Water in dreams often connotes the strongest emotions. But your dream of breathing underwater could also have different meanings depending on the context.
You have to make sure that breathing under water is the main focus of your dream. Many dreamers find themselves in dreams involving large bodies of water. When taken out of context, most of these dreamers wake up from their dreams and end up misinterpreting the messages their subconscious minds sent them.
But if this becomes a recurring dream for you, that’s when you know you should start paying attention.
Swimming or breathing under water is generally not a bad underwater experience. A lot of people would even say that if you’re in the middle of a stormy sea, you’ll find that it’s not nearly as bad underwater as it is at the surface.
This is why many dreamers find underwater dreams to be exciting. These dreamers discover that they’re are able to enter a whole other world in their dreams where they feel like they can physically escape real life.
If you find yourself in such a dream, and you wake up feeling refreshed or rejuvenated, it’s easy to see how this is mostly an amazing dream. When your dream concludes, you might even find yourself aching for more.
When you’re breathing under water swimming forward smoothly, you have things under control. While there may be pending danger in the form of unseen sea creatures or maybe a huge unexpected torrent, things are still going well.
Drowning images, on the other hand, are harsher and more vivid. Even when a dreamer “survives” this type of dream image and wakes up to the real world, it can leave an emotional, mental, or psychological scar.
Still, these dream symbols don’t necessarily predict a certain reality in your life. Just because you see yourself drowning or unable to breathe underwater doesn’t mean that this is going to play out in real life soon.
Look at the other details of your dream. Is there an unseen person with you in the dream? Were you using a snorkel or diving apparatus? What kind of breathing apparatus did you use in your dream so that you were able to breathe underwater?
At the same time, this equipment is not just intended for you to be able to breathe. That’s the most important part, but that’s not the complete picture. A lot of people use this type of equipment and other gear so that they can get a better view of the sea life or even the ocean floor.
What impression do you get from this recurring dream? These are important questions because many dreamers fail to pay attention to details in their dreams and end up misinterpreting their dream meanings.
Ultimately, your subconscious mind may be telling you something about the physical majesty and mystery of the natural world using this type of dream analogy. You have to be fully committed to the dream interpretation to know the extent of the message you’re getting.
Consider any equipment that gives you the physical ability of breathing underwater as gateways or tools that you need to access that part of yourself that’s connected to the unexplained and the mysterious: the dark corners of your psyche.
Your mind’s connection with nature can take different forms and focus on a number of levels. Sometimes, it manifests itself in a dream.
Usually, when we think of Mother Nature, we imagine great outdoor vistas from amazing, glass-like, flat, desert dune surfaces all the way to green, lush, tropical forests enveloped in misty fog—and imagery somewhere in between.
But there’s a lot more to it. Mother Nature also works in terms of rhythms, patterns, and cycles. A lot of these can only be made sense of through our lived experience.
General Dream Interpretation of Water Imagery in the Waking Life
The common interpretations of water in our dreams speak to the full range of meanings involving Mother Nature. The most common expression and expectation of Mother Nature is something that takes place outside of our bodies: trees, plants, sea life, and more.
The sea itself is no exception with its equal parts majesty and mystery. Whether it’s flat like a glass surface or roiling over in turmoil, it’s just as breathtaking as a vision of an unbounded landscape of sand.
All this tumult on this ocean surface does little to reveal just how deep, mysterious, and powerful the ocean is. When you look at the surface, you only see part of the equation—much like the human mind. Almost everything underneath is left only to your imagination or dream.
A lot of things that you’re aware of in your waking life are at the surface: things that are easy to trace or impressions that can be quickly tied to other things that you perceive on a day-to-day basis.
But the ocean—and our minds and dream world—is bigger than that.
If we dive deep into the ocean, there’s less and less light and a deeper sense of calm. Pretty soon, there’s no light. This is the spot where a dreamer releases their true emotions and achieves greater levels of serenity and solitude.
