The Nightmare, by Henry Fuselli (1781), thought to be one of the classic depictions of sleep paralysis perceived as a demonic visitation.
I have a question for you yoginis out there. (Cara, that especially means you, but also anybody else who wants to chime in.) Is it a bad thing to go into Savasana, or Corpse Pose, as a method of trying to go to sleep? I vaguely remember Lois, my onetime yoga teacher, cautioning us about not going too deeply into Savasana, but I never really understood why it might be a problem. I mean, it's just relaxation, right?
Here's why I'm asking. The other night, I stayed up way past my bedtime, having watched Fight Club with Eli, and then decided to watch the commentary afterward. It was way longer than I'd expected, and so it was 1:30 by the time I got to bed. Tony was gone, so it was just lonely me. And there I lay, sleepless, until sometime after 4 a.m. I think it's safe to say that I was feeling pretty stressed out at the time.
So I decide to go into Savasana, despite Lois's advice. Before I know it, I very clearly heard someone come into the bedroom. I could swear I could sense a very real presence hovering over my bed. I was absolutely terrified, sure it was an axe murderer. I tried to move and call out, but couldn't; I was frozen. Finally, I forced myself to open my eyes and look around the room. There was no one there, of course. But I was shaken; the experience seemed incredibly real.
So I googled my experience, and of course this phenomenon has a name: sleep paralysis, accompanied by hypnagogic hallucinations. This is a fairly common phenomenon, apparently. And what causes it? According to the Wikipedia entry, some of the factors associated with the phenomenon include sleeping in a supine position (check); irregular sleeping schedules, naps, sleeping in, sleep deprivation (check); increased stress (double check); sudden environmental/lifestyle changes (I don't know, I've been in Geneva for nearly three months now. But Tony was gone, so check.)
And there are tons of cultural references to sleep paralysis and hallucinations from all over the world. For you language people out there, Wikipedia says that
In Scandanavian mythology, sleep paralysis was caused by a Mara, or mare--a kind of malignant female wraith who can also cause nightmares. She appears as early as in the Norse Ynglinga saga, but the belief itself is probably even older. "Mara" is the Old Norse, Swedish and Icelandic name, "mare" is Norwegian and Danish....People in England believed that witches or hags rode on men's chests as they slept, and the feeling of being unable to breathe [one of the common symptoms] was attributed to a hag. This is why people who have had very little sleep may be described as looking "hag-ridden."
That demonic presence would have to be a woman, wouldn't she? My particular demon was male, and I'd say he looked more like the guy in Fuselli's painting. And I, of course, looked very much like the lovely maid.
So...Savasana = a demonic visitation? Is this what Lois was warning us about?