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Thread: The Zen of Sleep Paralysis?

  1. #1

    The Zen of Sleep Paralysis?

    Hello everyone,

    Apologies in advance for going over three sentences.

    I just wanted to share a positive experience I had related to practice. I’ve had bouts of sleep paralysis ever since I was a teenager. Sometimes it starts with a nightmare, other times I simply wake up and find that I can’t move or make a sound. To make things worse, I also have an overpowering sense of terror or dread and I sense that I am in imminent danger. Occasionally this danger manifests itself in the shadows around me during the paralysis in which I feel there is “something” there that wishes me harm. Here’s a link with more information if anyone is curious about sleep paralysis:

    https://www.livescience.com/50876-sleep-paralysis.html

    Now, the way to break out of the paralysis is to, oddly enough, vocalize and speak. I have this idea, for no rational reason, that if I can just make a sound then I can escape from the paralysis. I am incredibly lucky to have a wonderful wife who will shake me into wakefulness when I start making such sounds.

    Anyway, a couple weeks ago I had a nightmare that evolved into sleep paralysis. I could not move, I could not speak, and I felt that the shadows by the stairs harbored something malevolent. I began to panic, and I started to attempt to move my unresponsive limbs and vocalize. Then I did something that was completely unprompted, I began to count my breaths just like during Zazen. When sitting I often work to count to ten, and when I inevitably fail to do so I will inhale and say to myself “breathing in I come back to my breath”, and then I will exhale and say, “breathing out there is nowhere else to be”. I suddenly began to think this and count my breaths. Every time I would begin to panic, I would stop myself and return back to my breath. I gradually accepted the fact that I could not move, I accepted the fact that I was terribly afraid, and I accepted that the thing by the stairs, which I know does not exist, could do me no harm and there was no need to react. After focusing on my breaths, something happened which has never happened before, I fell back asleep.

    I don’t know how often this would work during sleep paralysis. I would describe that particular episode of sleep paralysis as moderate, so I don’t how helpful it will be during episodes that are worse. But for me, the fact that this practice could have such a spontaneous and positive affect off the cushion is humbling.

    I’m curious to see how this practice will impact other parts of my life.

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST

  2. #2
    Hi Shade

    I have only ever experienced this a little bit and it can be really scary so I feel for you.

    From the information you posted it sounds like it is not physically dangerous albeit emotionally really worrying. If that is the case, using Zazen or something similar to just watch what is going on seems like a good idea!

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  3. #3
    Ooooh, I have bouts of this too--on/off ever since I experimented with "lucid dreaming" as a teenager. It's awful. I also try to wake up by yelling--the effort it takes to try to yell or move is crazy, though. Unfortunately I am often convinced in this state that I have to wake up because my alarm didn't go off or something (usually not actually the case) so maybe next time I will see if I can remember to try coming back to the breath, instead. Thanks!!

    (I don't think this has anything to do with Zazen though, LOL)

    Gassho,
    Jakuden
    SatToday
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    She/her.
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  4. #4
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis

    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295039


    Moving a small muscle sometimes helps to jump start the body.


    Best of luck.

    Gassho, Jishin, __/stlah\__

  5. #5
    Hello Kokuu,

    Yeah, I'm not in any real danger, it's just a very unpleasant experience. Haha.

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Jishin View Post
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis

    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295039


    Moving a small muscle sometimes helps to jump start the body.


    Best of luck.

    Gassho, Jishin, __/stlah\__


    Thanks for the links!

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Shade View Post
    Hello everyone,

    Apologies in advance for going over three sentences.

    I just wanted to share a positive experience I had related to practice. I’ve had bouts of sleep paralysis ever since I was a teenager. Sometimes it starts with a nightmare, other times I simply wake up and find that I can’t move or make a sound. To make things worse, I also have an overpowering sense of terror or dread and I sense that I am in imminent danger. Occasionally this danger manifests itself in the shadows around me during the paralysis in which I feel there is “something” there that wishes me harm. Here’s a link with more information if anyone is curious about sleep paralysis:

    https://www.livescience.com/50876-sleep-paralysis.html

    Now, the way to break out of the paralysis is to, oddly enough, vocalize and speak. I have this idea, for no rational reason, that if I can just make a sound then I can escape from the paralysis. I am incredibly lucky to have a wonderful wife who will shake me into wakefulness when I start making such sounds.

