Falling asleep during meditation

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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Dhammakid
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Falling asleep during meditation

Post by Dhammakid »

Hey folks,
This has been something I've struggled with ever since first beginning meditation practice years ago and haven't been able to solve. I quite often fall asleep during sessions, particularly during mindfulness of breathing when I'm counting in-and-out breaths. I also sometimes doze off even while sitting to guided sessions on audio.

This was a problem when I was attempting to sit on cushions. Nowadays I rarely try that as my legs and feet develop pain, discomfort and numbness when I sit cross-legged or lotus. So now I either sit upright on a chair or couch of some sort. I try to keep my back straight and upright and my eyes are closed since I find it hard to concentrate with eyes open.

I used to think it's the climate but honestly room temp or humidity hasn't made much difference - I still easily doze off. I get plenty of nightly sleep and even take naps. And I meditate in the morning and evening when food isn't weighing me down much.

Any advice on how to encourage wakefulness and alertness during sessions? Is this some kind of deep psychological resistance to meditation? How to overcome it?

Or am I approaching it wrong? Is there a way to use this phenomenon to aid concentration and mindfulness? How can I soften my approach to this and not get so frustrated?

Thanks for your help and I'm happy to see so many familiar faces still sticking around :-) This is still my favorite online Buddhist community.

:anjali:
Dhammakid
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bodom
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Re: Falling asleep during meditation

Post by bodom »

Here's a very simple solution to your problem:
Many meditation exercises, such as the above `mindfulness of breathing', are practiced while sitting. However, walking is commonly alternated with sitting as a form for meditation. Apart from giving you different things to notice, it's a skilful way to energise the practice if the calming effect of sitting is making you dull. If you have access to some open land, measure off about 25-30 paces' length of level ground (or a clearly defined pathway between two trees), as your meditation path. Stand at one end of the path, and compose your mind on the sensations of the body. First, let the attention rest on the feeling of the body standing upright, with the arms hanging naturally and the hands lightly clasped in front or behind. Allow the eyes to gaze at a point about three meters [10 feet] in front of you at ground level, thus avoiding visual distraction. Now, walk gently, at a deliberate but `normal' pace, to the end of the path. Stop. Focus on the body standing for the period of a couple of breaths. Turn, and walk back again. While walking, be aware of the general flow of physical sensations, or more closely direct your attention to the feet. The exercise for the mind is to keep bringing the attention back to the sensation of the feet touching the ground, the spaces between each step, and the feelings of stopping and starting. Of course, the mind will wander. So it is important to cultivate patience, and the resolve to begin again. Adjust the pace to suit your state of mind -- vigorous when drowsy or trapped in obsessive thought, firm but gentle when restless and impatient. At the end of the path, stop; breathe in and out; `let go' of any restlessness, worry, calm, bliss, memories or opinions about yourself. The `inner chatter' may stop momentarily, or fade out. Begin again. In this way you continually refresh the mind, and allow it to settle at its own rate. In more confined spaces, alter the length of the path to suit what is available. Alternatively, you can circumambulate a room, pausing after each circumambulation for a few moments of standing. The period of standing can be extended to several minutes, using `body sweeping'. Walking brings energy and fluidity into the practice, so keep your pace steady and just let changing conditions pass through the mind. Rather than expecting the mind to be as still as it might be while sitting, contemplate the flow of phenomena. It is remarkable how many times we can become engrossed in a train of thought -- arriving at the end of the path and `coming to' with a start! -- but is natural for our untrained minds to become absorbed in in thoughts and moods. So instead of giving in to impatience, learn how to let go, and begin again. A sense of ease and calm may then arise, allowing the mind to become open and clear in a natural, unforced way.
http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebmed012.htm

:anjali:
This is our foundation: to have sati, recollection, and sampajañña, self-awareness, whether standing, walking, sitting, or reclining. Whatever arises, just leave it be, don’t cling to it. Whether it’s like or dislike, happiness or suffering, doubt or certainty... Don’t try to label everything, just know it. See that all the things that arise in the mind are simply sensations. They are transient. They arise, exist and cease. That’s all there is to them, they have no self or being, they are neither ‘us’ nor ‘them’. None of them are worthy of clinging to.

- Ajahn Chah
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IanAnd
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Re: Falling asleep during meditation

Post by IanAnd »

Hi Dhammakid,

I used to have the same problem until I began to pay closer attention to the instruction recommended by Gotama.

