Strike a (Dream) Pose

The Yoga of Dreams

In Yoga, postures are physical poses that we practice for improved health and over all well-being.

Dreamwork, too is a practice to help us improve our health and well being. Bringing conscious awareness to our dreams means paying attention to how we go to sleep, what we dream, how we wake up, and how we respond to our dreams in our waking lives.

Posture refers not only to how we carry our body, but the word posture also refers to a spiritual attitude. In that sense, conscious dreaming is also about posture—in the sense that it’s about the position we take toward sleep and dreaming. In particular, it is a mindful approach to entering dreams in order to align with our true self and our divine aspirations.

In dreamwork we pay attention to our dreams to further our commitment to self-study and self-reflection. As a result we develop more mental flexibility, clarity, and ease.

What is your current posture—or attitude—toward your dreams? Do you believe your dreams can assist your spiritual development? Can you stretch your mind to have a more open and nonjudgmental attitude toward dreams and dreaming?

Learn more about how to develop A Mindful & Yogic way to sleep, dream, and live better at these upcoming workshops:

Weds. May 27 at VegaYoga in Holyoke, Mass.

and November 12-15 at Sivananda Ashram and Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas.

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The Guru at the Door

In the wide-awake world of constant connectivity and 24-7 access to entertainment and information, we tend to treat our dreams as if they were flotsam and jetsam, washed up by some mysterious tide, and we carelessly rinse them away with our morning shower.

But if instead we welcome those dreams with curiosity and a smile, we just might find that they can serve as welcomed companions—even wise gurus—that can support and sustain us throughout the day.

dream guru

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Open the door to your dreams: The first step to developing a healthy relationship to your dreams is to pay attention to them. Today, tell your dreams to someone, or write them down. When you let your dreams know you are listening to them, they’ll respond with images and stories that will support and sustain you throughout your day.

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Learn to develop A Mindful Way to Sleep, Dream, and Live Better at one of these upcoming workshops:

Weds. May 27 Dreamasana at VegaYoga in Holyoke, Mass.

November 12-15, The Yoga of Dreams at Sivananda Ashram and Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas.

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Long Time Gone (& back again)

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to post here. Those of you who know me know there’s been a lot going on in my waking life (almost as much as in my prolific dream life!).

But before I tell you how glad I am to be back, I’d like to put in a word for silence – or the space between words; the lacuna between one thought and the next; the dreamless sleep that hammocks us between bursts of dream.

The beautiful spring flowers that we’ve been enjoying in these past weeks remind me that the snow covered winter landscape was in fact incubating vibrant dreams of color and beauty all through those gray, icy months. In the deep darkness of silent sleep, untold wonders are sending forth shoots that we will soon see blossom.

And so, this time between blog posts has been an opportunity for me to regroup and reflect on what it is I most want to share with you about dreams.

And here it is: I want to help you see the benefits that being fluent in your own dream language can afford to you.

I’d also like to help you begin to see dreams as not just something that happens to you when you close your eyes and go to sleep—but instead, I want to help you recognize that dreaming is a state of consciousness that you can enter into and engage in mindfully, and as such, that it can help to support and sustain your intentions for integrating body, mind, and spirit in a healthy and holistic way.

In the coming days and weeks I will share some posts with you about how to make dreamwork a part of your life, in the same way that a yoga or meditation can be woven into the fabric of your daily routine.

In the meantime, it’s good to be back.

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Welcome back, dreamer: Have you been a long time gone from your dreams? Let your dreams know that you want to rekindle your relationship with them: Place a notebook beside your bed, and write down your intention to remember your dreams tonight.

 

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Enjoy a musical interlude with the Dixie Chicks as you peruse these posts: Long Time Gone.

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Learn to develop A Mindful Way to Sleep, Dream, and Live Better at one of these upcoming workshops:

Weds. May 27 Dreamasana at VegaYoga in Holyoke, Mass.

November 12-15, The Yoga of Dreams at Sivananda Ashram and Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas.

 

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Q&A: Help! I Can’t move!

Ryan Hurd, today’s guest blogger and expert on Sleep Paralysis, sheds light on a sometimes-frightening sleep phenomenon

Q: What if any relationship exists between sleep paralysis, which I’ve experienced when I was 15-40 years old, and dream states?

