Imagine this: You have suffered a major accident and broken your spinal cord. You are completely bedridden and the doctor says that even after you recover, you may have difficulty doing simple tasks like carrying a heavy plate or bending. What if your dreams came to your rescue when all of medicine threw up its hands in failure? What if you could recuperate by just dreaming of yourself doing these actions comfortably? What if you could build your back and make it stronger – just by dreaming? No, this is not magic, nor is it a claim made by a bogus baba. This real life inception-like phenomenon is called lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is when a person becomes aware that he is dreaming. It could happen unintentionally when a person notices something strange in a dream that wouldn’t happen in real life, or he can intentionally ‘lucid dream’. The word ‘lucid’ simply means clear, but there is much more to it than just having a dream, which seems very real. When a person becomes aware that he is dreaming, he can control his dream and do what he could never do in real time, like taste fire or fly to the sun! Being able to so drastically change the course of your dreams however requires much practice.
“Typically I would say one requires 8 classes before someone is ready to lucid dream” says Venky, the trainer and organiser of Bangalore Lucid Dreaming Awareness Meetup, a forum of almost 600 ‘dream walkers’, as they like to be called. Venky had his first lucid dream in 2009 accidentally and since then, there has been no looking back. During their meetings that happen once a month, Venky guides others and helps them achieve the ability to ‘lucid dream’ through certain routines like maintaining a dream journal and doing reality checks.
While living out your favourite fantasies is fascinating, lucid dreaming also has some real time perks. It helps improve memory and overcome fears or phobias. Lucid dream imagery can be used to recover from injuries and illnesses too. “It has the potential to accentuate the recuperation process,” agrees Venky.
Members of the Dream Walkers' Forum in Bengaluru
Psychiatrist and sleep specialist, Dr Mohan Sunil Kumar, though doesn’t prescribe lucid dreaming as a therapeutic module, explains why it could be true that it helps in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “In PTSD what happens is people have bad dreams. So if you are possibly controlling your dreams to some extent, you are trying to remove the fearful component of the dream and voluntarily substitute it with something else that you want to see” says Dr. Mohan.
Venky states an example of how he used lucid dreaming to remember his long forgotten ATM pin. “I enter the ATM room and the kiosk’s screen is rotating 360 degrees. It was literally spinning. So I try to hold the screen with my hands and insert what seems to be an empty cardholder into the slot and it gives me access. It was then that I realised that I was actually dreaming. The moment I became lucid, I realised why I was in the ATM. The reason I had created this scene in my head was because I had forgotten my pin and my subconscious mind wanted to communicate to the conscious mind. Now that I’ve seen the pin in my dream, at that moment I wake up and immediately note down the pin that I punched in. I key in this pin the next morning when I am awake and it gave me my money,” narrated Venky. He also claims that lucid dreaming has helped people suffering from stage 1 Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
All its benefits make people wonder about the flip side. Dr Mohan Sunil gives his views on the other side of the debate and calls lucid dreaming a ‘pseudo-science’.
“It can be classified as a science if it can be replicated more and more easily in everybody. If you are not able to replicate it or till you are able to replicate it, it will be known as soft psychology or a pseudo-science,” he says. The reason, he says, is that these are very abstract areas and it is very difficult to clearly objectify everybody’s experience. Even though he says that it is too early to say to a patient, “ok, you do lucid dreaming and you will be cured”, he is happy that centres like lucidity institutes are taking it up as a science.
“I would like to wait for more evidence. Let them prove it more objectively. Maybe as years go by it will become a proven science,” he says.
As captivating as it sounds, lucid dreaming has been mired in murky waters.
The Kannada film Lucia features the protagonist sending himself into a comatose state because of a ‘dream pill’ that he takes every night before he goes to bed. This pill called Lucia enables him to ‘lucid dream’ and live lavishly with people from his real life, appearing as different characters in his dreams. In the film, there is a sequence where a doctor explains to the detective that lucid dreaming is not dangerous, as long as it is done without these pills.
Lucid-dreaming pills on Amazon
Unfortunately or not, there are real versions of Lucia like dreamleaf that are sold online, even on Amazon. Some of them claim to be FDA approved but neither the passionate Venky nor Dr. Mohan approve of them.
“If I start asking my students to take these pills I will be making them drug addicts and not giving them a beautiful experience,” says Venky. The ultimate benefit of lucid dreaming is that while you are in waking reality, it gives you a completely new sense of the world and you will appreciate it much better. Dr. Mohan agrees that if lucid dreaming is helping somebody, it is great because that is the aim of psychiatrists or any doctor. “But messing with one’s sleep cycle and stages of alertness or consciousness with supplements such as these isn’t advisable at all,” he says.