's probably an emotional reaction. It's not that big a deal. Just continue to attend to sensations as you start to doze. If a daydream carries you off, don't try to stop it, just attend to sensations again. If you actually doze off, it's OK. Just start practicing again when you come around and notice.

Meditating standing helps cut down on the effects of this kind of reaction a lot, though I did almost fall over a couple of times so position yourself carefully. But at a certain stage, I found practicing with this kind of reaction very useful.

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 10:02 AM as a reply to Brian K..
Why don't you try something different each day and see what works for you? It's logical, and the ideas aren't so bizarre.
A basic premis would be to do something more physically active, which gets the heart going, wakes the nervous system up, gets blood round the body, and starts the flow of sensed energy/chi/qi/prana/lifeforce or whatever term that suits the belief system.

If you're going straight from bed to sitting (I'm not sure if this is the case or not, as you didn't specify) then you can't really blame the body for nodding off.

As soon as you wake, start paying attention to whatever you like. The breath, or attention itself. Stare out of the window and pay attention to the object of your choice.
Sit.

Shower, dress, paying attention all the while.
Sit.

Take a walk, making it a walking meditation.
Sit.

Go for a 5 minute jog.
Sit.

Stretch the different muscle groups of the body, paying attention.
Sit.

Sing a song. (Not as silly as it may sound, for a whole host of reasons.)
Sit.

Dance to your favorite music.
Sit.

Do some breathing exercises designed to get energy moving through the body.
Sit.

Do something *more active* with a sense of fascination and enquiry, even wonder at what is happening from moment to moment.
Then sit.

Just play, don't be afraid.

There are thousands of years of practical wisdom from the Indian yoga tradition to help you here - the entire purpose of learning asana (the "physical" practice of yoga) is to prepare the body for meditation. Go take some yoga classes, do a basic routine.

Learn the "5 Tibetans".

Learn Tai-Chi. This is wonderful in the morning, especially if the idea of [the western idea of the physical practice of] yoga is a little too much, for whatever reason.

Empower yourself to make the decisions that best support your practice, and play with everything. You can do WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT in your practice. Apologies for shouting, but this point is easily forgotten.

However, work out how to work out what works, and stick with it until the moment that your self-adjusting feedback mechanism says hmm this isn't working so well, maybe I should try...

And do it.

Be creative, enjoy the process, practice well.

Thom

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 10:36 AM as a reply to Thom W.
thanks, yea sorry i should have specified... usually i get up, get something to eat, drink some coffee or tea and then sit down, sometimes shower first. usually within 20 - 40 minutes after i have woken up i start sitting... ill try a couple of these things out, thanks

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 11:59 AM as a reply to Brian K..
What kind of meditation do you do? Is it a noting-based vipassana? If it's noting, could you give us an example of a typical minute's worth of notes?

About a quarter to a third of what I note is "drowsiness". Make sure you're noting it, and your emotional reaction to it. It's as valid as anything else. When I'm drowsy, I do 10 pushups before sitting to meditate. Also, make sure to note out loud. Not whispering the notes, but rather speaking at a normal voice when noting helps keep you awake. Keeping a straight back will also keep you more alert.

If you're really drowsy and dull, make sure that you note that and your emotional reaction to not being as alert as you'd like and noting things like expectation, aversion (towards being drowsy), anxiety (the emotional state I tend to feel when I'm having aversive reactions to anything) etc..., in addition to the physical sensations you might be feeling, such as the back slumping, the eyelids drooping and other sensations you might be feeling that has to do with your drowsy state or any other state you're in and any other emotional reactions to it. Also keep track of mental wandering, the image thoughts you're likely to get when in brief moment of nodding off to sleep and dreaming and the planning thought of wanting to go back to bed. All of this is excellent fodder for noting. Unpleasant and dissatisfactory conditions and sensations are ideal vipassana fodder, since it gives you a ton of stuff to note. Noting in more detail, doing triplet noting (physical sensation, mental reaction, emotional state) and faster noting also help keep you engaged and increase the sense of alertness. Don't forget to note the mental sensation of the need to increase mental alertness (you could note that as intention, or planning thought or however you want), if that's what you're feeling.

You can also throw in more pleasant notes, like acceptance, satisfaction and pleasure as those sensations arise, once meditating in this way starts feeling more effective.

If you really go at it in this way, you'll find the noting takes on a momentum of its own and that you'll be able to note even when dozing off for a few seconds. It becomes less of a struggle and more fun (note having fun).

If you still find yourself completely unable to concentrate, but really don't want to just go get more sleep, set a timer for let's say 10 minutes. Start by doing 10 pushups, sit for 10 minutes until the alarm rings, then do another 10 pushups, go back to sitting for 10 minutes until the alarm rings, then do 10 leg raises, etc...This will keep you awake and allow you to do noting practice. Try to retain a mental focus or do silent noting (possibly with a physical focus) while doing exercise. I doubt it would be great for something like samatha, but it works fine for noting-based vipassana. As you get more used to sitting at that time of the day, you'll probably get less drowsy while meditating and require fewer exercise breaks (or none at all) in order to stay awake while practicing.

You mentioned that you shower before meditating. I find that makes me drowsy. With all this exercising you're going to want to take a shower anyway. How about if you take the shower after meditating? You could also take a very short cold shower before you start the practice.

You can also try meditating in a standing posture, but be careful not to do it for a period of time that will cause you knee pain. It's the sort of thing you can gradually build up, by increasing the amount of time you stand without moving per session by 30 seconds per week. It sounds like nothing, but it really adds up. You also need to watch your posture if you do standing meditation. You can figure out how to align yourself by standing against a wall at first and making your back essentially flat against it, checking that your feet are straight forward, the slump of the hips is reversed (tilt them back to stretch out the lumbars a bit) and checking for shoulder tension. It's much harder to fall asleep while meditating standing up.

