Yoga for the Soul
October 21st, 2011

“…like yoga for the soul.”  That is how sleep specialist Rubin Naiman describes dreaming.

Sleep fascinates me.  For starters, I’m a big fan of the stuff.  But I am also intrigued by how little scientists actually seem to know about it.  From time to time magazines like Newsweek and Time feature cover stories about sleep, why our bodies need it, how we get less of it now than we used to, and the wide variety of health benefits it affords.  So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that I was equally taken with Dr. Naiman’s article on the benefits of dreaming.

Naiman discusses our physiological responses to dreaming – the dream-induced paralysis that keeps us from acting out our dreams and the release of emotional energy that channels through our muscles – but it was his explanation of the mental and emotional purpose of dreaming that most captivated me.

Dreaming aids in the formation of memory and in the processing of grief.  Even more interesting, though, is Naiman’s assertion about dreaming serving as some sort of psychological calisthenics.  He comments, “Daily life can feel constraining. Our deeper self is not necessarily comfortable remaining cooped up in a physical body 24/7. I believe that dreaming is a kind of psycho-spiritual stretching — like yoga for the soul. Dreams gently expand, release, soften and open us up again. Dreaming provides a poetic cushion for our sharply literal lives. In our dreams, we are free from the constraints of the physical body.”

This gets a little new agey for me, but I don’t totally dismiss it.  My own experience tells me that there is value in dreaming.  When I wake up after a night of active dreaming I feel more refreshed than I do otherwise.  Perhaps this is because a certain quality and depth of sleep are prerequisites to dreaming in the first place.  But I also feel more relaxed, like there was something cathartic about my sleep beyond its mere restorative properties.  I like this idea that dreaming frees us from our normal constraints, “… like yoga for the soul.”

It’s been several months since I slept through the night without waking.  If my second son is anything like my first, it will be at least another six months before I do it again.  This means that my dream life is in the midst of a big hiatus.  There will be many reasons that I look forward to that golden day when my baby sleeps through the night.  Being truly rested for the first time in more than a year will be foremost among them.  But lingering at the back of the pack will be an eagerness to return to the kind of sleep that facilitates an active dream life.  My dreams are usually pretty amusing, but apparently funny stories the next day aren’t the only benefit they provide.

2 Responses to “Yoga for the Soul”

  1. Cathy Says:

    I’ve always held this unsubstantiated belief that dreams were our mind’s way of converting short-term memories into long-term memories. Seems I was sort of on track with that.

    However, I cannot say from my personal experience that dreaming in any way makes me feel more rested. The dreams I typically remember on not good ones (for example the other night I dreamt (dreamed? had to look that up but they are both correct it seems) that my heart exploded. Somehow that was not very relaxing. :-)

  2. Gale Says:

    Cathy – You dreamed your heart exploded? I can’t imagine finding that very relaxing either. Here’s wishing you dreams that are a little more benign and enjoyable!