Have you ever realized that you were dreaming while you were still dreaming? If so, you had a lucid dream. The ability to wake up and explore your dream world makes you an oneironaut (Oh-neer-o-not), a word derived from the Greek words oneiros meaning dream and nautes meaning sailor. About one in two people have experienced at least one lucid dream, while about one in four have them more frequently. Yet despite its ubiquity, our culture does not recognize the value of dreams and only in the last several decades has the mainstream medical establishment realized the importance of sleep in maintaining optimal health.

Tibetan Buddhists have taught for centuries the importance of your dream state. They discovered that sleep and dreams provide additional opportunities to practice mindfulness and can be used for spiritual purposes. Monks are trained in the art of controlling their dreams and can enter a profoundly deeper meditative state when they do so in their dreams than when they’re awake.

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping so why not capitalize on some of that time to enhance our physical and mental potentials? Top athletes, scientists, musicians, and artists have used this secret and their non-physical experiences to enhance their performances, practice new techniques, solve problems, compose, and create masterpieces. Specialized neurons in your brain called mirror neurons work to emulate the same responses in our brains when visualizing an action as they do when we perform that action, regardless of whether we are fully awake or in a dream state. In this way, we can train ourselves, practice skills, or try new things without actually physically doing them while reaping the benefits in our brains through the magic of neuroplasticity; neurons that fire together wire together. When you practice something in the dream state, it becomes easier in the waking state because new neural connections have been made and strengthened. You literally stretch your brain’s capacity! Sounds great but how can you train yourself to do this?

It is possible to practice techniques that will help induce lucidity. One of the easiest and most effective ways to program yourself to wake up in your dreams is to look at the palm of one of your hands and try poking the pointer finger of your other hand through it several times throughout the day. Of course, if you are awake your finger will be stopped by your hand and you may look silly doing this repeatedly. In the dream state, even though you are able to use your senses, the physical world does not exist so your finger will pass right through the palm of your hand. By doing this throughout your waking day, you program your subconscious to pick up on inconsistencies within your dreams to alert you that you are dreaming.

One night after practicing this technique, I dreamt I was sitting on a couch with my mother having a conversation. I suddenly remembered that my mother had been dead for some years and with that, I realized I was dreaming. My excitement over the ability to see and talk with her consciously, however, popped me out of lucidity. This is one of the problems with novice oneironauts. Seasoned practitioners recommend spinning around in circles or rubbing your hands together briskly upon first realizing that you are dreaming. This solidifies your conscious state by giving your brain stimuli – remember those mirror neurons. And then have a plan for your nocturnal explorations!

Once you wake up in your dream, you can completely control your experience. Want to fly? Simply jump up into the air and you will find yourself soaring. Want to ski down a mountain? Swim underwater? Travel to the planets? Speak a foreign language? Go ahead! If you can think it, you can do it. You are only as limited as your imagination so get creative and go for it!