This might sound great in writing, but this is precisely the kind of inner exploration that a lot of people are scared of. There are many areas of their lives that they don’t want to touch.
It seems more manageable to focus on the things and issues that we can wrap our heads around. Past trauma, abuse, abandonment, and betrayal—believe it or not, these are easier to make sense of than the deep and profound mystery of how our mind shapes and interprets the reality that we live out on a day-to-day basis.
Water dream images symbolize not just the impact of and our connections to Mother Nature as we commonly imagine it, but it also stands as an umbilical cord—an unbreakable connection—to our subconscious.
These are the things that are hard to explain but still remain. You can hear it, and you can definitely sense the heat of its breath. But your eyes often deceive you, and your pride stands in the way.
It’s almost these mental riddles that don’t make sense that really give life its vibrancy and urgency. It seems so random. But this is what we need to look at when we study water dream symbology.
Water symbolizes a lot of things besides what is comfortable, limited, and measurable. This includes processes and cycles like life, birth, death, decay, and renewal.
When we look at the carbon, the nitrogen, and the heat cycles of the Earth, we can’t help but stand in awe of Mother Nature because there are so many things going on. A lot of these things blow away our ability to comprehend them.
Just like fire cannot be intimidated, or water be made to feel guilty, Mother Nature is powerful, immense, and infinite.
And here’s the kicker: the things that you see in terms of physical manifestations outside pale in comparison to the work of nature within you.
Water represents emotion and the subconscious mind. Water represents this emotional connection that goes through periods of turbulence, calm, emptiness, and evaporation. Then, given enough time, a renewal of the cycle eventually takes place.
Any attempt at dream interpretation for breathing underwater images has to take stock of these fundamental elements of water.
Water reveals the first emotion that we encounter. When you were born, your mother broke water. When you were conceived, you spent nine months in an underwater environment.
Most of our existence as a species involves water. Our bodies are more than 80% water. Water is also a necessity in our daily life. It’s something we cannot physically escape.
Weaving through all of these are the strong emotions that water brings to the table: fear, uncertainty, and discomfort. It’s as if we’re never really fully settled—much like a glass of water being carried from place to place.
We can make all sorts of arrangements, travel a certain route, plan things ahead, buy special pieces of equipment—the whole nine yards. But everything has a limit.
At the end of the day, you’re still looking at water with all its instability, promise, and potential. That’s what makes it so exciting and powerful. The possibilities are endless, while it’s also in danger of spilling.
When you dream of a large body of water, it’s very easy to get lost. That initial dream image of swimming under the water surface, diving deeper and deeper as air bubbles escape from your mouth, slowly yields to a sense of powerlessness.
As you swim dive deeper into the water, the lights change on the bottom as the surface reflects the light of the sun differently. Now, it almost has a slow and calming feeling similar to that of spiritual discovery.
But when the oxygen cuts out in your dream, or you feel some strong tug in the water, all that initial sense of stability and control go away quickly. You start thrashing in the water. You start paddling because you’re no longer feeling the oxygen flow through your lungs.
Make no mistake; when you dream of yourself breathing underwater, don’t let that sense of initial control get the better of you. Don’t automatically assume that once you see this tranquil dream image, where you’re smoothly gliding under the water’s weight and surface, that what you’re seeing is just that.
Water represents our emotions in the waking life. When you find yourself in a large body of water in your dream image or, worse, trapped in some flood-like scenario, the threat of drowning is always present.
These are precisely the kinds of dreams that your subconscious would send you if it’s telling you something about your real nature. Other dreams may come close, but a dream involving water—one of the most fundamental elements of nature—is unmatched.
Maybe there’s some insecurity that you have. Maybe it’s a secret that you think nobody else knows. Whatever it is, it starts to bubble to the surface.
Pretty soon, your subconscious turbulence, in light of other things that are happening in your daily life, might disturb the floor of your mental ocean. The things that you thought were safely buried, hidden, or “taken care of” start to take a life of their own.