    Anyway, a couple weeks ago I had a nightmare that evolved into sleep paralysis. I could not move, I could not speak, and I felt that the shadows by the stairs harbored something malevolent. I began to panic, and I started to attempt to move my unresponsive limbs and vocalize. Then I did something that was completely unprompted, I began to count my breaths just like during Zazen. When sitting I often work to count to ten, and when I inevitably fail to do so I will inhale and say to myself “breathing in I come back to my breath”, and then I will exhale and say, “breathing out there is nowhere else to be”. I suddenly began to think this and count my breaths. Every time I would begin to panic, I would stop myself and return back to my breath. I gradually accepted the fact that I could not move, I accepted the fact that I was terribly afraid, and I accepted that the thing by the stairs, which I know does not exist, could do me no harm and there was no need to react. After focusing on my breaths, something happened which has never happened before, I fell back asleep.

    I don’t know how often this would work during sleep paralysis. I would describe that particular episode of sleep paralysis as moderate, so I don’t how helpful it will be during episodes that are worse. But for me, the fact that this practice could have such a spontaneous and positive affect off the cushion is humbling.

    I’m curious to see how this practice will impact other parts of my life.

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST
    Thank you for sharing this Shade!
    I get sleep paralysis too, ever since I was little, though thankfully I've not had it for a few months (knock wood!!).

    Normally I try to scream to try to wake myself up (and it is hard to scream when in sleep paralysis, so it comes out as a squeak), which results in my husband shaking me awake - next time I'll try Zazen, if I can.

    Gassho,
    Eikyō
    Sat today / LAH

    Sent from my SM-G973F using Tapatalk

  8. #8
    Sleep paralysis has become an amazing Zen teacher in relaxing the mind to fear!

    The human body is so amazing. I have experienced this once or twice, and I know that we are all partially paralyzed while sleeping so that we do not flail around and hurt ourselves, especially while dreaming. It is certainly the source of all those old horror tails of the "succubus" demon that appears on the chest in sleep ...

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_...%20their%20bed.

    ... from before we had our modern understanding of the process.

    It sounds to be as if you handled your experience just right, with great Wisdom. The succubus is no match for a moment of Zazen!

    Gassho, Jundo
    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Oh man, I also subscribe to the try-screaming-until-my-husband-wakes-me method. I wonder if I am brave enough to count breaths next time the alien comes to visit and hooks me up to an IV drip next to my bed. It can be very hard to shake that feeling of total dread after waking.

    It's kind of funny that my dream self only very rarely remembers that I practice Zen. Sometimes I have dreams that we are all meeting up for a retreat, though! Lately most of my dreams are realizing that I am in a crowded place and none of us are wearing masks. I think it is the new modern equivalent to the old showing up at school without your clothes archetype.

    Gassho
    Sat, lah
    求道芸化 Kyudo Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  10. #10
    I've never tried to sit through it because it's always some nightmare I feel trapped in. I try to just move my limbs. I have heard it's caused by the brain waking up before the body. But for me it's a terribly feeling.
    Dave
    SAT/LAH

  11. #11
    Thank you for this wonderful, and hopeful, post. I suffer from occasional bouts of sleep paralysis and it is absolutely terrifying. I will see if I can access practice the next time it happens. Thank you.

    Gassho,
    Jim
    Sat Today

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Sleep paralysis has become an amazing Zen teacher in relaxing the mind to fear!

    The human body is so amazing. I have experienced this once or twice, and I know that we are all partially paralyzed while sleeping so that we do not flail around and hurt ourselves, especially while dreaming. It is certainly the source of all those old horror tails of the "succubus" demon that appears on the chest in sleep ...

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_...%20their%20bed.

    ... from before we had our modern understanding of the process.

    It sounds to be as if you handled your experience just right, with great Wisdom. The succubus is no match for a moment of Zazen!

