The following is a modified excerpt from Paul and Charla Devereux’s book Lucid Dreaming: Accessing Your Inner Virtual Realities (Daily Grail Publishing, 2011). Available from Amazon US or Amazon UK and other online bookstores.
The techniques used for inducing out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are essentially similar to lucid dream inductions, but with a different emphasis. The power of place (spatial programming) takes on special importance, and ways of developing a dual awareness can be helpful. Most OBE practitioners agree that when inducing the experience, physical relaxation is most important. A state of relaxed alertness is the ideal to be sought.
There seems to be no special dietary advice for OBE induction, though pioneering ‘astral projector’ Sylvan Muldoon recommended fasting and a reduction in the taking of liquids on days when induction is being attempted. On the other hand, dream researcher Patricia Garfield found that she had her strongest (and most frightening) OBE when she had been “inordinately stuffed with food”! As far as posture is concerned, there are likewise no universal rules. Muldoon felt that sleeping on one’s back was best, and failing that, the right side. Garfield felt that lying on one’s back or left side best facilitated OBEs. Robert Monroe, one of the most prominent OBE proponents of the last half century, said that the aspiring OBE practitioner should lie with his or her head towards the north, but Garfield argued that it made no difference what direction one slept in. Perhaps the only golden rule is to simply experiment! You have to find what works for you.
Select from the following methods, which have been laid out in an order with developmental exercises first, then actual induction techniques following. Put these in the context of the skills and approaches you have learned from your dream and lucid dream work where appropriate, so you can devise your own elaborations around the core concepts offered here, if you so wish. These exercises and techniques derive from traditional methods as well as suggestions from workers in OBE and lucid dream research. We have also presented some new ones, based on sound principles. Remember that many of the techniques described as being for use at sleep onset can also be used equally well (and often even better) on re-entering sleep after waking up in the morning. As with the lucid dream methods in Chapter 4 of Lucid Dreaming, some of the techniques described here will work well together, others will not and are alternatives. Pick and choose as you wish, remembering that all such exercises often require the investment of time and effort to bring results.
Observe yourself in the day – we tend to do things in a merely semi-conscious haze most of the time. Try to “catch” yourself putting on your shoes in the morning, reaching for the phone, walking down the street, driving your car. Such “self-remembering” develops a kind of dual consciousness of observer and observed that can be extremely appropriate for OBE induction practices.
Who am I?
This is a variation on the above method. One of lucid dream researcher Celia Green’s correspondents found it possible to induce a sense of floating a foot or two out of the body when walking alone on a deserted road, travelling in a bus, or in bed at night by saying inwardly “What am I? Who am I?” repeatedly.
This is perhaps the simplest and most fun of all developmental exercises for OBEs. On the day when you want to induce an OBE, spend a good couple of hours with a kite, in the park or countryside. Feel the tug of the kite on the line, its soaring and gliding on the air currents or in the breeze. Preferably use one of those kites you can control, so you can make it swoop and dive. Identify with the kite as you feel its movements on the string. Imagine yourself up there, gliding, soaring, floating. Really get into it. That night in bed, after you have performed an incubation for an OBE and done your relaxation exercises, drift off towards the hypnogogic stage while recalling your kite session. See it in your mind’s eye swooping through the sky, and imagine the feeling of being the kite.
If you practice hang-gliding or para-gliding, then this exercise can, of course, be made even more graphic, as you will actually be able to recall your motion in the air.
This challenges the above for being the number one fun exercise. Float on a water bed or rubber rings in a swimming pool, with your eyes closed. Feel the floating sensation. Imagine you are out-of-your body. Absorb the physical sensation into your memory. Mentally replay it when floating away to sleep that night.
Taken for a Ride
Another of Celia Green’s subjects had an OBE while travelling on a bus. The person spent a great deal of time afterwards trying to figure out how and why it happened. “I know when I first got on the bus of thinking to myself that I am inclined to tense myself up to meet situations which are in front of me,” the person said. “I insisted to myself that I make an effort to relax – and instead of travelling with the bus I let the bus take me.” A subtle but crucial shift of emphasis is being pointed out here. It is really a focus for letting go. Literally a vehicle for deep relaxation in a situation where an undercurrent of tension is usually present. Try it when you are a passenger in a car, or on a bus, train or aircraft. It is a delicious feeling that just happens to put you in the right mental and physical state for an OBE. Bon voyage!
Most OBE experts state that physical relaxation is an important factor in any induction of an OBE (as distinct from stress-related involuntary ones in active waking life). So when you go to bed at night intending to have an OBE, or a lucid dream, undergo a relaxation exercise that systematically releases the tension in all your main muscle groups from head to toe. You can choose your own method, or one you may have learned elsewhere, as long as you consciously work your way up through your entire body deliberately relaxing the muscles as you go, especially the facial muscle groups around the eyes and the mouth, and especially the tongue. If done properly, the entire exercise should take about fifteen minutes, or even longer.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
How often do you see the back of your head? It is a startling fact that only a minority of people have seen their own spine. Let’s put that right. Find some quiet, private time. Undress. Using a large wall mirror and a hand mirror in combination, look at yourself naked from the front, from the sides, and from the rear. Slowly. Completely. In detail. Get to know your body from all sides. Pay special attention to the rear view – the back of the head and neck, the spine.
