You're preparing for a pole competition. You've poured blood, sweat, tears and sequins into your choreography and your training. You're physically and mentally exhausted. You don't want to risk over-training, but you feel like maybe you need a few more run throughs. So you go to the studio, you warm up, you start to run through your routine again, and then all of a sudden you feel a sharp pain in your shoulder. Oh no... Your old injury has flared up... It really hurts. You fear you might have done something serious. You sit on the floor and start to cry.
If only there was some way to train your routine that didn't put any strain on your body!!
What if I told you that there is a way?
You've probably seen the movie Inception, where Leonardo DiCaprio and his team of dreamers are able to enter the dreams of others to influence their decision-making processes. You probably thought it was a cool concept, and felt relieved that it's not possible for other people to infiltrate and mess around with your dreams.
But while infiltrating the dreams of others isn't possible in the way it was portrayed in Inception, lucid dreaming is a very real thing.
WHAT IS LUCID DREAMING?
Pictured, Frederik van Eeden and Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys, pioneers of lucid dreaming.
If you are able to gain awareness in your dream, and realise that you are dreaming, endless possibilities await you. You can control your dreams; you can create dreamscapes, you can interact with dream characters, you can summon people from your past, you can fly, you can breathe underwater... And, you can train or practice skills.
I know this because I have done it!
MY LUCID DREAMING JOURNEY
In one word: frustrating. I am not a natural lucid dreamer. Apparently, the majority of us have regular lucid dreams as children, and some people carry this ability into adulthood. On the other end of the dreaming spectrum, some people can't even recall their dreams at all, and believe that they don't dream (this is not true - we all dream every single night, it's just that some of us don't recall our dreams).
I have always had extremely vivid dreams. I dream in colour, I experience sensations, smells, tastes and emotions. I often have long dreams with coherent storylines (as well as the nonsensical ones we all have). But as far as I can recall, prior to beginning to train my lucid dreaming skills, I have only had 2 spontaneous lucid dreams. The first time it happened I didn't understand what was happening. I thought I'd had a strange dream. The memory of the experience stayed with me for a long time.
Then one day, at a photo shoot at her house in London, my friend Millie Robson told me about her experiences with lucid dreaming. It sounded a little crazy to me, or at least a bit far-fetched. But I was definitely interested.
A couple of years later, I had another spontaneous lucid dream. It only lasted about a minute. But it was such an amazingly hyper-real experience that I decided I wanted to learn more about it.
I googled lucid dreaming obsessively, read everything I could find on the topic, listed to podcasts, I chatted with friends who could do it naturally (surprisingly, quite a few people I knew were frequent lucid dreamers!), and I read books on the topic. In my research, I was surprised to learn that lucid dreaming is a scientifically proven phenomenon, with experiments conducted by Dr Keith Hearne and Dr Stephen LaBerge at Stanford University in the 1970s establishing that it is possible for the mind to remain aware while the body is sleeping.
Here are two great introductory books I recommend:
- A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming by Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel, and Thomas Peisel, and
- Lucid Dreaming by Charlie Morley.
HOW DO YOU TRAIN YOURSELF TO LUCID DREAM?
There are a number of different techniques, but the main tool is to start a dream journal, to assist with memory recall, and to help you to identify your "dream signs". Dream signs are commonly occurring dream elements that will help to trigger your awareness in a dream. For example, if you dream of kittens often, then next time you see a kitten, you'll remember to stop and ask yourself, "am I dreaming now?", or in other words, you will perform a "reality check".
A reality check is what you do when you suspect you might be dreaming. You can look at your hands twice in quick succession, or try to read some text. In a dream, your brain is unlikely to be able to reproduce the detail of the text or your hands in exactly the same way twice. If you notice that your hands have changed or the text is different, you know you're dreaming. There are a number of different reality checks you can do. Another is holding your nose and trying to breathe. In a dream, you can.
For me personally, one of my dream signs is extreme flexibility. I often have dreams that I position myself effortlessly into a chest stand or eagle, and I get so excited because it feels so easy. I've learnt that when that happens, I should stop and ask myself if I'm dreaming (because I always am - a chest stand is NEVER effortless for me!)