This reflects the fact that your psyche is turning. The kind of control that you felt before—in terms of memory and the ability to cope and move on—is in for a little bit of testing.
Maybe it’s due to past childhood trauma. Maybe it’s some coping mechanism that enables us to put one foot in front of another in a tough relationship or a nasty job that we had. Whatever the case may be, our experiences have somehow tweaked, redirected, misshapen, distorted, and perverted how we deal with our emotions.
When this water imagery becomes a recurring dream—much like bubbles coming from something hidden or dropped in the depths of the ocean—there’s an inner conflict there.
Ultimately, the things that you’re ashamed of or running away from will only grow in power. They will start making demands of you. Before you know it, you start bending over backward and contorting your mental and spiritual state until you can’t even recognize yourself.
A lot of this water imagery reflects this disconnect or dissonance involving who you really are, what you’ve really lived through, what you choose to see.
Sadly, for most of us, there’s often a big disconnect. If we are completely honest, there are a lot of things that we could’ve made peace with in the past that will no longer have a hold on us. It would’ve enabled us to forgive and, ultimately, move on.
Keep these motifs in mind when thinking about and making sense of the common dreams about water and drowning below.
Common Dream Interpretation About Being Able to Breathe Underwater
To dream of drowning in any body of water means that you’re drowning in your emotions. It also means that you feel that any sense of control over your emotional life is slipping away, and it bothers you.
Maybe you’ve put up appearances for all this time that you’re not a worrisome person but one who’s well put-together. Maybe you’re trying to live up to the expectations your parents or your friends have of you.
But it seems that the emotional turbulence that you’re feeling deep down inside that may be triggered by something that you experienced recently is enough to cause this instability. If you’re not careful, it’s going to bubble over into your waking life, and there may have to be a confrontation.
The key to you, a dreamer, overcoming this sense of drowning is being honest with what happened and what you’re feeling.
You don’t have to be somebody else. You don’t have to impress people around you. It’s completely fine to take ownership of what you really feel. It’s yours. They don’t have a right to judge you.
Dreams where you’re able to breathe underwater mean that you’re trying to fight your inner demons.
The term “inner demons” can mean mental tendencies when dealing with stress, conflict, or other personal issues in real life. This doesn’t have to involve psychiatric pathology. It doesn’t have to be a disease at the mental or emotional level.
When you see that you’re breathing underwater and you’re having a tough time doing so, it’s a subconscious invitation to deal with your inner demons.
Mental habits that we pick up become habits because they serve a purpose. These are our tools to make sense of reality—on the physical and emotional level—in particular situations we find ourselves in.
But there will come a point where these tools wear out. They no longer fit. And if you’re mature enough to understand that you need newer tools, you don’t necessarily have to let go of the demons because they get transformed into angels or neutral beings.
The same dream can also mean that you’re feeling a life-or-death threat. This isn’t as simple as you think.
In a life-or-death situation, it’s easy to feel panicked, but it doesn’t have to involve an actual existential threat. It can simply mean that you’re going through one phase of your life.
Maybe you believed in somebody before. Maybe you thought that this person meant something to you, to the point that they had such a hold on you. Eventually, you become disillusioned. Maybe you start seeing that person from a new perspective.
Whatever the case may be, they no longer have as much of a hold on you, and this can lead to feelings of relief, a new sense of possibility, but also a sense of regret, remorse, or even nostalgia.
When you’re swimming under water, and then it leads to a struggle—whether prolonged or short—it means that you’re having a tough time coming up with the proper response to your problems.
You have to understand that most human beings have this fight-or-flight response to most issues. We imagine ourselves as either putting up a fight or just running away.
But a lot of people actually freeze—and this is the worst form of running away. They freeze because they look at the situation, and they deny that it’s there.
