Movements During Sleep
While we sleep and dream the brain produces full muscular impulses in connection with the movements we are making in the dream. Adrian Morrison at the University of Pennsylvania, investigating narcolepsy, a condition producing sleep in the middle of activity, found that a small area of the brain, the pons, suppresses full muscular movement while we dream. If this area is damaged or suppressed humans or animals make full muscular movements while they are asleep in connection with what is dreamt. He observed that cats would stalk, crouch and spring at imaginary prey. These very important findings suggest a number of things.
1 The unconscious process behind dreaming, apart from creating a non volitional fantasy in the dream, can also reproduce movements we have not consciously decided upon. This shows we have at least two centres of will which can direct body and mental processes. The waking will decides movements using voluntary muscles. The ‘dream will’ leads to spontaneous movements while we sleep and dream, but also while awake and passive in the sense described under the entry active/passive.
2 Christopher Evans, linking with the work of Nicholas Humphrey at Cambridge University, sees the movements of the dreaming cats as expressions of survival ‘programs’ in the biological computer. These programs or strategies for survival need to be replayed in order not only to keep in practice, but also to modify and improve them in connection with the influx of extra experience and information. In the human realm, our survival strategies and the way we relate to our social, sexual, marriage and work roles, may also be replayed and modified in our dreaming.
Such movements are not linked simply to survival or social ‘programs’. Important agendas in dreaming are a) releasing painful emotions or trauma, and b) moving toward psychological growth. Also, the process producing these movements does not keep strictly to the realm of sleep. It is observable that many muscular spasms, ticks, or unwilled waking movements, arise from this source – the ‘will’ of the unconscious or dream – attempting to release trauma or initiate a necessary program of psychological growth. That such ‘dream’ activities as spontaneous movement or spontaneous verbalisation should occur during waking would appear to suggest that a dream must occur with them. Research shows this is unlikely. It does however, show that a dream may be imagery produced to express this mental, muscular, emotional, ‘self regulation’. The imagery may not be necessary if the process is consciously experienced.
Because the self regulatory process produces spontaneous movements, emotions and verbalisation, it is likely there is a connection between it and many ancient religious practices such as Pentecostalism, Shaktipat in India, Subud in Indonesia, Qi Gong in China and Seitai in Japan. These are forms of psychotherapy practised by other cultures. They create an environment in which practitioners can allow spontaneous movement and fantasy while awake. Because consciousness is then involved, and can cooperate with the self regulating or healing activities of the unconscious, such practice can lead to better health and utilisation of unconscious functions. The older religious forms of this practice relied on belief systems of spirits or gods. Once the connection between these practices and the dream process is realised, much in them which was obscure becomes understandable. In my books Mind and Movement and Liberating The Body, I explain the connection between the dream process, self regulatory healing, extended perception and waking consciousness.
Robert Van de Castle quotes an example of this in his book Our Dreaming Mind. He describes a Gestalt dream workshop in which ‘Jean’ dreams she needs to make ‘fucking’ movements. As Jean is a very controlled person this is difficult. During her teens she learned to control her sexual feelings by tightening the muscles in her stomach, vagina and thighs, thus preventing the spontaneous expression of feelings which would have otherwise occurred. So in her dream she seeks a man who will make her obey him and have sex together. Then she would be able to let go of her guilt. In the workshop Jean is helped to let her body make these movements while awake. This released the flow of her pleasure and sociable good feelings.
Many people speak while asleep, or make movements others can observe. If such movement and vocalisation is allowed while awake, the process evident in dreams can become much more effective or efficient. A woman, W. who had learned to allow such waking spontaneous fantasy, vocalisation and movement says
‘My throat was permanently sore and red inside, sometimes it hurt a lot, other times not so much. There seemed to be no cure for it. Now the soreness and redness has gradually disappeared. This also I feel was a great tension area for me because I was afraid to speak my mind. Now if my throat feels sore and tight I realise my body is telling me I am withholding my speech. A lot of my painful throat tension was due to being very verbally suppressed as a child.
As I released my feelings in words through sessions of allowing the self regulatory process to express, this tension gradually drained away, and I was often led into singing and chanting quite clearly and strongly in sessions. I felt my throat to be much freer, and purer sound could come forth. I am not completely free in this area yet, but this will take time. My voice is already lower and more relaxed than it was.’
Dreams often attempt to break through such muscular or moral tensions. If they succeed, spontaneous movements occur. This enables the process of personal growth to be released, as well as the underlying tension its blockage produced. See: abreaction; compensation theory; healing and therapeutic action of dreams; night terrors; paralysis; science sleep