Think you can follow this simple instruction?
Gotama wrote:"And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu abide contemplating the body as a body? Here a bhikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in long, he understands: 'I breathe in long'; or breathing out long, he understands: 'I breath out long.'
The simplest of instructions are usually the hardest to follow. Ignore the seating instruction, seat yourself as comfortable as possible, then follow the other instruction. Especially the first one about establishing mindfulness. Even if you have to take five minutes to establish mindfulness, spend the five minutes developing your mindfulness before launching into the meditation proper. It makes a world of difference.

Another little trick I learned: point your eyes upward focusing on the point between the brows when you close them to meditate. You can't fall asleep with your eyes pointed up and focused on the center of the brow.

In peace,
Ian
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Dhammakid
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Re: Falling asleep during meditation

Post by Dhammakid »

Bodom: Ah yes, walking meditation. I'm quite familiar with it but I don't practice nearly enough. Thank you for this reminder. I notice that if I sit first then the drowsiness occurs. I may try walking first, or maybe walking as a break from sitting.

Ian: that is great yet simple advice. Establish mindfulness first, then begin concentration. Makes a lot of sense for sure. And I will indeed try pointing my eyes upward towards my brow while closed.

With this advice, hopefully I can break the chain of drowsy sessions. Thanks you two!
Ananda26
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Re: Falling asleep during meditation

Post by Ananda26 »

Dhammakid wrote:Hey folks,
This has been something I've struggled with ever since first beginning meditation practice years ago and haven't been able to solve. I quite often fall asleep during sessions, particularly during mindfulness of breathing when I'm counting in-and-out breaths. I also sometimes doze off even while sitting to guided sessions on audio.

This was a problem when I was attempting to sit on cushions. Nowadays I rarely try that as my legs and feet develop pain, discomfort and numbness when I sit cross-legged or lotus. So now I either sit upright on a chair or couch of some sort. I try to keep my back straight and upright and my eyes are closed since I find it hard to concentrate with eyes open.

I used to think it's the climate but honestly room temp or humidity hasn't made much difference - I still easily doze off. I get plenty of nightly sleep and even take naps. And I meditate in the morning and evening when food isn't weighing me down much.

Any advice on how to encourage wakefulness and alertness during sessions? Is this some kind of deep psychological resistance to meditation? How to overcome it?

Or am I approaching it wrong? Is there a way to use this phenomenon to aid concentration and mindfulness? How can I soften my approach to this and not get so frustrated?

Thanks for your help and I'm happy to see so many familiar faces still sticking around :-) This is still my favorite online Buddhist community.

:anjali:
Dhammakid
Since you can get into Lotus, I can recommend the Full Lotus. You can gradually increase the time. If you are getting pain, sometimes people use feeling as the subject: mindfulness of feeling.

It is okay to meditate with eyes closed.

The intensity of sitting full lotus can be used to help stay awake.

Another thing you can do is to alternate sitting meditation with walking meditation.

Another thing that can be helpful is to sit meditation with a group. More and more sitting groups are developing. Sitting with a group can encourage a regularity of practice, and they can help keep you awake.

One can train one's body and mind. One makes the effort to meditate more and more. So one developes wholesome habits including a regular meditation routine.

Here's a popular discourse with a list of ways to abandon torpor from the section of the 7's, Numerical Discourses of the Buddha.
Capala (Pacala) Sutta: Nodding

Once[1] the Blessed One was living among the Bhaggas in the Deer Park at Bhesakala Grove, near Crocodile Haunt. At that time Ven. Maha Moggallana[2] sat nodding near the village of Kallavalaputta, in Magadha. The Blessed One, with his purified divine eye, surpassing the human, saw Ven. Maha Moggallana as he sat nodding near the village of Kallavalaputta, in Magadha. As soon as he saw this — just as a strong man might extend his flexed arm or flex his extended arm — he disappeared from among the Bhaggas in the Deer Park at Bhesakala Grove, near Crocodile Haunt, and re-appeared near the village of Kallavalaputta, in Magadha, right in front of Ven. Maha Moggallana. There he sat down on a prepared seat. As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to Ven. Maha Moggallana, "Are you nodding, Moggallana? Are you nodding?"

"Yes, lord."

"Well then, Moggallana, whatever perception you have in mind when drowsiness descends on you, don't attend to that perception, don't pursue it. It's possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.

"But if by doing this you don't shake off your drowsiness, then recall to your awareness the Dhamma as you have heard & memorized it, re-examine it & ponder it over in your mind. It's possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.

"But if by doing this you don't shake off your drowsiness, then repeat aloud in detail the Dhamma as you have heard & memorized it. It's possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.