So you’re thinking of running away from your problems by thrashing under the water, struggling to breathe, and then freezing. Nothing in the real-life changes because you’ve submerged the problem.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing. For a lot of people, this is all they need—like an oyster with a little bit of sand that irritates it and rubs against its soft tissue. Over the years, it comes up with a strategy.
That sand gets turned into a pearl by the oyster. Something that used to get under your skin, hurt you, and possibly even wound you, given enough time, can turn into a beautiful, natural form of jewelry.
Don’t think that dealing with your problems necessarily has to mean cutting it out or going in a 180 direction. While that makes for great Hollywood movies, that’s not necessarily practical. In many cases, it might not even be an available option for you, both on a practical and psychological level.
The worst thing you could do is to agonize over the situation and try to fight it instead of understanding what outcome you should shoot for.
If you fight against it the wrong way, you’ll end up feeling completely overwhelmed and extremely worried.
Other Water Dream Images and Their Real-Life Meanings
To dream about swimming underwater and being able to notice sea life in the water for just a moment can also mean that you’ve fallen in love with your inner nature.
There’s this deep sense of calm within you. You know that there is a time to lay roots. There’s also a time to pull up roots and restart the process.
It’s when you develop a peaceful relationship with this deep natural cycle of yourself that you ultimately start to make sense of other areas of your life—areas that make you feel guilty, nostalgic, or even powerlessly optimistic, like watching a happy movie from a distance.
When you find treasure underwater in your dream, you’re in for a treat. This means that you’re reconnecting with the part of you that’s looking forward to possibilities and adventure in your life.
But in your waking reality, there’s a little more challenge there. For you to regain that sense of newness and potential, you have to be willing to think bigger about yourself.
Once you’re able to overcome that and leap over the fires, you start to reconnect with these older drives that are locked away in your subconscious. This can translate to a new career position, a new promotion, better relationships, and more.
A calm body of water in your dream means that your emotional state is stable. You have the ability to stay calm during stressful situations.
You’re also able to see past the surface. You have an impression of how things are really connected deep down inside, and this gives you a deep sense of patience, control, and you feel that things are predictable.
You might not be able to fully control the outcome of what’s going on in your life, but you’re in an emotional place where you can live with the result. In other words, you can see the fact that there will be bright skies even after the worst storms.
Unlike tsunami dreams, dreams about a stormy sea aren’t automatically negative.
Stormy sea dream imagery usually means a release of all the pent-up emotions that people go through when there’s conflict or insecurity in their lives.
The good news is even though you have to go through this in your dream, you have a lot to look forward to because things will be calm and clear. This leads to a greater sense of peace, calm, and personal control.
At the end of the day, water dreams, whether involving breathing underwater or otherwise, involve a lot of work. You cannot stick to the surface and walk away with the impression that you’ve figured it out. There’s a lot more going on.
A dreamer finds the real meaning of a dream image by paying attention to context and small details that you normally would overlook.
Dream Example #1
I was unconscious and then woke up realizing that I was drowning and struggling to breathe. I opened my eyes, and everything was dark, and I panicked.
My body’s weight is pulling me down under the water. I opened my eyes, and I remember seeing some things like fish swimming around me.
The water was coming so strong that I started to see things blurry. Then I was trying to swim and reach the above water.
I wanted to shout and ask for help, but nothing was coming out of my mouth. The thought of dying came across my mind.
That time, I remember that I wished that I had spent my last days with my family and friends. I can still remember that I was wearing my favorite shirt that day, a loose plain navy blue shirt paired with my jeans and sneakers.
I tried to swim and fight the water, but I still could not do it. Thinking that this is how I am gonna die, I will accept it but please not now. I still have to do some things and say some things to my family and friends.
I was feeling everything under the water, the anxiety, the endless questions, and what-ifs. The water, the struggle, was taking on my body.
I was about to reach the bottom of the water, and I tried to be calm and think of happy thoughts. I want to ease my mind off what is happening.
