Awakening from the Dream: How Tibetan Dream Yoga Led Me Beyond Freediving

As I stand at the crossroads of my life, preparing to transition back to teaching yoga, I find myself reflecting on the unexpected twists and turns of my journey. At 35, I’ve spent the last seven years as a freediver and freediving instructor, preceded by eight years as a yoga and pranayama teacher. But the thread that weaves through all these experiences, the compass that has guided me to where I stand today, is my practice of Tibetan Dream Yoga.

First encountered at the age of 20, the Tibetan Yoga of Dream and Sleep has been a constant, if sometimes background, presence in my life. Little did I know then how profoundly this ancient practice would shape my path, leading me to question not just my life choices, but the very nature of reality and my pursuit of worldly achievements.

The Illusion.

When I first made the leap into the world of freediving, I was captivated by its offerings of pushing human limits, of exploring the depths both within and without. The practice seemed to perfectly blend the physical discipline I had honed through yoga with a new frontier of mental challenges. Quotes like “the scuba diver dives to look around, the freediver dives to look inside” became part of my glossary of mantra, and for a time, it felt like the ideal evolution of my spiritual practice.

However, as the years passed, I began to notice a shift in the freediving community and in the image of freediving that both the industry with its freediving celebrities wanted to project. What had once felt like a pure pursuit of self-discovery and communion with nature and oneself was increasingly becoming commercialized, superficial and achievement-oriented. The focus shifted from the internal journey to external metrics – depths reached, breath held, records broken, brands represented, selfies taken. This transformation eerily mirrored what I had experienced in the yoga world years before, which had prompted my initial departure from teaching yoga postures.

The Teacher.

Throughout these changes, my practice of Tibetan Dream Yoga remained a constant, offering a different perspective on my experiences. In the dream state, I found myself achieving multiple freediving feats that I had never done in the waking state. I freedived deeper than 80 meters with ease, held my breath for over 9 minutes, and even freedived with sperm whales which is something I would never do in real life due to ethical implications. These vivid dreams were exhilarating, but more importantly, they were teaching me profound lessons.

The core tenet of Dream Yoga – recognizing the illusory nature of both our waking and dreaming experiences – began to cast my freediving pursuits in a new light. I started to question: What was the true value of these physical feats? Were the freediving achievements I did in water any more “real” or significant than those I explored in my dreams?

As I applied the principles of Dream Yoga to my waking life, I found myself becoming increasingly detached from the quest for performance and sensation in freediving. The numbers, the records, the experiences, my expectations, and the expectations of others when they ask me, “How long can you hold your breath? How deep do you freedive? Have you freedived with whales or dolphins?”—all began to feel as transient and ultimately unsatisfying as a fleeting dream.

The Practice.

To fully appreciate the impact of this practice on my freediving journey, it’s crucial to understand what Tibetan Dream Yoga entails. Far more than a simple technique for lucid dreaming and far less culturally appropriated than its Hindu counterpart, Tibetan Dream Yoga is a profound spiritual practice rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, particularly in the Bön and Nyingma traditions, with techniques that have been well preserved over centuries.

At its core, Tibetan Dream Yoga is a method for expanding consciousness and ultimately achieving liberation. The practice is based on the understanding that our waking reality is fundamentally no different from the dream state – both are considered illusory projections of our mind. By learning to recognize the dream-like nature of all experience, practitioners seek to realize the true nature of mind and reality and to break free from the cycle of suffering and ignorance.

One of the key concepts in Tibetan Dream Yoga is that of the “bardo” – a transitional state between death and rebirth. The practice of Dream Yoga is seen as a preparation for navigating these bardos. By becoming adept at maintaining awareness during the dream state, practitioners develop the skills necessary to remain conscious during the transitions of death and rebirth, potentially leading to liberation from the cycle of samsara.

Through consistent practice, Dream Yoga cultivates a heightened state of awareness that permeates both sleeping and waking life. It challenges our basic assumptions about the nature of reality and our own identity, leading to profound shifts in perception and understanding.

The Realization.

This realization brought me full circle, back to my initial experiences with teaching yoga. I remembered why I had stepped away from that world – the commercialization, the focus on perfecting physical postures rather than cultivating true inner awareness. Now, I saw the same patterns emerging in freediving and slowly trying to influence the way I teach.

In both yoga and freediving, I witnessed how practices with profound potential for personal transformation could be reduced to marketable skills and measurable achievements. The emphasis shifted from inner exploration to external validation, from personal growth to Instagram-worthy poses or depths.

Dream Yoga offered me a stark contrast to these trends. It emphasized the importance of inner awareness, non-attachment, and recognition of the illusory nature of all phenomena. These teachings became a mirror, reflecting the emptiness of pursuing extremes in the physical world, whether through advanced yoga postures, deep freedives or longer breath holds.

The Awakening.

Now, as I prepare to return to teaching yoga, it’s with a radically different approach than when I started teaching it. My focus is no longer on perfecting physical postures or achieving impressive feats of flexibility, strength or breath holding. Instead, I aim to incorporate the wisdom gained from Dream Yoga into a more holistic and internally-focused practice.

The goal is to guide students not just through physical exercises, but through explorations of consciousness. To help them recognize the dream-like nature of reality and find freedom from attachment to outcomes. To show them that the true “depths” we can explore lie within our own minds, accessible not through extreme physical pursuits, but through cultivating awareness and presence.

This new chapter in my teaching career feels like an integration of all that I’ve learned – from my early days as a yoga teacher, through my years as a freediving instructor, and most importantly, from my ongoing journey with Tibetan Dream Yoga. It’s an opportunity to share a practice that transcends the physical, that doesn’t require special equipment or exotic locations, but can be explored nightly in the laboratory of our own minds.

The Path Forward.

My journey from yoga teacher to freediver and back again has been circuitous, but every step has been valuable. Freediving taught me much about the power of the human body and mind, the beauty of the underwater world, the unpreditability of nature and the importance of presence in extreme situations. But it also showed me, once again after first experiencing it with yoga, how easily a profound practice can be coopted by commercialization and the ego’s drive for achievement.

Tibetan Dream Yoga has been the constant, the practice that has repeatedly drawn me back to what’s essential. It has taught me to question my perceptions, to find freedom in detachment, and to recognize the profound in the everyday. These are the lessons I now seek to share.

As I step back into the role of a yoga teacher, it’s with a deep commitment to maintaining the integrity and depth of the practice. My classes won’t promise physical transformations or impressive poses. Instead, they’ll offer a journey inward, an exploration of consciousness, and tools for navigating both our waking and dreaming lives with greater awareness and freedom.

The aim is to create a space where students can experience the kind of insights I’ve gained through Dream Yoga – the recognition of life’s dream-like nature, the liberation from attachment to outcomes, and the inner peace that comes from true presence. It’s an approach that honors the deep roots of yoga as a spiritual practice while incorporating the unique insights offered by Tibetan Dream Yoga.

In this way, my journey comes full circle, yet arrives at an entirely new destination. The young yoga teacher who left to explore the ocean’s depths returns as someone who has learned to navigate the depths of consciousness. The freediver who once chased numbers now seeks to help others break free from the need to achieve. And the student of Dream Yoga continues to learn, night after night, that our true potential lies not in what we can do, but in how deeply we can awaken to the present moment.

As I embark on this new chapter, I carry with me the lessons of the ocean, the insights of dreams, and a profound gratitude for the winding path that has led me here. The journey continues, in waters both seen and unseen, in states both waking and dreaming, always guided by the transformative power of awareness.

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