Mental and Physical Benefits
I've been practicing and studying this remarkable form of dreaming for over 40 years, and I'm thrilled to finally have this opportunity to share my passion for lucid dreaming with you. Lucid dreaming is not only exotic and great fun, but it can lead to deep psychological and spiritual growth as you'll see.
The following is a transcription of the audio:
Lucid dreaming is not just about what you do when you sleep and dream. If you choose to practice lucid dreaming in its complete form, it's a beautiful way to experience life in a more awakened way. Lucid dreaming is a way to fulfill your wildest fantasies where imagination is the only limitation. You can soar through the heavens, have a romantic encounter with a movie star, or do virtually anything you want in the privacy of your own mind.
We often use entertainment as a form of escape, but lucid dreaming takes this notion to a new level because we can use our dreams for authentic psychological refuge. In a lucid dream, the aged can become young again. Those with disabilities can regain use of their limbs, or their eyesight, or whatever is limiting them and enjoy activities impossible in waking life.
Prisoners can enjoy freedoms otherwise unavailable. Whatever is limited in daily life can be transcended in a dream. And while many people engage in lucid dreaming to get out, the real benefits occur when we use it to get in. So, let's turn to some of these inner benefits.
Lucid dreaming has been used to treat depression. Lucid dream therapy has been shown to remove or greatly reduce nightmares. In a lucid dream, you can reframe your dreams and create different endings to recurrent bad dreams, which can transform a bad dream into a good one. Nightmares often happen when rejected aspects of our being return to us in the form of monstrous dream figures.
Instead of running away from the monster, which is our default reaction in a non-lucid dream and which only keeps the monster alive, with a lucid dream, we can turn around and face the monster with confidence born from our lucidity. We can wake up to the fact that it's only our mind. That we're fundamentally in control, and that we don't need to be afraid.
By understanding that these scary aspects are simply calling out for healing, we can reintegrate them back into our being and heal. As the poet, Rilke said "Perhaps everything that frightens us is in its deepest essence something helpless that wants our love.”. And Stephen LaBerge, leading expert on Lucid Dreaming and author of "Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming", who is the father of Western lucid dreaming, says, "When you meet a monster in your lucid dream, sincerely greet him like a long-lost friend, and that is what he will be”.
On another level, if you have a fear of heights or snakes, or whatever, you can conjure up a cliff, stand on the edge of it and work with your fear, or you can do the same thing with a snake. You can work with your fears and phobias in the safety of your dreams and gradually eliminate them. The possibilities of therapeutic role-play are virtually boundless.
Lucid dreams can also be used to help with grief and to resolve conflicts with others. You can clean up unfinished interpersonal issues with others, even those who have died, because while death is the end of a body, it's not the end of a relationship. There is authentic therapeutic value in lucid dreams for resolving difficult relationships.
As challenging as it may be, you can have lucid dreams about an impending death of a loved one, feel that sense of loss, and actually have that anticipatory loss help you with the real loss. This is a form of anticipatory grief, which can help with real grief. These dreams can also help you realize you can't take anybody for granted, and therefore invigorate a relationship with a loved one.
When you're in therapy and working to resolve an interpersonal issue, the person you're having an issue with doesn't have to be there physically for you to resolve the issue. They only have to be there phenomenally in your mind. In a lucid dream, the person you have an issue with obviously isn't in your dream physically, but they do appear to you. They are there phenomenally, and that's enough.
It's enough because the physical body of the person isn't really the problem. The problem is how we relate to that body, to that person, and relationships can be cleaned up in a lucid dream. I have personally used lucid dreams in this therapeutic way many times to work through issues, which on the bottom line are really my issues, things I need to own up to. I then leave the lucid dream feeling lighter, and often liberated from the underlying problem.
In a similar vein, lucid dreaming has been shown to improve problem-solving altogether, which often takes place when we step back from a problem and perceive it in a new light. Problems often remain unsolved because we're too involved with them. We're too close. This is exactly what defines a non-lucid dream. We're too involved with a dream to realize it's just a dream.
Lucidity allows us to step back and see things we haven't seen before. This very sense of perspective is what transforms a non-lucid dream into a lucid dream, and this ability can continue in waking life. It can help us see things others just don't see or that we ourselves previously didn't see. One study I read recently states "For the insight that leads to lucidity, people also seem to step back from the obvious interpretation and consider a remote and at the same time implausible option that it is all a dream.”
