How To Lucid Dream:
My Top Ten Techniques
By Andrew Holecek
Lucid dreaming is a world of tremendous potential, unrivaled in its transformative capacity. It’s full of such promise, but anything this revolutionary has to have a catch, and the catch, of course, is actually having these special dreams. It’s not always easy to dream lucidly. But in many years of teaching lucid dreaming, I can assure you that with the proper methods, and the jet fuel of strong motivation, anybody can have lucid dreams.
I have gathered for you my top ten induction methods. The point isn’t to master them all. The point is to find the one that works for you, then stick with that. We’re all different. Lucid dreaming induction is not a “one-size-fits-all” practice. And remember, lucidity is the point, not the technique that gets you there. If you have your own methods, just stick with those. But for many people it’s good to have options, and to zoom in on the ones that work for you.
Lucid dreaming is just like any other skill, like playing the piano, learning golf, or mastering a new language. It does take time and effort. A dose of humor goes a long way, along with an attitude of curiosity and openness. In the techniques that follow, I recommend you stick with one method for several weeks. You have to give it chance to work. If you hop around from one technique to another too quickly, nothing may work. If a technique isn’t working after a few weeks, then try another. Even if it’s spread across a number of methods, the effort accumulates. That’s the good news. Sooner or later your accumulated effort will push open the door to lucidity, and a new world will unfold before you.
The other good news is just by trying to have lucid dreams you’re starting to change your relationship to the dream world, and therefore your unconscious mind. You’re opening the street between your conscious and unconscious mind, where a flood of beneficial information can now begin to flow. So while it may not seem like anything is happening at first, whether you know it or not, something is happening.
It’s like heating up a big pot of cold water, where the cold water represents a lifetime of non-lucid dreams. You’re putting a lot of energy or “heat” into it, trying to have lucid dreams, but nothing seems to be happening. Then one day the water starts to boil. All that effort was heating up the pot of lucidity. So by merely trying, you’re getting warm. This is really important to understand, otherwise it’s easy to get discouraged. You’re heading toward the boiling point of lucidity just by trying, even if nothing seems to be happening. So the trick to lucidity is determination and dedication. As the Dalai Lama says of anything important: “Never give up!”
With lucid dreaming you’re learning a new language, the language of the night, and some perseverance is necessary. Believe me, it’s worth it. The time you invest in learning how to awaken in your dreams can have benefits beyond your imagination.
Technique #1: Belief
The ten techniques I’m going to present below are all powered, or catalyzed, by our beliefs. What we believe can either hold us back, or propel us forward. In medicine, belief is the basis of the nearly miraculous power of the placebo effect, which is really a “belief effect.”
Just by believing in a medicine, the medicinal effect can be delivered, even though it’s a sugar pill (the placebo). The following techniques are not sugar pills, they’re real medicine, and they work. But belief can supercharge their effects.
In the world of lucid dreaming, we replace the popular saying “I’ll believe it when I see it” with “I’ll see it when I believe it.” Perhaps the biggest reason we don’t have lucid dreams is we don’t believe in the importance of dreaming, let alone lucid dreaming. “It’s just a dream” is a dismissive comment, after all. We’re simply not trained to honor our dreams, and to realize that an amazing world is waiting for us in the stillness of the night.
Believing in our dreams, and the transformative potential of lucid dreaming, creates a fertile field –- a “field of dreams” — where the induction techniques can take root. Belief is therefore the first of ten super techniques, which together generate the field of lucid dreaming. Without this cultivated field, the specific induction techniques are like seeds falling on frozen dirt. Nothing grows. The mind is too iced-up and solid. That’s why I’m spending time farming, fertilizing, and warming up this field with these preparatory comments. When the following techniques are planted in a fruitful field, lucidity naturally flowers. Lots of lucid dreaming programs have tons of hip techniques, but few results. It’s because the techniques are falling on icy ground, or an unprepared mind.
So believing in your dreams, and that you can have lucid dreams, is our first super technique. It helps create this magical field of dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” Believe me, I guarantee it: if you create the proper field or environment for lucidity, lucid dreams will naturally come. This is why people who want the quick fix, and expect lucid dreams right away, are often disappointed. Yes, expectation is important, and is part of a good field of dreams, but it has to be balanced. If you’re too ambitious, and therefore impatient, it’s easy to get discouraged. Be realistic, understand what’s required, and cultivate the thermonuclear power of believing in your dreams, and that you can have lucid dreams.