LUCID DREAMING SUPPLEMENTS
There is a whole online community of lucid dreamers, and in my research, I soon discovered that there is a wide range of sleep and dream supplements that you can take to increase the likelihood of lucid dreaming. The one that appears to have the highest rate of success is Galantamine, which is a medication prescribed to Alzheimer's sufferers to assist in memory recall and cognitive function, and a common side effect is lucid dreaming. It is a little bit controversial, so I decided to try some others before trying Galantamine.
I stumbled upon the Claridream website a few months into my lucid dream training. I was feeling frustrated that even after regular dream journalling and numerous waking reality checks, I had not managed to turn lucid in my dreams.
I contacted Chris Hammond from Claridream to ask about his product. He was super helpful, and gave me loads of advice about lucid dreaming. He is kind of like a lucid dream mentor to me! He sent me some Claridream Pro, and also some Claridream Deep.
I tried Claridream Pro first, at 5 am (it's best to take it after 4-5 hours of sleep). I found that after taking it, I experienced some wakefulness and trouble getting back to sleep. Eventually I did go back to sleep, and I had a lot of vivid dreams that felt somewhere between wakefulness and normal REM sleep dreaming. Unfortunately, the Claridream Pro made me feel slightly nauseous, which followed me into my dream. I didn't have a lucid dream from the Claridream Pro, but I'm keen to try it again because of the effects it had on my dream recall.
When the Claridream Deep arrived, I was excited to try it. It's a sleep aid that contains that contains a bunch of sleep herbs that assist dream recall and dream intricacy (including mugwort). I find that when I take it, I sleep more deeply and I have better dream recall. I took it nightly for about a month, and about two weeks in I had a lucid dream!
It was magical. I dreamt that I was walking by a river with my high school best friend. Suddenly I noticed that we were walking on the river, on the water! Excited, I turned to my friend and said, "we're dreaming! Let's fly!"
I took her by the hand and attempted to fly. Unfortunately, we couldn't get off the ground. I told my friend it must be because our backpacks were too heavy, so we took them off, and succeeded in flying. Then I remembered that a dream goal for me was to swim and breathe underwater, so I left my friend (not very nice of me!) and headed for water. I dreamt that I dived down through the air into the ocean, and found a group of scuba divers to dive with (except I didn't need any scuba equipment). At first, it was difficult to breathe underwater, but I soon got the hang of it. I swam by sharks and fish, and then started practising handstands on the ocean floor, when I woke up.
SO HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO POLE DANCING??
The purpose of this blog is not to go in depth into how you can train yourself to lucid dream (as there are many other books and resources available online to help with that).
I want to talk about training in your sleep. Specifically, pole dancing in your sleep!
A lot of the writing on lucid dreaming focuses on the ability to practice skills in your dreams. In fact, Tibetan Monks practice Dream Yoga and meditation in their dreams, as a way to observe the purest form of conscious awareness. In your dreams you can practice any skill you want. Some of the most common lucid dream goals are flying, meeting with loved ones, visiting exciting places or breathing underwater.
Interestingly, although a lucid dreamer may know that in their dreams the usual rules of physics and gravity do not apply, it takes some practice to be able to control and direct lucid dreams. For example, you might know that its possible to fly in a dream, but in your first attempts at flying in a lucid dream you might have trouble getting off the ground, which is what happened to me.
In his book, "Lucid Dreaming", Charlie Morley discusses the possibilities of lucid dream training. He refers to research undertaken at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, where researchers required participants in the study to imagine lifting weights for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week for 12 weeks, and they found that at the end of the study, they had increased their bicep strength by 12.5%, and that the effects lasted for three months.
This research was conducted on participants who were awake. The study appears to support the contention that merely visualising an activity can have an impact on your physical ability (you can read more about the experiment here). When lucid dreaming, you have the ability to imagine and replicate a life-like training scenario that is neurologically the same or almost the same as the real thing, which has very exciting possibilities for training complex and high risk activities. Like pole dancing!
Morley also refers to experiments conducted on lucid dreamers at Heidelberg University in Germany. 840 German athletes gave feedback about their experiences training while lucid dreaming. Morley cites the study's conclusion, that "lucid dreams have a great potential for athletes to use as a training method", as lucid dreaming "mimics a perfect simulation of the real world."
In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Sports Sciences, "Effectiveness of motor practice in lucid dreams: a comparison with physical and mental practice" by German Psychologists Tadas Stumbrys, Daniel Erlacher & Michael Schredl, the authors examined the potential of training in lucid dreams and its effects on waking physical performance.