That night (or immediately after your session with the mirrors), perform your induction and relaxation exercise, and drift off to sleep. As you do so, picture clearly in your mind your body image from all angles. Especially that rear view. Keep these images before you as you sink into the hypnogogic stage.
As mentioned in Lucid Dreaming, more technological versions of this exercise are being used in laboratory experiments, where video cameras take the place of mirrors. In one exercise, the subject sits staring at the projected live video image of his back.
On the Record
With a mobile phone or other device, digitally record the ambient sounds at some place familiar to you – a city square, a park bench, a waterfall, or wherever. While making the recording (for several minutes or as long as your device allows), look around and make a special effort to absorb your visual impressions of the place. At night, after your usual incubation and relaxation procedures, close the light and play the sounds you recorded, imagining yourself back at that location as you drift off to sleep. Tell yourself that you want to go there tonight.
Here and There
There are simpler ways of using place as a tool. For instance, the famed ‘astral projector’ of the early 20th century, Oliver Fox, suggested that when you are in the drowsy, hypnogogic state, visualise some street or country track well known to you, and imagine yourself walking along it, noting the buildings, trees and other details on either side as you pass. Fox reckoned that though the mental image may seem to be at an indeterminate distance in front of your closed eyes, you will nevertheless know that the scene is within you. What you are attempting to do is to transfer your consciousness to the chosen locality so that you become within the scene, just as when you actually walk down the road or path in waking life. Fox touched on some deep perceptual mechanisms here, and you need to think about this as you continue to walk the scene in your mind. When you succeed in making the transfer, Fox promised it will happen instantaneously (in his case, it was accompanied by a mental “click”). “It is, indeed, a very strange sensation, as that which was previously internal (being contained within your mind) suddenly becomes external and contains you,” Fox commented. He referred to this method as “instantaneous projection”.
Sylvan Muldoon similarly observed that the “phantom” projects more easily to a familiar place. He recommended that when sleeping away from home in a strange setting like a hotel, you should will your mind back to your usual bed as you fall asleep.
You can even use the spatial-memory effect of place in your own home. Before retiring for the night, physically walk to another room from your bed. Go to the front door or to a window and be conscious of every inch of the way. Imagine you are having an OBE. Do the journey several times in close repetition. Absorb every detail of the short journey. Shortly afterwards, as you fall asleep, imagine you are making that journey again. Keep repeating it into sleep.
Working Up a Thirst
Muldoon claimed that desire, habit and the repression of habitually performed actions could all cause astral projection in their different ways. One (rather harsh) exercise he found successful himself was to instil a thirst, hence a desire to drink, prior to going to sleep. On the day of the OBE attempt, severely limit your intake of liquids (but do not refrain from drinking entirely, or try this method if you have medical reasons for taking in liquids). It is especially effective to deprive yourself of a drink in the morning, and to take only occasional sips of water through the day. Intensify your desire to drink by deliberately bringing a tumbler of water to your lips at various times in the day, but not drinking from it. Look at a glass of water. Gaze at it. Concentrate on the water, but don’t drink it. Before retiring at night, take a few sips of salted water. Leave a tall glass of clear, cool sparkling water out on a kitchen surface before you go to bed. Walk back to the glass from your bed, as if you were having an OBE, effectively repeating the previous exercise. Do not drink from the glass, but every time you reach it tell yourself that you are out of your body. Repeat this process physically several times, then mentally repeat it as you slip into sleep.
When in bed, relaxed and preparing to fall asleep, keep your eyes open and use the forefinger and thumb of each hand stretched out into arcs and brought up to your face so as to frame the edges of your field of vision. Then hold the hands in these relative positions as you move them both away from your face. You’ll see they form a rough circle about five to eight inches across. You have given a physical dimension to a phenomenological aspect of yourself known as “the Cyclop’s eye”: you see that other people have two eyes, but you yourself feel that you see with one eye almost as big as your face, like the visor on an astronaut’s space helmet. Look at the circle formed by your fingers and thumbs, and imagine it as a sphere, glowing softly like the moon, floating just above your face. Close your eyes, keeping that image as you fall asleep.
Face to Face
This exercise is the “outer” version of the inner or phenomenological one just described. It is particularly useful if you are not too good at strong visualisation. Hold a hand mirror over your face as you lie in bed. See your own face looking down at you. Close your eyes, lower the mirror. Visualise your face hovering above you (actually, you only have to remember it doing so). Open your eyes, raise the mirror, and repeat. Carry this out as many times as you can until you are so tired you are ready to fall asleep. You will know when this is as you will start to drop the mirror as you wink off to sleep, acting as a signal in the same way as your falling forearm does in other hypnogogic exercises. Let yourself fall asleep, with that face hovering in front of your mind’s eye…
Lie in bed, after your induction and relaxation procedures. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself as a small bead-sized ball of light inside your head, behind and slightly above your eyes. Imagine you, your self or ego, as this ball of light floating inside your body much as you might be inside a big, bulky space suit. When you have got used to this sensation, let the small ball of light grow until it is the same size as your skull. Hold it there for a short time, then let it carry on expanding as a luminous sphere outside of your head. Keep identifying with this sphere as it gradually expands. Feel it and your spectral self grow and grow until it/you is touching the ceiling and perhaps the walls. Stop expanding at this point, and hold the visualisation and the sense of being expanded beyond your body. Hold it for as long as you can manage as you descend into the hypnogogic state.