Technique #2: Intention
The second technique is intention. Intention is something that is cultivated by the conscious mind during the day, but that stretches deep into the unconscious mind to act as a “pop-up” within your dreams. With strong intent, you will discover “pop-ups” appearing in your non-lucid dreams that will clue you into the fact that you’re dreaming, and immediately flip a non-lucid dream into a lucid one. It’s simple. In fact, this simplicity is partly why we don’t believe it can work. But it works exactly the same as setting the intent before you go to sleep that you absolutely positively must wake up at 3:00 am to catch a flight, and you usually will wake up at that set time. Setting this strong intent is almost as good as setting a literal alarm.
So to set this internal alarm for lucidity, say to yourself throughout the day, especially when you lie down to sleep: “Tonight I’m going to have many dreams; I’m going to remember my dreams; I’m going to wake up within my dreams.” Don’t just think it. Say it out loud. Write it down. And really mean it. One Tibetan dream yoga master told me to recite it like a mantra, twenty-one times during the day, then seven times when lying down to sleep.
Technique #3: Meditation
What I’m trying to do with these techniques is to show you how to have lucid dreams, and just as importantly, to show you why you don’t naturally have them. If you understand the thinking behind these techniques, you will empower them – because you’ll believe in them. That’s why I’m taking a few minutes to explain them. They won’t carry as much power if you don’t believe in them, or understand why they work. Once again, your beliefs, as harbored in the power of your unconscious mind, can either propel you forward into the world of lucid dreams, or hold you back.
If you engage in these techniques, no non-lucid dream can withstand their accumulated force. The third technique is meditation, or the daily practice of lucidity. One big reason we’re not lucid to our dreams at night is because we’re not lucid to the contents of our mind right now. What is found then is found now. Or more accurately, what is not found then is not found now. We’re not aware of, or non-lucid to, around 98% of what occurs in our mind. It’s no wonder we’re non-lucid to our dreams!
For those who like logic: dreams are to dreaming consciousness as thoughts are to waking consciousness. So if we become lucid to our thoughts during the day, we will naturally become more lucid to our dreams at night – because it’s the same mind, the same consciousness, at work. (To substantiate this claim, the esteemed dream scientist Stephen LaBerge proclaims that waking consciousness is dreaming consciousness with sensory constraints; dreaming consciousness is waking consciousness without sensory constraints. The point: it’s the same underlying mind, the same consciousness, at work, day or night.)
Just look at your mind. Most of what takes place in your mind takes place without your awareness, or lucidity. You have a constant undercurrent of subconscious thought that streams by non-lucidly, and this is precisely why you have a constant current of non-lucid dreams. So the practice of meditation is truly the practice of lucidity. This is why many studies have shown that meditators have more lucid dreams. It makes total sense. This practice is so central to lucidity that I’m including a complete set of instructions from my book, Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep, to guide you through it. [See the “Appendix” below.]
Meditation masters are lucidity masters, and virtually all their dreams are lucid. You can join this elite club of lucid dreamers by developing a lucid relationship to the contents of your mind now through the art of meditation.
Technique #4: Illusory Form
Another technique comes from the world of Tibetan Buddhism, where lucid dreaming and dream yoga have been practiced for thousands of years. They got this lucid dreaming stuff down. For the Tibetans, the main daily induction practice, outside of meditation, is the practice of Illusory Form. It’s a really simple practice: throughout the day, as often as you can, constantly remind yourself that everything you’re experiencing now is just a dream, or illusory.
I’ve got sticky notes posted in drawers, on my computer, where my toothbrush is etc. that say, “You’re dreaming,” or “This is a dream,” or my favorite, “Be a child of illusion.” There are deep philosophical reasons for doing this that are beyond our scope, the idea for us here is that by reciting this as often as you can you’re planting seeds that will sprout while you’re dreaming. And then you will flash onto the fact that “Hey, this really is a dream!” and instantly become lucid. It’s the pop-up theme again. You want to create a bunch of pop-ups during the day that will ping into your dream and alert you to the fact that you’re dreaming.