A: Sleep paralysis is deeply tied to dreaming. In fact, the easiest way to think about sleep paralysis is dreaming with your eyes open, while also experiencing the muscle paralysis that comes with dreaming sleep. Body asleep, mind awake.

Most of the time, sleep paralysis (SP) is a harmless symptom that occurs when the brain does not shift its neurochemical gears all at once. For most, SP comes when sleep is disrupted and we are stressed, bodily and mentally. In these cases, SP can be managed by attending to personal sleep health as well as stress management. However, for thousands of others, SP is not so gentle, and is a symptom of a larger health issue such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea, as well as other health conditions that rob the body of healthy sleep. In these cases, SP is treated clinically to manage the symptoms, although there is no cure.Sleep-paralysis-book-cover-300

The feelings of paralysis, which can also feel like a weight on the chest or throat, generally last less than a minute or two. Dreamers say, “I feel like someone is holding me down!” The paralysis is actually a normal part of REM sleep, which we experience every night unawares. With the big skeletal muscles offline, the sleeper is free to engage in the energetic REM state without fear of acting out a dream, so as not to be a danger to self or sleep partners. But during SP, the sleeper can feel not only the paralysis but is also well aware what is happening, giving the episode a strangely lucid feel that some people say is “realer than real.” Others are adamant, “It was not a dream. I was awake!”

Beyond Paralysis: Fear and the Stranger in the Room

The defensiveness of being awake and aware is probably due to the more unusual qualities of SP that are not really hinted at in the bland medical term.  Many feel terrible and heightened fear, sometimes strong enough to be labeled death anxiety. Others detect a “sensed presence” or stranger in the room, the uncanny feeling that they are not only alone, but being watched keenly by an evil presence. This aspect of SP is no doubt the root of hundreds of ghost stories and folklore.

About 20% of sufferers of SP experience not only the awareness of the paralysis and mental clarity and the fear, but also strange dream-like visions, known as hypnagogic hallucinations. This is where SP really begins to sound more like a vision state than a dream. The hallucination generally is a person, or perhaps I should say an entity, as the personage can be an animal hybrid, an ethereal spirit, or a pale and thin toothed alien other. The paralysed dreamer sees the entity standing over them, and may also watch helplessly as the entity holds them down. The occurrences can get violent, and in fact often are sexually violent.

In Medieval times, the entity was known as the incubus—a male demon that sought out unsuspecting female dreamers. Men were similarly visited by a succubus, who could be alluring but may morph into a terrible form during the sexual act.  Dozens of “supernatural assault” traditions are known around the world today. In the West, sleep paralysis symptoms can be seen in alien abduction lore. What is unclear today is how common are sexual hallucinations that come with sleep paralysis, and indeed, how many of them are nightmarish compared with more pleasurable experiences.

On the Bright Side

In my studies, I have been surprised to discover that there are also completely positive accounts of sleep paralysis-related visitations, including ancestral visits, deceased loved ones, sexually healing encounters, as well as contact with positive healing figures such as angels and medicine men.

By affirming that one is safe within the sleep paralysis encounter, and with an attitude of curiosity and courage, many dreamers have found sleep paralysis to be a portal to several other extraordinary states of awareness, such as mystical guided journeys, lucid dreaming, and out-of-body experiences.

Personally, I have had both the positive and the negative encounters, and sometimes, even after all these years, I get frightened and must resort to ejecting myself from the encounter. At least, I figure, I can try again, as it seems I another encounter with the creatures of sleep paralysis is just around the corner.

For more on this topic, check out my book on the topic: Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors of the Night.

About the author:ryan-hurd-headshot

Ryan Hurd is editor of DreamStudies.org, a website dedicated to sleep, dreams and consciousness studies. He is also the curator of Dream Studies Press, where he has published several ebooks and showcases other interesting dream-related products. Ryan lectures internationally, and teaches at the Rhine Education Center. He is also a current board member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and a member of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness.

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Crazy Good: Dreaming of Mom

I had a crazy dream the other night.

I dreamed my mother called me on the phone and we were laughing and talking.