As mentioned by others, walking meditation is also good, as long as you've got a good instructions on how to meditate that way.

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 11:47 AM as a reply to Jigme Sengye.
No, i dont do any noting practice now, except in my everyday life. when i sit im trying to do shamatha practices, after doing some scattered practice (different types of meditation) i decided to stick with shamatha and not go really into insight until i get a degree of control over the 1st jhana. Here if u want look at my other post it gives a pretty detailed outline of where im at and if u can answer any of the questions there it would greatly appreciated:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/3070043

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 4:07 PM as a reply to Brian K..
Brian,
I think enough sleeping is the best solution. And I am an expert of not enough of my sleeping emoticon

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 4:45 PM as a reply to The Meditator.
nah i got plenty of sleep last night and i couldnt stay awake this morning, whereas the night before i did not get good sleep, but the next morning i was OK to stay alert while meditating. maybe im just retarded

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 4:57 PM as a reply to Brian K..
You're not retarded, you're reflexively defending yourself from something with dullness. Keep watching, stay curious. There is an opportunity here, to learn about an aspect of experience which you're hiding from yourself. (I don't know what, but it will probably turn out to be important.)

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 7:17 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
reflexively defending myself with dullness? what do u mean exactly? like subconsciously doing it for some weird reason?

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 8:58 PM as a reply to Brian K..
Roughly speaking, yes.

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/19/12 9:24 PM as a reply to Brian K..
I have two theories on the matter. Both may be independently true, or one may be true, or neither. Try them on for size and see what works for you.

When I sit very still my body starts falling asleep. This can happen when attempting to meditate, watch a TV show, read a book, or think. I noticed this after it repeatedly happening when confined in my seat on public transport. My suggestion here is to use walking meditation instead. emoticon

Also you may just be physically tired. Try going to bed earlier, getting 8 hours sleep a night for a few nights. I find that when I practice mindfulness that I drop the mental/affective habits that would otherwise keep me powering on, and I sometimes discover that I actually am just physically tired - but that I just was able to ignore it in my normal state of waking consciousness.

Craig

RE: Keep falling asleep
Answer
4/20/12 1:46 PM as a reply to Brian K..
Brian K.:
i like to practice my meditation in the morning, i usually get up between 6 and 7 am to do so. but sometimes i just wake up at that bad REM cycle or didn't get enough sleep and i'm just too sleepy to be able to focus during meditation. if i keep my eyes open they keep pulling down and if i keep them closed i literally doze off to sleep.

I used to fight this same syndrome, so I know what you are speaking about. Countless times I would have to fight off drowsiness just in order to get in my requisite meditation session in the mornings. I finally had to stop fighting it and give in to the drowsiness, so that hopefully I could muster enough energy to eventually substantiate a decent meditation session.

If you recognize yourself to be in this situation in the future, you might well consider just dozing off for a few minutes just to satisfy the body's need for physical rest (a brief "power nap" in order to strengthen an energetic and alert state strong enough to be able to carry on meditation without falling asleep).

In conjunction with that solution, you might try recognizing the advice that Gotama was pointing at in his instruction to "establish mindfulness" before endeavoring to meditate. And here, we need to define what he meant by "establishing mindfulness" in terms of how it can affect one's meditation session. Especially when one is feeling drowsy.

In the two Satipatthana suttas (MN 10 and DN 22), the Buddha gives the following instruction:

"And how, monks, does a monk abide contemplating the body as body? Here a monk, having gone into the forest, or to the root of a tree or to an empty place, sits down cross-legged, holding his body erect, having established mindfulness in front of him. Mindfully he breaths in, mindfully he breaths out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows that he breathes in a long breath, and breathing out a long breath, he knows that he breathes out a long breath. Breathing in a short breath, he knows that he breathes in a short breath, and breathing out a short breath, he knows that he breaths out a short breath. . . ."

This is simple instruction, yet powerful when correctly understood and performed. Never underestimate the power of the simplest of instruction.

This simple instruction to "establish mindfulness" in front of oneself (i.e. prior to entering meditation) is key if one is to have a fruitful and significant meditation sitting. The kind of mindfulness being alluded to here is an alert mindfulness, much in the same way as if one were a hunter's prey and being hunted. If you've ever observed animals — dogs, cats, birds, ground squirrels, rabbits, etcetera — in the wild, you will have noticed that they are always ALERT. Especially wild animals, because they are either looking for food or attempting to escape becoming a meal for some other animal predator. If you will stop, right now, and vividly imagine yourself in the latter situation (i.e. being the prey for another animal) while paying close attention to the affective phenomena that arise within your awareness, you will have a graphic idea what it means to be mindfully alert in the way that the Buddha spoke about in his instruction to "establish mindfulness."

There are some further helpful hints about this in the thread entitled "The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness."

When I finally realized that "mindfulness" (or sati) could also be meant to point toward this alert state of "presence of mind" and thus "energetic attention," it began to click that it meant establishing that presence of mind (like on the breath or whatever your initial object is) beforehand so that it can facilitate a substantial and energetic meditation session. When I began to focus on establishing this kind of mindfulness before meditating, I never suffered from drowsiness in my meditation sessions ever again!

In terms of a practical approach to "establishing mindfulness beforehand," you might try focusing on your meditation object (let's say it is the breath) for three to five minutes before attempting to formally begin your meditation session. This will allow you some time to actually "establish" mindfulness on the object (meaning the breath in this example).

I hope you will take this to heart and use it. Because it WORKS! Period. Also, remember what was said above about taking a short power nap if you find yourself feeling drowsy. In other words, don't attempt to meditate until you are wide awake and are able to overcome any weariness with an energetic attention.

In peace,
Ian