(Excerpted from my book Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams.)
The settings of dreams or the features in those settings sometimes symbolize your body. Settings can speak specifically to your body and its health, well being and development, to what it feels like to live inside it, to its needs, or to perceptions about body image.
Symbols for the body appear in dreams commonly as settings like buildings (especially houses, though keep in mind that houses can also symbolize the life you build up around you), landmarks or vehicles, or as landscape features like hills or trees, but sometimes the body is depicted directly. Grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, doctor’s offices and gyms are settings that can be used for communicating information about the body and its needs.
Instead of the entire body, dreams sometimes give symbols for specific areas. For example, a water slide can symbolize a throat, a fluid pump can symbolize a heart, and a balloon can symbolize a lung. Locations within dream settings give clues to the areas of the body illustrated. A roof or top floor can indicate the head area. The bowels can be symbolized by a basement or plumbing. Tributaries of a river or branches of a tree can represent arms or legs.
I interpreted a dream that symbolized a uterus and female sex organs as a four-sided building with an enclosed courtyard and underground tunnel leading into it. What really gave away the meaning was the parking attendant requiring the dreamer to put hot sauce on her tongue in order to enter the courtyard. The hot sauce symbolized a LEEP procedure where precancerous cells are burned off the cervix, something which the dreamer had experienced. The soft, moist flesh of the tongue is used as a symbol for the dreamer’s cervix.
Areas of the body pointed out by dreams can relate to specific areas of life. For example, a dream about being shot in the leg or foot might relate to something that hinders ability to move life forward. A wound on the arm or hand can symbolize something that hinders the ability to take action or to work. The throat can symbolize ability to speak your mind. The face can symbolize public persona or personal character, since faces are closely associated with identity.
Areas of the body and some ideas about what they (might) symbolize:
Feet: a foundation; movement in your life; willingness.
Legs: ability to make progress; “legs to stand on.”
Hips: balance; openness; destiny.
Stomach: gut instincts; digestion; where anxieties or fears are felt.
Back: something unseen, unaware or behind you; burdens; responsibilities.
Chest: pride; accomplishment; power; guilt.
Heart: compassion; love; hate; envy.
Arms: work; strength; self-defense; separation.
Wrist: need for action; connection; flexibility (applies to all joints).
Hands: turning thought into action; grip on something, as in “get a grip on yourself;” making money; unity.
Neck: speech; articulation; connection between the mind and body and between the head and heart.
Eyes: “seeing” something; looking at a subject or area of life; window to the soul.
Head: thinking processes; sense of direction.
Hair: thoughts; instincts; personality.
Teeth: anxieties, social perception, speech. (See this post at Reddit Dreams for more about teeth in dreams)
In dreams involving the body, I frequently find references to its care and health. Here is a dream with a message about the body’s health:
Saving a Dying Fish
I walk into a room in my house and see two dead fish in a fishbowl, and a third fish is barely alive. Something seems wrong with the water — it’s yellow. At the bottom of the bowl are chunks of fresh cucumber. I need an algaecide to clear the water, so I call my friend, who turns out to be nearby in the kitchen. He goes to the cupboard and eats something like red Jello, and I get frustrated because he is not helping me save the fish.
The symbol that makes the connection with the body is the fishbowl. It reminds me of a bladder or kidney, and suspect the yellow water indicates something out of balance, sickly, probably related to the urinary system. Seen this way, the cucumber makes sense because drinking water with cucumber chunks is a folk remedy for urinary issues. The dreamer reported feeling like she might have a urinary tract infection. The dream illustrates the problem in the yellow water and dead fish. Her friend’s action of eating red Jello seems absurd, but in the dream he acts out what is really needed: ingestion of something that cleanses the body. The setting inside of the house combined with the symbolism of the fish bowl says to me that the dream is taking a look inside the body.
The health of the body is a top priority for dreams, alongside the health of mind and spirit. Threats to health are often seen ahead of time and brought to life. Take this example:
I grab a soft drink from a refrigerator in the kitchen, drink from it and feel something strange in my mouth. I freak out when I reach in and pull out a black spider, and realize I’ve already swallowed others.
The kitchen setting relates to dietary choices, used in this case to warn graphically against drinking too much sugary, acidic beverage, which in quantity is venomous like spiders to the liver and digestive system.
Other dreams speak more to body image and perception than specifically to health, though dreams layer meaning on top of meaning, like this:
Bridget Jones Marathon at the Gym
I’m at the gym on the elliptical machine, like usual, and for some reason all of the TVs are showing a Bridget Jones movie marathon. One of the fitness trainers that works there walks by and remarks that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is on the TV in the free-weight area. He then remarks that Marilyn Monroe’s favorite exercise was shoulder presses with dumbbells.
When at the gym during waking life, the dreamer avoids the room with the dumbbells because she fears bulking up her muscles. In the dream, the gym setting is used to tell a story about her motivation for exercising. The “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” reference relates to this female’s perception that men prefer scrawny women. So she spends all of her workout time on the elliptical machines, symbolized by the Bridget Jones movie marathon. But her body wants a balanced exercise routine, and her dream chooses the trainer to deliver the message.
Monroe, an icon of feminine beauty, used dumbbells as a regular part of her exercise routine, and no one complained about her being overly muscled. The dreamer knows this fact about Monroe though doesn’t apply it to herself, and the dream uses it to layer the story with meaning. The gym setting is used to tell a story about her current exercise regime and how to improve it, while dealing with the underlying perceptions that drove her to focus on weight loss over strength training.
To read about more dreams related to body symbolism, see this dream about a leg amputated,
this dream about earwax,
this dream about false teeth,
this dream about drinking a spider from a soda can,
and this dream about pulling a hair from a foot.