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What is the difference between Lucid Dreaming, Out of Body Experience, Astral Projecton and Dream Yoga

Updated on April 11, 2012

What is the difference between Lucid Dreaming and OBE

This is a question that’s been discussed at some of the dream groups and seminars I’ve attended recently. I’ve heard many differing opinions on this and it seems a point of confusion with many people learning about lucid dreaming. For me they feel like different phenomena resulting from the same underlying experience. The OBE is often thought to be a more objective experience. This hub is my own take on these phenomena.

Out of body experience (OBE)

Wikipedia describes 'an experience that typically involves a sensation of floating outside of one's body and, in some cases, perceiving one's physical body from a place outside one's body'. It goes on to relate it to astral projection and cites some of the recordings of the experience from as early as the Bible. 2 Corinthians 12:1–4. My experiences of this phenomena have all been during sleep or more specifically, the first 20 minutes after the onset of sleep, usually during the last sleep cycle of the night. There are many accounts however, of the experience occurring spontaneously or through periods of stress, trauma or near death. Some people have experienced OBE at will from the waking state.

Robert Monroe popularized the term in the early seventies with his fascinating series of books beginning with ‘journey’s out of the body’. He deliberately distanced himself from the more common term ‘astral projection’ as a way of taking a more scientific and pragmatic approach and to avoid a spiritual, occult or religious bias. Accounts of astral projection such as Sylvan Muldoon in ‘the projection of the astral body’ (1929) are similar though interpret the experience slightly differently.

My experiences have all occurred during the onset of sleep. This transition usually occurs unconsciously though on the occasions that I’ve managed to remain relatively conscious through meditation or insomnia, I’ve gone through the classic OBE symptoms. The first is what I often experience as a crashing sound or a feeling of vibrating. The hypnagogic state preceding this usually renders me unconscious although the noise and sensation of the vibratory state can sometimes alert me to the situation. I have learnt to let this state carry on for a short period of time before attempting to ‘leave the body’. I don't wish to interpret this sensation though this is precisely how it feels. Trying too soon however, can seem difficult and sometimes requires too much energy. There are many tried and tested techniques for ‘separation’ such as visualizing a rope and pulling yourself up. The most useful I have found are ‘rolling out’ or simply jumping up. The ensuing period of floating can be many things from exhilarating and euphoric to nauseating and even terrifying. For me this whole experience is usually more a sensation and less visual and as such can be difficult to navigate without waking up from the shock of the situation or even through the effort of trying not to wake up! After a period of time my visual mind seems to become more active and sometimes I deliberately accelerate this by a dramatic action like jumping out of the window. This can have the effect of propelling me into a lucid dream where my senses are vivid and my environment appears well developed and consolidated. This experience of bursting into a lucid dream is often incredibly exhilarating and euphoric and I usually fly high up into the air to celebrate. The rest of the lucid dream takes it’s own unique course and usually ends with me running out of energy and waking up. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone else who’s experienced this exhaustion at the end of a lucid dream, for me, usually as a result of excessive flying or general running about.

Lucid dreaming

The term 'lucid dreaming' was coined by Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932) and popularized by researchers such as Stephen Laberge in the 1980’s. The standard description of the experience is one of consciousness while dreaming. The awareness of dreaming while dreaming is sometimes fleeting and sometimes vivid and prolonged. The experience ends either by waking up or ‘falling asleep’ into a non lucid dream. For me, the difference between my lucid dreams and the OBE occurring at the onset of sleep is marked by the massive increase in visualization ability and the consolidation of the sense of ‘external’ environment.

Tibetan dream yoga

This profound and arduous practice in some ways includes the states of OBE and lucid dreaming. Dream yoga is firmly rooted in Tibetan Buddhism and the Bon tradition and practitioners often differentiate between the yogas of dream and sleep. Dream yoga deals with the dream state and observing the dream environment as a projection of the mind. Meditation can be practiced in this state and the mind can be trained to have focus and discipline. I likened this ‘flexibility of mind’ practice to parts of the film ‘Inception’ in my hub page ‘Inception, lucid dreaming and hypnosis’. A distinction is made between ‘karmic’ dreams and ‘clear light’ dreams which transcend the subjective dream projections. ‘Sleep yoga’ is practiced in non REM sleep most notably in the early stages of sleep and the teachings suggest that this period before the dream environment is constructed is of profound importance. It gives us a chance to become aware of our non dual nature, a self awareness existing by itself without being in relation to an environment. Once the dream appears we reconstruct our duality, that of an ego within a dream environment. This state in my experience certainly seems less on external environment though I find it hard to sustain as my mind is always looking for visual imagery to hang on to. The OBE phenomena often appear at this time though the Tibetan practice makes little mention of it and seems to treat it as another distraction from our non dual nature.

The interpretation of these phenomena vary between cultures though it is certainly a natural part of the sleep cycle and very hard to maintain awareness through. A common distinction between lucid dreaming and OBE is that the latter is a more objective state, maybe like the 'clear light dreams' in Tibetan terminology. Sleep researchers have noted the REM period to start shortly after the onset of sleep. This pre REM state seems to be where the OBE/astral projection/sleep yoga most often occurs and is accompanied by some of the most amazing, intense and revelatory phenomena that I’ve ever experienced.

Robert Monroe talks about his first OBE


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