"But if by doing this you don't shake off your drowsiness, then pull both your earlobes and rub your limbs with your hands. It's possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.

"But if by doing this you don't shake off your drowsiness, then get up from your seat and, after washing your eyes out with water, look around in all directions and upward to the major stars & constellations. It's possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.

"But if by doing this you don't shake off your drowsiness, then attend to the perception of light, resolve on the perception of daytime, [dwelling] by night as by day, and by day as by night. By means of an awareness thus open & unhampered, develop a brightened mind. It's possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.

"But if by doing this you don't shake off your drowsiness, then — percipient of what lies in front & behind — set a distance to meditate walking back & forth, your senses inwardly immersed, your mind not straying outwards. It's possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.

"But if by doing this you don't shake off your drowsiness, then — reclining on your right side — take up the lion's posture, one foot placed on top of the other, mindful, alert, with your mind set on getting up. As soon as you wake up, get up quickly, with the thought, 'I won't stay indulging in the pleasure of lying down, the pleasure of reclining, the pleasure of drowsiness.' That is how you should train yourself.

"Furthermore, Moggallana, should you train yourself: 'I will not visit families with my pride[3] lifted high.' That is how you should train yourself. Among families there are many jobs that have to be done, so that people don't pay attention to a visiting monk. If a monk visits them with his trunk lifted high, the thought will occur to him, 'Now who, I wonder, has caused a split between me and this family? The people seem to have no liking for me.' Getting nothing, he becomes abashed. Abashed, he becomes restless. Restless, he becomes unrestrained. Unrestrained, his mind is far from concentration.

"Furthermore, Moggallana, should you train yourself: 'I will speak no confrontational speech.' That is how you should train yourself. When there is confrontational speech, a lot of discussion can be expected. When there is a lot of discussion, there is restlessness. One who is restless becomes unrestrained. Unrestrained, his mind is far from concentration.

"It's not the case, Moggallana, that I praise association of every sort. But it's not the case that I dispraise association of every sort. I don't praise association with householders and renunciates. But as for dwelling places that are free from noise, free from sound, their atmosphere devoid of people, appropriately secluded for resting undisturbed by human beings: I praise association with dwelling places of this sort."

When this was said, Ven. Moggallana said to the Blessed One: "Briefly, lord, in what respect is a monk released through the ending of craving, utterly complete, utterly free from bonds, a follower of the utterly holy life, utterly consummate: foremost among human & heavenly beings?"

"There is the case, Moggallana, where a monk has heard, 'All phenomena are unworthy of attachment.' Having heard that all phenomena are unworthy of attachment, he fully knows all things. Fully knowing all things, he fully comprehends all things. Fully comprehending all things, then whatever feeling he experiences — pleasure, pain, neither pleasure nor pain — he remains focused on inconstancy, focused on dispassion, focused on cessation, focused on relinquishing with regard to that feeling. As he remains focused on inconstancy, focused on dispassion, focused on cessation, focused on relinquishing with regard to that feeling, he is unsustained by[4] anything in the world. Unsustained, he is not agitated. Unagitated, he is unbound right within. He discerns: 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'

"It is in this respect, Moggallana, that a monk, in brief, is released through the ending of craving, utterly complete, utterly free from bonds, a follower of the utterly holy life, utterly consummate: foremost among human & heavenly beings."
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Dhammakid
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Re: Falling asleep during meditation

Post by Dhammakid »

Hi Ananda,
Thank you for your wonderful advice. I never thought about using the pain associated with the lotus position as a meditation object. That's interesting. But really, that position is hell on my legs and feet. The few times I've tried it for an entire session, I could barely move them at the end. So I may need to adjust times to way low to begin. But I'll give it a try, maybe add an extra short session in lotus during the day in addition to my regularly scheduled morning and night sits.

Walking was mentioned above and I agree it's very helpful. Definitely fights off the drowsiness.

Sitting with a group is of course a great way to encourage wakefulness and consistency. There's a group not too far from me who sits every Sunday, but I don't have my own transportation so I've only been able to attend once. I rarely have the means to make it there, unfortunately. But I plan to purchase some wheels within a couple weeks, and then I'll be attending every week.

Wow, that sutta selection was helpful and quite interesting. I find it amazing how grounded and simple some of the Buddha's advice was. Rub water on the eyes... Rub your limbs... Look up into the heavens. Haha, sounds like something anyone could come up with. But I confident it's helpful. Thank you so much for this. I'll be revisiting this quite often.

:anjali:
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