Technique #5: Wake and Back to Bed
The “wake and back to bed” method has been shown to increase your chances of lucidity by up to 2000%. This is because it takes full advantage of primetime dreamtime, which starts around two hours before you normally get up. So for this technique, set your alarm to go off two to three hours before you would normally get up. Stay up for 20-40 minutes, then go back to bed. You can meditate, read about lucid dreaming, or just stay up in a relaxed manner. But don’t go to your computer, check your email or texts, or watch TV. You don’t want to get pulled too much into waking consciousness, and then not be able to drop back to sleep.
I’ve had terrific results with this technique. You can play with it, and see what works for you. Again, we’re all different, there is no “one-size-fits-all” technique. Maybe getting up earlier and staying up longer works for you. Maybe getting up later and staying up shorter works. Don’t be afraid to explore, and trust your experience.
Technique #6: MILD Technique
This technique was developed by Stephen LaBerge, the father of Western lucid dreaming. With it he was able to have lucid dreams at will. See if it works for you. It’s called the MILD technique, or the mnemonic induction of lucid dreams. This technique is something you use when you wake up during the night, and can play with as you fall back asleep. There are four steps to the MILD technique.
First, when you wake up from a dream in the middle of the night, or in the morning, keep your eyes closed and go over the dream several times until you have it memorized. It’s easy to do. Just hit the re-wind button of your mind and recapture the dream. Then go over it a few times, kind of burning it into your hard drive.
Secondly, while lying in bed with the intent to fall back asleep, say to yourself, “Next time I’m dreaming, I want to remember to recognize I’m dreaming.” Say something like this over and over, which of course is planting the seed for lucidity, and rebooting your intention.
Thirdly, visualize yourself as being back in the dream you just rehashed. Only this time, see yourself realizing that you are, in fact, dreaming. See yourself in the dream you just memorized, but now see yourself as lucid in that dream.
Fourth, Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you feel your intention is clearly fixed or you fall asleep.
Technique #7: Sleeping Lion Posture
The next three techniques comes from the East, and are based on the subtle body system of channels, the winds that flow through them (lung, prana), the “drops of consciousness” (bindu, thigle) that are carried by these winds, and the chakras or energy distribution centers where the drops gather. According to Tibetan Buddhism, the subtle dreaming mind is supported by a subtle body, and by targeting this subtle body we can induce lucidity. Before I came across the Western techniques presented above, I relied solely on these Eastern methods with great results. Once again, see if they work for you.
With our first Eastern technique you assume the “Sleeping Lion posture,” which is the posture the Buddha took when he died, but which is also highly conducive to lucid dreams. It’s really easy: you lie down on your right side with your legs slightly bent, rest your left arm on top of your left side, and (if it works for you) block off your right nostril by closing your right into a fist and resting it up against your nose. By assuming this posture, you’re closing off the extroverted “masculine” winds that tend to keep you up, and simultaneously opening up the introverted “feminine” winds that are more conducive to lucid sleep. It’s part of the family of “inner yogas” that work with the inner subtle body. For those with a connection to yoga, this may be for you.
Once you assume this posture, you can add technique #9 below, or simply hit the refresh button on your intention by saying: “Tonight I’m going to have many dreams; Tonight I’m going to remember my dreams; Tonight I’m going to become lucid in my dreams.” In other words, the Sleeping Lion Posture works by itself, or can be used as a foundation to do other induction practices.
Technique #8: Sitting Lion Pose
This inner yoga technique comes from the Hindu Kriya Yoga tradition, and the first time I tried it I did indeed have a lucid dream that night. It’s called the simha, or Sitting Lion Pose (what is it about lions and lucid dreams!?). With this technique you kneel down and sit back on your calves, either with your feet pointed back, or if that’s too uncomfortable, with your toes curled under. Stretch your arms out straight and place your hands in a fist on top of your knees. Keep your back straight. It’s like a proud and fearless lion sitting on its haunches.
Now take a deep breath, tip your head back slowly, and roar like a lion. (The “Lions Roar” is often used as an image for the proud and fearless proclamation of the truth, or dharma.) As you roar, open your fists and splay out your fingers. Do this three or seven times. According to the inner yogas, when we’re dreaming, the drops of consciousness are gathered in the throat chakra. By tipping your head back, exposing your throat, and roaring, you’re stimulating this dream chakra. It works for me. You may want to tell your family that you’re doing this one in advance of doing it!