In other words, new perspective is innovative, and new perspective is at the heart of lucid dreaming. The dream researcher Clare Johnson, says "Lucid dream creativity likely does not stop when we wake up, but leaves its traces in our waking brain, thereby enhancing our everyday problem-solving skills, artistic courage, and creative thought processes.”
You can also use lucid dreams to rehearse things, like presentations or performances, which can therefore increase confidence and reduce anxiety. Jack Nicklaus famously improved his golf game through a dream. The great pianist, Arthur Rubinstein, had the ability to mentally practice a composition he had never physically performed, and then perform it without further physical rehearsal.
Research has shown that the virtual reality of a dream is more effective than mere imagination in creating the neural connections in the absence of actual physical movement. This means that lucid dreams are an ideal place to rehearse things. What's really extraordinary therefore about lucid dreams is that the biological and physiological effects on your body and your brain, or the actions you perform in a dream, are virtually identical to the effects of doing these actions in your daily life.
Think about that one. Dreaming of doing something is neurologically equivalent to actually doing it. For example, if you're working out a logical problem in your lucid dream, your left hemisphere is activated just as it would be in daily life. If you play the guitar in a lucid dream, your right hemisphere is activated just like if you were doing that in real life.
One of the biggest insights in neuroscience is the discovery of what's called neuroplasticity, that your brain is highly malleable or plastic. This means that what you do with your mind actually changes your brain. By dreaming about something, you can literally change your brain.
But it's not just your brain that can change with lucid dreaming, you can actually improve the performance of your body. What you do with your dream body has an effect on your physical body. This is why many people can have a physical orgasm when their dream body has an orgasm.
A study in the Journal of Sports Science suggests that lucid dreaming can be used to help athletes improve their performance. Kelley Bulkeley, a Phd dream researcher, offers four remarkable implications:
1) Lucid dreaming could provide a safe arena in which high-performance athletes can practice dangerous moves and risky routines, developing skills at the farthest edges of their abilities.
2) Lucid dreaming could provide injured athletes an opportunity to continue training and skill-building during their rehabilitation.
3) Lucid dreaming could enable underprivileged athletes to engage in effective practice of their sports even if they have limited access to physical facilities.
4) Lucid dreaming could give athletes at all levels a powerful psychological means of focusing their minds for optimal game-day performance.
This connection between dream body and physical body has the potential for lucid dreaming to also be used in healing. In the Eastern view of body, the outer gross body is an expression of the inner subtle body, a subtle body that is deeply connected with the dream body. Eastern medical systems target the subtle body with things like acupuncture and moxibustion to heal the gross physical body.
In the West, guided imagery is used to facilitate healing as in the work of Dr. Carl Simonton, in his research on cancer. He reports that patients who supplemented standard chemo and radiation treatments with healing imagery survived on average twice as long as expected. And nowhere is imagery more potent and therefore potentially transformative than in a dream. The transformative power of the imagination is proportional to how real it feels, and there's nothing more real in terms of imagination than a vivid dream.
Doctors Dennis Jaffe and David Bresler write, "Mental imagery mobilizes the latent, inner powers of the person, which have immense potential to aid in the healing process and in the promotion of health.” It's too early to say for sure, but preliminary data is suggestive that one might be able to initiate self-healing by consciously visualizing the dream body as being healthy.
If you can heal your dream body, to what extent will you also heal your physical body? One doctor published a paper about a patient with a 22-year history of chronic pain who cured himself overnight with a single lucid dream. The psychiatrist Mauro Zappaterra says "I'm no expert on lucid dreaming, but the man woke up with no pain. He said it was like his brain had shut down and rebooted. A few days later, he walks into the VA pharmacy and actually returns his medication. To me, that's pretty convincing evidence.”
Lucid dreaming is also like a virtual reality lab and can be used to try out all kinds of designs and creative ideas. Writers, musicians, artists, and innovators are therefore increasingly using lucid dreams to enhance creativity. Creative impulses often arise from the unconscious mind, which is like a vast natural resource. In a lucid dream, we're face to face with the unconscious mind and can therefore tap into its creative potential more directly.
In the audio clip below, which is from one of Andrew's weekend workshops on lucid dreaming, he shares an experience over 30 years ago that got him into lucid dreaming.
Andrew's books on lucid dreaming and dream yoga:
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