“Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming I am a man?” – Zhuangzi
The Yoga of Lucid Dreaming
One of the more esoteric types of yoga you may encounter is Dream Yoga, which, although typically associated with Tibetan practice, has also found aspects of the practice in the Taiwanese branch of Dragon Gate School of Taoism among others who have incorporated its principles and practices into their own, such as in Hinduism, Sufism, shamanic practices, and even from some principles taught by Carl Jung.
Dream yoga harnesses the power of dreaming and the fact that we spend at least 1/3 of our lives sleeping to awaken our consciousness by incorporating all that time into our training. It is very similar to yoga nidra, or “yoga sleep”, which is the sleep-like state some yogis experience in their meditations, akin to lucid dreaming, but maintaining full consciousness, and remaining fully aware of the actual physical environment instead of just the dream environment. The result of such practice and getting into this state reduces tension and anxiety, because it allows us to explore our subconscious state, which we tend to hide under our external layers of validation and confidence—including at times our pride in our yoga skills masking our insecurities.
The goal of dream yoga thus is to be able to both free your mind from the smoke and mirrors of existence and seize control of the brief, roller coaster-like ride that we endure in our lives. By achieving a state of balance both in our dream state and our waking lives, they impact each other: if you are truly in peace with your daily life, you dream positively. If you juggle your life and seem to have it all together but dream of being strangled or drowning, chances are that you aren’t keeping it all together so easily. So if you balance life with a physical kind of yoga like ashtanga or hatha, you can affect your subconsciousness; whereas if you work within your dreams and your mindscape, you can change your perception of your reality and reframe everything, going from making a mountain out of a molehill to turning cow dung into fertilizer for your garden.
How you can quickly try dream yoga
The following exercise can be found in the book Secrets of Dragon Gate: Ancient Taoist Practices for Health, Wealth, And the Art of Sexual Yoga by Dr. Steven Liu and Jonathan Blank:
Find a mirror that you can stand or sit in front of comfortably
Take 3 deep breaths
Spend a few moments looking at yourself in the mirror. Then, once you are completely relaxed, repeat to yourself, “You are dreaming.”
Continue for several minutes.
The exercise may seem simple, but do not be deceived: the subconsciousness will react with practice, as with any other exercise you would do with your physical body and its muscles. Watch what happens and keep a dream journal, and see how you are affected.
Another technique was used by Carlos Castaneda as taught to him by Don Juan from the books A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan: when you are dreaming, the moment you remember that you are in a dream, hold out your hands and look at your palms. You may find yourself doing this multiple times in a dream. When this happens, you will find yourself less receptive to the illusions of dreams and waking life and seed a new power in mental acuity.