Leaving Without You
In a 1983 paper, German lucid dream researcher Paul Tholey observed that if you concentrate on your body as you fall asleep “it often happens that the body begins to become immobile”. Whether this happens or not, as you fall asleep think of your physical body, become vividly aware of its posture and position. Keep this in mind while mentally changing the position of your body – superimpose a differently-positioned body image. Do not physically move. Try out some specific mental postures. Muldoon thought simply of rising into the air. Or, sink down into and through the bed. Or, again, imagine your body sitting up in bed, letting its legs and feet sink through the bed to the floor, standing up and walking over to the bedroom door. Yet again, give what Monroe called “peel-off” a try: imagine slowly rolling over sideways, leaving the physical body behind, and lying prone next to it.
This mental changing of your body image’s position can work with or without sleep paralysis. But should you find yourself “fixed” into immobility, either as you are falling asleep or if you awake from sleep and find yourself in that condition, and can keep cool enough, the practice of this induction will almost always be successful. Try it, too, first thing when you awake naturally in the morning, before you have opened your eyes and physically moved your body position.
I Ain’t Got No Body
An alternative approach is to imagine you have no body at all. Tholey called it the “ego-point technique” and it is an advanced method. Consider that when you fall asleep you are no longer conscious of your body. When you dream you may have a dream-body, but that is merely a convention. You are actually just a point of awareness, like the bead of light in “Space walk”, above. Being aware of that, imagine yourself as a pinhead of awareness as you observe the flashes of hypnogogic imagery. Focus on this imagery. You feel your body dissolving, and you are just that point of consciousness. Just before you enter sleep, let that ego-point of awareness float off into the hypnogogic imagery, free and easy, like the floating seed from a dandelion. Hold to that point of awareness. Stay with it. If you do so, the hypnogogic imagery will cease, and you can float freely away into a space that seems identical to your bedroom.
As we say, this is an advanced technique, as it requires keeping aware well into the hypnogogic state. You will need proficiency in the exercises in “Entering the Twilight Zone” in Chapter 4 of Lucid Dreaming before attempting this.
It has already been discussed that it is possible to have an OBE directly from a dream or lucid dream. To help promote this situation, it is useful to incubate a suitable dream. The classic one is a flying dream of some kind. Muldoon, we recall, likewise advised dreaming of “aviation” subjects: flying like a bird, going up in a balloon, piloting an aircraft, swinging in a seat on a rising Ferris wheel. He also felt that dreams of rising upward in an elevator could trigger an OBE. He suggested an incubation in which you lie on your back prior to sleep, and imagine you are lying on the floor of an elevator. You are going to lie there quietly and go to sleep. As you enter sleep the elevator is going to move upwards. You will even feel it trembling slightly as it rises to the top floor. When the lift feels as if it stops, mentally sit up, then stand up and walk out onto the top floor. You will walk round up there, and look out of the windows, and see how high you are. Muldoon felt that this scenario mimicked the motions of the phantom as it left the body during sleep.
Using the False Awakening
If you find yourself in a lucid dream, remember that an easy way to provoke a ‘false awakening’ is to cover your dream-body’s eyes with its hands, while thinking of your bedroom. If you achieve a false awakening, and can control it, it is but a short step to having an OBE. The trouble is, although you have retained the visual clarity of a lucid dream, you have lost a lot of your critical awareness, and think what you see is really your bedroom. The only real way to prepare for this situation is to reality-test every morning when you wake up, then the habit should follow in a false awakening. Is everything in place, as you left it? Is the view out of the window normal? If you have a digital clock, check it once, look away, check it again – do the figures behave in a stable fashion? If the answer is “no” to any or all of these, you may be experiencing a false awakening. (If you do not have a digital clock, then arrange to have some writing visible from your bed.)
Oliver Fox used two guidelines: he knew he was having a false awakening if he could sense a definite feeling of rigidity in his body, and if there was what he called a “sense of strain” in the atmosphere, like that “before the storm” feeling, only more so. When you have the cues that you are in this situation, try to sit up out of your body, ignoring any sounds, flashes of imagery or other distractions that may occur. “Just swing your (astral) legs to the floor and stand up,” he advised. “You will then experience dual consciousness.” By this, he meant you feel yourself lying in bed and standing up at the same time. This sensation will decrease as you move further away from the bed. You may or may not see your recumbent form on your bed.
You are having an OBE. Are you really out of your body, or are you having a specific form of lucid dream? You decide.