Somatic Dreamwork

Ever since my first exposure to it in a class called Dreams & the Body taught by Karen Jaenke, somatic dreamwork has become one of my methods of choice, both when doing my own dreamwork and when working with others.

Somatic dreamwork involves listening to your body, and specifically finding where dream images live in your body. According to the somatic dream theorists, dreams live in our bodies in much the same way memory is stored in our bodies. The dreams stay in our bodies until we unearth and work with them.

How does one connect the body and the dream? A great technique is focusing, developed by Eugene Gendlin, who wrote one of my favorite dream books Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams. Basically, the dreamer closes her eyes and focuses on her body while holding the dream or a specific dream image in mind. Usually within a few moments a body sensation or felt sense appears. It can feel like a stabbing pain, a murky unpleasantness, a warmth, tingling in the thigh...any number of sensations can appear.

After finding the felt sense, the dreamer stays with it as long as comfortable and tries to see what the sensation has to say. This can involve asking it a question or merely staying with it to see what comes up. In my experience, what the felt sense has to say surprises the dreamer and leads to an "a ha." Other times, the felt sense moves around like a slippery fish, trying to escape detection. Usually though, if the dreamer stays with it, she will gain insight into what the dream had to say through the body sensation.

While working with Karen in a recent session, she asked me to feel a specific dream character in my body. Immediately I felt nauseous, one of my least-favorite sensations. However, I tried to stay with the nausea. As I watched it and allowed it to be present, it began dissolving and eventually morphed into relief. Instead of pushing against the nausea, which had a specific message, I allowed it to appear and held it gently, listening to its message. After I received the message, it did not need to remain and it disappeared. This is important: often body symptoms have a great deal to teach us if we are willing to listen to their messages rather than pushing or medicating them away.

Remember my friend with the house dream? I used somatic dreamwork with her, asking her to feel where the house lived in her body. It turned out that the house was her body. This caused her great surprise and gave her a valuable message.

I recommend trying this the next time you have a dream you can't figure out. Choose the most potent image from the dream. Close your eyes and ask the question, "Where does this live in my body." Give it time to appear. Follow your body sensations...do you have a crick in your neck? A warmth in your leg? Any sensation you have is valid. Then stay with the sensation. Arnold Mindell would recommend amplifying the sensation, making it more intense in order to get its message. Then ask the sensation what it wants to tell you. Listen. If it moves, allow it to move and simply follow it with your attention. Patience and an openness to your body's messages are key.

I've found that these methods get past all the complicated work with symbols and archetypes. Don't get me wrong: I love work with symbols and archetypes, but sometimes I want to find the message of the dream in its pure and immediate form. And this method can be incredibly and deeply healing.



Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Are the sensations usually negative?

Katrina said...

Great question!

I hesitate to put a label like positive or negative on the sensations...they just are. They often manifest as some kind of dis-comfort in the body, a sign that something needs attention. In fact, I think that any time the body feels off-kilter it's a good time to ask it what it's trying to communicate. And if one wakes up from a dream with a particular sensation, the location of that sensation in the body is usually where the body is holding the dream.

Mainly I think the point is to recognize that these sensations are a message that the body is off balance and needs to be heard so balance can be restored.