    Gassho, Jundo
    STLah





    Shade

    ST

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by JimInBC View Post
    Thank you for this wonderful, and hopeful, post. I suffer from occasional bouts of sleep paralysis and it is absolutely terrifying. I will see if I can access practice the next time it happens. Thank you.

    Gassho,
    Jim
    Sat Today

    Hello Jim,

    I'm glad you found this helpful.

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST
    Last edited by Shade; 01-21-2021 at 03:42 AM.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Shonin View Post
    I've never tried to sit through it because it's always some nightmare I feel trapped in. I try to just move my limbs. I have heard it's caused by the brain waking up before the body. But for me it's a terribly feeling.
    Dave
    SAT/LAH
    Hello Shonin,

    I agree that it is an awful feeling. I'm pretty confident that I will not always have such a level headed reaction, but I guess that's life.

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST
    Last edited by Shade; 01-21-2021 at 03:42 AM.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Geika View Post
    Oh man, I also subscribe to the try-screaming-until-my-husband-wakes-me method. I wonder if I am brave enough to count breaths next time the alien comes to visit and hooks me up to an IV drip next to my bed. It can be very hard to shake that feeling of total dread after waking.

    It's kind of funny that my dream self only very rarely remembers that I practice Zen. Sometimes I have dreams that we are all meeting up for a retreat, though! Lately most of my dreams are realizing that I am in a crowded place and none of us are wearing masks. I think it is the new modern equivalent to the old showing up at school without your clothes archetype.

    Gassho
    Sat, lah

    Hello Geika,

    The lack of masks in public is an awfully scary dream! I assume in the retreat dream we are all wearing masks?

    Thanks for the reply.

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Shade View Post
    Hello Geika,

    The lack of masks in public is an awfully scary dream! I assume in the retreat dream we are all wearing masks?

    Thanks for the reply.

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST
    Funny enough, in the recent retreat dream I had I think I also freaked out because none of us had masks!

    Gassho
    Sat, lah
    求道芸化 Kyudo Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  17. #17
    I have experienced sleep paralysis periodically for many years. For me it seems more likely to occur when I am experiencing higher levels of stress, lower quality of sleep/more insomnia, and increased anxiety levels.

    My experiences of sleep paralysis are quite terrifying for me, as everything shuts down -- I can't speak, see, consciously move, and I often can't breathe. However, I often will experience my limbs "moving" (are they? I don't know) on their own, like "running in slow motion" while I am also trying to call out for help, while having no voice. Other factors happen as well, but are a bit more involved than the scope of this discussion.

    This has led a neurologist to suspect that sometimes the sleep paralysis (for me) may in fact be seizures. We're not sure -- but he proceeded 'as if' to treat accordingly, and the rate of occurrence has dropped dramatically ..... although in the past few weeks the problem has started up again (cue above reasons).

    A few times, I seem to recall being able to move slightly just before I felt it coming on, as sometimes I "feel" something coming -- and averting the experience -- but that is a rare luxury for me to catch. Usually I 'wake up' in the middle of it and hope and pray that I *wake up* and breathe before something major happens. I'm nearly always alone at the time ..... although one time I was not alone, my husband had fallen asleep in his chair and he never heard or saw anything happen.

    I'm really glad for this discussion -- I know it's not just me, some have similar experiences as I do. It's okay if it's all vague and unknown -- not everything has an answer. My situation is under medical care. I'm not sure if there is a Zen way for me to handle my situation, but it's certainly an interesting question!

    I apologize for running a bit long.

    gassho, meian st lh
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest

  18. #18
    Reading all these posts makes me feel bad for only rarely having it occur.

    Meian, do you also have sleep apnea? Just curious because that alone can trigger a similar experience where I wake up gasping for air vs just the paralysis.

    Dave
    SAT/LAH

  19. #19
    No, not usually. This only happens in connection to the sleep paralysis or seizure activity. I don't seem to experience it otherwise.

    Don't feel bad. Each person has their own basket of tricks they have to live with -- we each learn to adapt in time.

    Gassho, meian st lh

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest

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