Technique #9: Red Pearl Visualization
With this technique, which can be done while lying down normally or in the Sleeping Lion Posture, you visualize either a red pearl or the red letters AH at your throat. In the inner yoga systems, each chakra is associated with a “frequency,” or sound and color. The dreaming throat chakra is “red” and its sound is “AH.” According to Tibetan Buddhism, where the mind goes with a body visualization, the winds go; where the winds go the bindus go; and where the bindus go so goes consciousness.
Right now, while awake, the bindus are gathered in the head chakra. When we fall asleep, we literally unwind, or “un-wind.” As we unwind, the bindus drop from the head to the heart, which is where consciousness rests in deep dreamless sleep. When we dream, the bindus are gently blown up from the heart and into the throat. This process happens naturally, and usually unconsciously, or non-lucidly. (I have no proof for this, but I believe this may be one reason why we have so many flying dreams, because the inner winds that lift us out of dreamless sleep then continue to lift us into dream flight.)
With this technique, you can direct this process to happen lucidly, or under your conscious control. Dream yoga masters can become so adept at this movement of consciousness (the bindus) that they can go from waking to dreaming within seconds. It’s due to the power of their visualization, and their ability to control the movement of these drops of consciousness. This technique is part of a family of practices LaBerge calls WILD, or “waking induced lucid dreaming.” And it really is kinda wild. I use this one every single night.
Technique #10: Galantamine & Dream Masks
This final technique is actually a small grouping of supplemental methods from the West that I have found extremely helpful. It’s in the “tips and tricks” category. The first tip is using galantamine, a substance that has been used for thousands of years for the enhancement of memory, and more recently for having longer and clearer dreams. When we’re dreaming, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine is in high concentration in the brain. galantamine inhibits the breakdown of this neurotransmitter, which keeps it in your brain longer, which results in longer and clearer dreams. I’ve had fantastic results with this.
The best way to use it is to take 4-8 mg, (one or two caps) about six hours after you go to sleep, which just like the “wake and back to bed” method takes full advantage of primetime dreamtime. If you add galantamine to this wake and back to bed method, you’ve added serious octane to lucidity. I don’t recommend using it often, but every now and again it can really jump start your lucid dreams. Some purists argue against its use, and I would certainly argue against regular use, but as an occasional boost it really works.
The other supplemental method is to use a dream mask. There are many these days, the Nova Dreamer, Remee, and even online instructions for how to build your own. Stephen LaBerge came up with the original idea, which is based on the fact that when you’re dreaming, you’re in REM sleep, or “Rapid Eye Movement” sleep. A sensor in the dream mask detects the eye movement, and triggers a soft light to turn on and off. You train yourself to associate this pulsing light as a dream sign, which means that you’ll notice something like a car in your dream pumping its brake lights, or a street light flashing, and that will remind you “Hey, I must be dreaming!” It’s a very clever device with a number of variations (sometimes the clue might be auditory instead of visual). I’ve had good results with it, but others find it a bit cumbersome. Again, see if it works.
So these are my top ten methods. Play with them. Explore. But mostly, have fun. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it. A standard instruction for lucid dreaming is “not too tight, not too loose.” If you’re too tight, you’ll tie yourself into knots trying to hard and won’t fall asleep. If you’re loose, you probably won’t have lucid dreams. Learning proper lucid induction methods, and how to apply them, is like tuning a guitar. Tune it too tight and the string snaps; don’t tune it enough, and you get a soggy sound. With some practice, patience, and a big dose of humor, you’ll find yourself making beautiful night music.
Stick with it. Don’t give up. That’s the secret ingredient. Advanced practitioners never give up – that’s what makes them advance (and advanced). It’s totally worth the trouble. Lucid dreaming can wake you up not only to your dreams, but to your entire life.
It’s always best to learn meditation from an instructor, but you can teach yourself the basics from a book. There are many resources and meditation centers where you can get detailed instruction. In this section I will provide the basics.
There are three phases to the instruction: body, breath, and mind. These three phases interpenetrate and therefore support each outer. Together they create a stable tripod that reinforces lucidity. The first phase is about posture. It is taught that simply by taking the proper posture, sooner or later you will find yourself meditating. An attentive posture invokes an attentive quality of mind. The posture itself is supported by an attitude (or mental posture) of dignity, nobility, even regality, so right away we see how these three phases support each other.
