Waking Up to 5 Good Reasons Dreams and Yoga Belong Together
by Tzivia Gover, MFA, Certified Dream Therapist
When I first started practicing yoga, after a few months of Down Dogs and Sun Salutations, I decided to move beyond yoga postures and learn about yogic philosophy. That’s when I realized I was in trouble. While my alignment on the mat was quickly improving, I realized I might be out of alignment when it came to the spiritual teachings behind the practice.
One of the first things I learned was that yoga is about waking up. To transcend the state of maya (illusion) and reach enlightenment, my yoga teachers explained, we must shake off the dream of this world. Further, our sleeping visions are merely dreams within that dream, and are of no importance. To make matters worse, I learned that the “self-realized” or enlightened person, does not dream at all, and needs but a few hours of clear and dreamless sleep each night.
The problem was that I am an active, curious, and engaged dreamer who likes to get eight or more hours of sleep each night. Not only do I remember several dreams each morning but I analyze and interpret those dreams for guidance in my life.
As a newly minted yogini, I feared that given my devotion to my dreams, I was even further from enlightenment than I’d previously thought.
On further study, however, I learned that dreams are not an obstacle on the path to yogic enlightenment. Here’s why what we dream up on the pillow can enhance our practice on the mat and beyond:
- Know thyself—awake and dreaming: Dreams are an essential tool for inner growth according to some yogic texts. That’s because in addition to asana practice, yoga also encourages svadhyaya, or self-study and reflection. According to Swami Sivananda, “No one has known himself truly who has not studied his dreams.”
- Soulful dreaming: By reflecting on our dreams we can see what our soul or spirit is grappling with, and what progress we are making along our inner journey. We can also receive guidance through our dreams to help us grow emotionally as well as spiritually.
- Dreams and karma: Dreams can help us work through karma, the spiritual principle of cause and effect that can keep us from achieving freedom and happiness. This might be achieved by studying our dreams, understanding them, and acting on their messages in waking life. It can also happen within the dream itself—allowing us to wake some mornings feeling not only refreshed, but deeply renewed.
- Mindful dreaming: Yoga teaches that like meditation, dreams can help us study the workings of our mind and gain insight. That’s because when we are dreaming we have the unique opportunity to see the mind in action, undistracted by the physical senses.
- Dreams help us wake up: Lucid dreaming, when we are aware that we are dreaming while we are asleep, is more than just a nocturnal adventure in which we can choose to fly or visit exotic dreamscapes. Some advanced yogis practice lucid dreaming in order to study the true nature of reality, and ultimately transcend it.
Sure, maybe one day I’ll reach enlightenment and my mind will settle into dreamless clarity, both awake and asleep. But until then, I now understand that paradoxically — and profoundly — the dreams we encounter asleep can provide the insight we need to move toward the ultimate goal of waking up into enlightenment.
Tzivia Gover, CDT, MFA, is a certified dream therapist, Director of the Institute for Dream Studies, and member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. She uses dreamwork to help people realize their full potential, access creativity, and promote physical, emotional, and spiritual health and development. The founder of 350 Dreamers, a worldwide network of dreamers for global healing, Tzivia is the author of The Mindful Way to a Good Night’s Sleep and Joy in Every Moment.