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Why Dreams and the Body?

Often a dream leaves me with an impression that the message is about the physical body as well as the mind.

In one of my recent dream groups, a woman told a dream: I am standing at the edge of a stage about to go before an audience when someone whispers to me ''Open your back.''

She had no idea what that meant. We worked on the meaning of the dream -- she's a singer -- but I was impressed that the dream made such a direct instruction about her body. I thought that a yoga teacher could look at her body and have a quite distinct understanding of what ''Open your back'' would mean from a yoga perspective. I  had a similar experience when I had a dream that lead me to a new awareness of a breathing practice I was studying.

If a yoga practitioner paid special attention to body references in their dreams, there would be a wealth of clues about improving his or her practice. The body is mentioned in dreams quite often, although most people would not typically notice it. In fact, our dreams are remarkably specific:  ''I held out my right hand,'' ''I was wounded in the left side, near the gut but it wasn't the gut'' or, as one dancer dreamed, ''The locket attached itself to my left metatarsal.'' The dream-body can offer us special insights about our waking, physical body.

There is a natural polarity between the body and the dream. Every serious yoga practitioner understands that the practice of hatha yoga seemingly just a matter of physical exercise has a remarkable effect upon the mind. In this project, we are looking at the opposite situation: When the body is at its most quiet, what does the mind have to tell us about that body?

During a dream, the body is at an extreme degree of physiological inactivity; the brain is alert but the musculature is inhibited. We may dream of running down the street but, fortunately, our limbs do not propel us out of bed. Brain waves and eye movements are about the only physical evidence of a dream. When our physical body is in such a profound state of rest, the dreamer's experience of it offers us a unique perspective.

There are some spectacular testimonials to the power of dreams to understand body matters. Perhaps the most famous is described in Marc Barasch's ''Healing dreams.'' Marc had a series of dreams that led him to conclude he had cancer of the throat (dreams about cells, about spears going into his throat and so on). His doctor examined him but saw no reason to pursue the matter. After he insisted on further tests, Marc's dream diagnosis was proven right.

Another example: with 100 worldwide tournament victories and 20 major golf championships, Jack Nicklaus is considered one of the greatest golfers of the 20th century.  Nicklaus credited a crucial improvement in his game to dreaming of a new way to hold the golf club. Other famous sportsmen have improved their practice from their dreams.

I propose to show yoga practitioners how they can listen to their dreams for clues about their practice. We will discuss the dreams with participants and see what they say about the body. 

I expect that participants will be surprised at how often their dreams refer to their body and how these can be interpreted as confirmations or guides to their practice.

David Jenkins

David Jenkins has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and has a dream practice in Berkeley and Oakland, CA. He is the author of Dream RePlay: How to Transform Your Dream Life, writes for Dream Time magazine and has presented workshops and papers at numerous conferences.  David practiced yoga quite intensely for about eight years, attending classes with Donald Moyer and other Bay Area teachers.




David Jenkins 2005
Artwork by Leigh Gronet