In the study, they sought to determine whether using your mind to simulate physical training is neurologically the same as actual physical training. In other words, does visualising performing an act in your mind have any impact on your ability to physically perform an act?
Many of you will know from experience that visualising performing your routine and your choreography helps in your performance preparation. So if you guessed that the answer to the above question was yes, then you are right!
The participants were given finger-tapping task on a computer keyboard to practice while awake, and the participants were split into four groups, with each group asked to engage in 1) actual physical practice, 2) mental practice while awake, 3) mental practice while lucid dreaming, and 4) no practice (the control group).
The results of the study found that "compared to the control group, all three other groups, including the lucid dreaming group, displayed significant improvements in a follow-up performance of the task after practicing." (Psychology Today)
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF LUCID DREAM POLE DANCING
The first time I came close to lucid dreaming pole dancing, I dreamt that I was doing a cocoon on the pole, the most beautifully flexible, straight-legged one I had ever done! I was so excited that I called Maddie Sparkle into the room and said "Look what I can do!! But I think I might be dreaming because I'm not normally this flexible!" Frustratingly, dream Maddie replied, "Wow! No, you're not dreaming! This is real life! And that's a great cocoon!"
Thanks, dream Maddie.
I decided to take it up a notch. As I mentioned above, I have experimented with lucid dreaming supplements. After much research, I decided to try Galantamine. I was nervous because some of the reviews I had read stated that nightmares or sleep paralysis were possible side effects. Fortunately, I didn't have these issues, but I did experience mild nausea.
I went to bed at midnight. I woke at 4 or 5 am, and took 8 mg of Galantamine. I was excited and nervous. It took me a long time to fall back to sleep, and my sleep felt very light and fragmented. My dreams felt like I was half awake, half asleep. I dreamt that my friend Alison walked into my bedroom to have a chat with me, and I began to feel frustrated because I wanted to go back to sleep. In my dream I said to her, "You have to go because I've taken Galantamine and I need to go back to sleep so I can dream." When I awoke from this dream, I was confused because I thought I had been awake the whole time.
Later in the night, I dreamt I was at Pole Theatre World. Dreaming about pole competitions is a recurring dream for me, and so it is a dream sign. I dreamt that it was my turn to rehearse, and Stacey Snedden (Pole Theatre UK organiser) was calling my name but I didn't want to because I felt too nauseous from the Galantamine. In my dream, I was aware that I was feeling unwell because of the Galantamine, but I was not yet lucid. Eventually I decide I would rehearse my routine.
I dreamt that I was spinning very fast, very high up on the pole. I became afraid, because I was in an Icarina and I wasn't sure I could get out of it safely. Suddenly, I thought to myself very clearly, "This is a dream - you can do whatever you want!" And just like that, I turned lucid.
And what fun it was to pole dance in a lucid dream! Anyone who knows my dance style knows that I'm not much of a flipper. And yet, here I was in my lucid dream, flipping fearlessly and boldly, executing very risky moves with ease! It was so fun. I even worked out a way to transition seamlessly out of the Icarina into a crazy flip. A couple of times I almost lost my nerve when I thought I wouldn't be able to nail a move, but I kept reminding myself I was dreaming and that I could do anything. It was an incredible experience.
After pole dancing for a while, I got down off the pole. I remembered that a lot of the books and online posts I'd read had talked about dream sex, and about how you can summon any celebrity you have a crush on and have wild dream sex. I decided to give that a go. I left the stage to go in search of a celebrity. I walked down the hallway and said to myself, I will choose a door to walk through and I will see a celebrity I fancy. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't think of any celebrity I have a crush on, so I ended up wandering up and down the hallway aimlessly until I woke up.
I felt so excited that I had managed to lucid dream AND to pole dance!
I'm still only a beginner lucid dreamer. It's very frustrating when you're starting out, because often you come tantalisingly close to realising you're dreaming, but before you turn fully lucid, your dream brain creates some explanation to convince you that you're not actually dreaming, and you continue to dream in a non-lucid manner.
But after having had a few tastes of it, I'm excited to continue my lucid dream training and practice. Its so fun, and the potential for self-improvement and self-discovery is almost limitless. I'm looking forward to my next lucid dream pole training session!
I'd absolutely love to read about your lucid dream experiences, if you have had any! Please feel free to comment below with any of your dream adventures.
Michelle Shimmy xx