Sit in the middle of your meditation cushion, or a chair. If you’re sitting on a chair don’t lean against the back. Cross your legs if you’re on a cushion, or plant your feet squarely on the ground if you’re on a chair. Feel your connection to the stability of the earth. Rest your hands on top of your thighs and keep your back firm, but not stiff. A stable back represents the quality of fearlessness, but it’s balanced with an open and receptive front, which represents gentleness. Pull your shoulders back and expose your heart, which is perhaps the central instruction with posture. All the other aspects hinge around opening your heart.
Align your head above your spine. Rest your tongue on the back of your upper teeth, and part your lips as if you are whispering “ah.” Later we’ll discuss how to extend this practice into a lying down posture, which is when we’ll close our eyes, but for now it’s best to practice lucidity with your eyes open. Keep your gaze down at a point about six feet in front, but don’t focus on anything. Let your visual field be open and receptive, like your mind and heart.
The stillness of your posture creates a new contrast medium that allows you to see (become lucid to) the contents of your mind. When you’re always moving it’s harder to see the movement of your mind, which is what thoughts fundamentally are.
Physical movement is like camouflage. It decreases the contrast that would otherwise allow you to detect the movement of your mind. Sit still and your thoughts are suddenly flushed out of hiding. This is why many meditators complain that meditation seems to increase thoughts. It doesn’t. It simply makes them more visible, and therefore allows you to become lucid to them.
There is wisdom in connecting to your body, which can eventually connect you to your Clear Light Mind. The philosopher Drew Leder writes, “Almost all spiritual traditions use posture and gesture as a means whereby we enter into relation with the divine. This body’s roots reach down into the soil of an organismic vitality where the conscious mind cannot follow.” The body is a direct link to reality, which the psyche cannot take you to. Relating to the body is not merely simple minded. It’s “trans-minded.” It leads you beyond the conceptual mind and to the truth within.
Deception cannot follow you into your body. At a relative level this doctrine is the basis for lie detectors, which detect subtle changes in the unconscious body while the conscious mind is chattering away. Consciously you can lie, unconsciously you cannot. You (the psyche) may be speaking your truth, but your body speaks another. And remember, the practices of the night are about going deep into the mind, which means going deep into the body. This is why the body phase of meditation is so important. In many ways it’s both the ground and the fruition of the path. “Waking up” is a synonym for enlightenment, but it’s just as valid to talk about “waking down” – into the wisdom and truth of the body. Phase one of the technique invites that awakening. The great Longchenpa said, “Supreme primordial wisdom abides in the body.” Sri Aurobindo echoed this when he said, “The work of transformation is about the descent of spirit into the flesh. Embodiment more than transcendence.”
With this view of the importance of body, let’s return to the technique. Once posture is established, bring your attention to the natural movement of your breath. Don’t visualize it or think about it. Feel it. Let your awareness ride the medium of your breath. That’s it for phase two. With these two phases you’re sitting and breathing, but you’re doing so with full presence.
For phase three, whenever anything distracts you – a thought, emotion, image, regret, anticipation – mentally say to yourself “thinking” and return to your breath (in the Tibetan view “thought” includes emotion). The label “thinking” is gentle but precise, like popping a bubble with a feather. It’s just an act of recognition that you’ve strayed. It is not a reprimand. Thoughts aren’t bad. You’re not trying to get rid of them. You’re simply recognizing how thoughts steal your awareness from the present moment, and coming back to the moment by returning to your body and your breath.
Detailed instructions and resources can be found in my book, Meditation in the iGeneration; How to Meditate in a World of Speed and Stress. www.meditationintheigeneration.com.
2. The Absent Body, by Drew Leder, University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 173.
3. Scientist Candace Pert asserts that your body is your subconscious mind, which resonates with the fact that the body cannot lie. Science writer Tors Norretranders says, “An individual who is one with one’s body cannot lie — as children know very well. . . . It is also said to be very difficult to lie in the sign language used by the deaf.” (The User Illusion; Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, by Tors Norretranders, Viking, New York, 1991, p. 154, 429.) Body language is a truer language.
Page One: Bruce Rolff
Page Three: Carlos Castilla
Page Five: agsandrew
Page Six: Anna Libori / Eyeem Page Seven: Julien Tromeur
Page Eight: Igor Stevanovic
Page Nine: Paul Fleet
Page Ten: Bruce Rolff
Page Eleven: Theera Disayarat Page Twelve: Cindy Wilson
Page Thirteen: Opalev Vyacheslav Page Fourteen: Emilie Zhang Page Fifteen: Natalia Maroz