Which might not sound so strange to you. After all, people dream of all kinds of crazy things—like flying through the tree tops, or showing up in high school English wearing nothing but their slippers, or kissing the president of the United StatesIMG_5102.

But this was a crazy dream—because my mother has Alzheimer’s disease and aphasia, and it has been years since she’s known how to dial a phone. Plus, her speech is reduced to just a handful of one-syllable words, and more often than not, even those don’t make any sense.

In the dream, however, I was able to ask my mother questions and best of all, she was able to answer me. We haven’t had a conversation like that in a very long time.

I woke up happy and full of energy

A Freudian might say this had been a wish fulfillment dream. Others would say it was just random neuronal firings—no meaning.

But to me, after seven years of standing by as this disease slowly takes my mother from me, the dream was like a refund. A repayment of funds owed to a dissatisfied customer. It’s a golden coin I slip into my pocket and rub against my thumb anytime I need to be reminded: I still have something precious. Something that shines. Something to hold onto.

So when I say I had a crazy dream the other night, I mean it. For me, that dream was crazy good. It allowed me to remember the cadence of my mother’s voice. It allowed me to experience something I can’t experience when I’m awake.

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What kind of crazy dreams have you had lately? Share them with us in the comments section of this post!

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If you have dreams of your mother…or if you’re a mother who dreams…join me for a workshop on Mothers and Daughters Dreaming at the SOUND center in Newtown Connecticut on Sunday, May 3.

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The Sleep Study Results are In. Hold the Drum Roll. (5th installment in the series)

This post is part of an ongoing series about what happens when an active dreamer goes in for a sleep study. Click here to read the first post in the series.

My doctor ordered a sleep study for me to see if I had sleep apnea or another condition that was degrading the quality of my sleep and leaving me feeling tired and worn down by day. But I had a question of my own: “Is all my dreaming exhausting me?”

The stakes were high. I have always valued my active dream life (recalling several dreams each morning—usually in vivid and abundant detail). My dreams inspire poems, help me make decisions, comfort me in times of despair, and give me fresh perspectives on my daytime experiences. “But what if the solution to your sleep woes is a course of treatment that diminishes your dreams?” one doctor asked me early on. I decided that was something I’d have to risk.

Interesting results–but not in a good way

And now, at last, the results of the sleep study are in. (Hold the drum roll, prepare instead for anti-climax.) Other than a fair amount of snoring (who, me?) it appears I have no sleep-related conditions of concern.

Good news, yes. But was the report satisfying? Not at all.

The process of undergoing a sleep study in and of itself was interesting—but not necessarily in a good way. I found myself immersed in a system that values sleep, but that seemed to devalue dreams, ignoring them except as possible symptoms of sleep disorders.

As the weeks between my initial intake, the study itself, and awaiting the results wore on, I began to question my own thinking and long-held beliefs: Was it possible that the dreams I so cherished, relied on for guidance, wisdom, healing, and comfort, were nothing more than a symptom of some sleep disorder or pathology? I asked this question to myself, and posed it in one of my blog posts as well.

One of my long-time readers and friends replied to that post, saying in a comment what I’ve always known, but needed to be reminded of: “Your dreams are not symptoms of illness nor are they a defect—they are a gift.”

5-pages and an insight

The 5-page report of my sleepless night in the sleep lab indicated that I was asleep for about 7 hours. This didn’t match up with my experience at all, where I noted in my journal that I slept about 3-4 hours in total all night long. When I raised this discrepancy with the doctor I was working with, she said that it’s possible to be sleeping lightly and conscious at the same time. In any case, this twilight sleep, if sleep it was, is so different from my normal sleeping experience that it didn’t seem worthy of too much attention. In fact, I slept so poorly at the sleep lab that I can learn little about my sleep or dream life from the experience.

But from a medical point of view, doctors were able to measure my heartbeat, body movements, and brain waves to determine what they were after: No apnea, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome. No explanation, in short, for my daytime drowsiness.

The doctors can’t say whether the nighttime dreaming I do is affecting my ability to achieve adequate rest, despite getting 71/2-8 hours of sleep a night. I suppose the culprit could well be the multitude of daytime dreams I pursue.

