During my occasional lucid dreams, I often attempt aerial gymnastics: spinning, twisting and somersaulting while skimming and bouncing on a cushion of dream air a foot off the ground. Over time, I have become skilled and quite ready for the floor exercise at the lucid Olympics.

Still, while these dream-body movements are exhilarating, as a dream scientist I am equally interested in the real-body states, the covert muscle activity, accompanying these oneiric acrobatics. 

Though I have not yet examined my own dream calisthenics, in 2016 I performed an experiment on a subject using electromyography (EMG). Dream motor behavior exhibits muscle potentials that, though reduced in REM sleep, are often detectable by EMG sensors placed on muscles used in dream-body movements. In this experiment, I placed sensors on the leg and chin of a female subject. My goal was to attempt a guess as to the nature of the body movements in the subject’s lucid dream before she reported her dream as written in her session journal.

After reviewing the EMG data from the REM session which showed chin (speech) and quick, jerky leg activity, I told the subject that my best estimate was a dream of swimming with friends or dancing, or something close to that. She then reported that she was at a dance under the stars and had “grabbed” a nice-looking man, said “Let’s dance” and began moving with him. It was heavenly, she said.

“It looked a bit jerky,” I told her. “What kind of dance were you doing?” 

She laughed and answered, “A waltz, but he could not follow. He was handsome, but a terrible dancer.”

While something may be discussed at this point on the coordination and dexterity of other dream characters, the more useful lesson here (in lucid dreams as well as life), may be the one my grandmother always told when reminiscing on her youthful square dancing: “Be careful,” she would say. “Them good lookin’ ones ain't worth a lick when it comes to dancin’.”

This article was released in issue from

September 2021

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