Either way, I’m going with my friend’s advice:

If the dreams do make me tired, so be it! They are extraordinary gifts that add meaning and interest to my life. So if you see me yawning during the day, don’t take offense, and don’t be concerned—I’ve decide that some daytime drowsiness is worth the price of admission to a wonderful world of dreams.

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To read the entire series about a dreamer’s experience in the sleep lab:

Click here to read the first post in the series.

Click here to read the second post in the series.

Click here to read the third post in the series.

Click here to read the previous post in the series.

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Sleepless at the Sleep Center (4th Installment)

This post is part of an ongoing series about what happens when an active dreamer goes in for a sleep study. Click here to read the first post in the series.

My sleep study took place on one of the coldest nights in a historically cold winter. But I didn’t mind, because what better thing is there to do on a cold night than snuggle in for a long night of sleep and dreaming?

I imagined the night being something like sleeping in a hotel room—but with a few wires attached to my head and face for the benefit of the technicians and other professionals who’d be monitoring my sleep patterns for any sign of irregularity. So, as if I were setting off for a mini-vacation, I packed a book to read and my journal, along with my toothbrush and pajamas.

I was still feeling optimistic about my chances of having a pleasant night’s rest when I arrived at the sleep center and my technician, we’ll call him Dr. Z, led me to what looked like an economy grade hotel room, such as you’d find in a Days Inn. There was a double bed facing a wall-mounted large-screen television, a night table, and private bath.

But there was also a bedside console the size of a nineties-era computer tower, and a hefty hank of colorful wires coiled on the side of the bed where I like to sleep.

A rainbow of reasons for insomnia at the Sleep Lab.

A rainbow of reasons for insomnia at the Sleep Lab.

But my hopes for a cozy evening of pre-bedtime journaling and reading were finally dashed when Dr. Z motioned for me to take a seat in the straight-backed chair beside the bed, and informed me that he’d spend the next 45 minutes attaching all those wires—not only to my head and face—but also to my chest, back, legs, and finger. And if that weren’t enough, he explained that a cannula would be inserted into my nostrils.

Wired for sleep.

Wired for sleep.

He also pointed out a camera mounted to the wall above the bed, and a little device that looked like a baby monitor on the bedside table, both of which would be recording me throughout the night.

While I digested all of this, I grabbed the remote control and clicked off the television, where a weatherman was predicting sub-zero temperatures for the night. “You know, watching TV before bed isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep,” I said.

“That’s true,” Dr. Z replied in a flat voice. I realized later, he must have been restraining himself from replying that my comment was way beside the point. After all, within an hour I’d be weighted down by wires and tethered to the computer console for the rest of the night. I couldn’t even walk the few paces to the bathroom without assistance.

The entire room, it turned out, was a collection of sleep hygiene “don’ts.”

As a Dream Therapist, who helps people improve their sleep for a good night’s dreaming, I ticked off in my mind each infraction one by one:

Good Advice: For a good night’s sleep darken your bedroom as much as possible.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center little attempt had been made to block out the light from the floodlights in the parking lot. The window was covered only by a slatted blind; there was no curtain or black-out shade. Furthermore, a small glowing red light was attached to my finger, which meant that every time my hand passed anywhere near my face, the red light shone in my eyes.

Good Advice: Eliminate screens from the bedroom. Don’t watch television before bed.

Viewing and being viewed: A large screen TV and a camera to monitor my sleep positions in the Sleep Lab.

Viewing and being viewed: A large screen TV and a camera to monitor my sleep positions in the Sleep Lab.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center a large screen TV is mounted across from the bed.

Good Advice: Sleep in loose, comfortable clothing.

Grim Reality: Although I packed a pair of cozy pajamas, my Sleep Center sleepwear also included constricting wires and bands fastened around my ribs and belly.

Good Advice: Your bedroom should be a quiet and peaceful environment.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center it was as if I were cozied up to a refrigerator motor, as the lab equipment hummed beside me all night long.

In short, “Sleep Center” turned out to be a cruel misnomer. And needless to say, I slept but little—though I did dream a lot—on the night of my sleep study.

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Click here to read the first post in the series.

Click here to read the second post in the series.

Click here to read the previous post in the series.

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