Then I also thought of beautiful memories that I had with my loved ones until I realized that it was all okay. The struggle of breathing stopped.
I can breathe under the water. I could hear the flow of the water in my ears, and it was calm. The strong flow of the water stopped.
As I breathe underwater, I can feel it. I can feel the little shakes tumbling down onto my shoulders, and the water tastes fresh.
I opened my eyes, and I could see the water clear. It was deep, but I felt safe. I have seen the colorful corals.
Lots of tiny fish that move and dance as one big organism, giant creatures of the water that make me question my ranking on this planet.
There I was, under the water appreciating its beauty. There was a feeling like I could do anything. The range of taste is unsurprising under the water.
There are long stops of lifeless air accentuated by intense, bitter unintentional gulps of the water. The smell is the one sense that is dominant underneath the water.
It may not be allowed to touch marine life and coral, yet you can not prevent the water from touching you. Temperature changes were intense, sliding against my skin.
Feeling it from my hand to arm, raised hair and puckered skin, battling against the cold. I felt free, and thus I was free from all the struggle.
I was good, breathing underwater, and I felt so alive. It is like I am feeling things I have never felt before, then I woke up.
Dream Example #2
Bubbles are slowing, and for a second, I try to find where they are coming from before they disappear.
I love bubbles. You can’t say bubbles sound upset.
They are pretty—a proof of life.
But, slow bubbles are no good. It means that whoever or whatever is breathing slower and slower, and that can be dangerous.
I look around, but it’s so dark I can’t see anything at all. Only the glowing bubbles, and then it hits me.
How come they are glowing? Are they supposed to shine when there’s no light? Why is there no light?
Then, I feel something brushing on my leg, but everything is dark, so I start to panic.
Taking deep breaths, I remember that I should not be able to do that if I see bubbles. Bubbles mean there’s air in the water.
How am I underwater? How did I get here?
I feel the brush again, this time more insistent. I let myself be swept when the thing comes back a third time and try to grab for it.
Whatever it is, it definitely wants me to move. It’s like it knows what I’m trying to do because the next thing I feel is a rope near my hand, so I grab it, and we start moving somewhere.
No light, no sense of direction. I close my eyes to feel less constricted by all the darkness surrounding me.
Taking deep breaths, underwater – I can’t get over that. I try to remain calm and remember that whatever this thing is, it could have hurt me or killed me already, and it hasn’t.
Suddenly, we stop, and I bump into it. The skin is leathery but smooth.
It seems tame, but I’m not risking opening my eyes to see a creature out of nightmares.
I’m petting it when I hear that can’t be right. I mean, is that… is that thing purring? Or a purr-like vibration? What is this creature?
I’m instantly charmed because purring happens for all my favorite animals. Even though I’m underwater if a creature can almost mimic purring while I’m petting it… I don’t think it’ll bite my hand off. Or, I hope it won’t.
I chance a glance at it and what I found was something out of a dream.
It was beautiful. It was a bright-like dolphin with a tail like a seahorse, and it has lights like Christmas lights throughout its body.
It was gorgeous, and maybe, I’d had my eyes closed the whole time because when I looked around, I was in the middle of what seems like a bustling city.
Barely naked people, merpeople? Was that a thing outside of dreams? Everyone was underwater, breathing, but I saw why.
They had gills in their neck, barely visible from where I was but there. Do I have any? I wonder.
I was reaching for my neck but scared, I drop it right away. I’d simply enjoy the fact that I was underwater, breathing, swimming with a beautiful creature through a beautiful city.
With a gasp, I woke up and wished this could be true someday.
Dream Example #3
At first, the darkness was implacable. As she stared into the darkness, familiar forms begin to loop through it.
The roof of the starry sky was spread all over her. A seesaw besides which she was sleeping on a grassy floor was looking black. It seemed as it was twinning with the night.
This gave her a sense of relief. She was where she always was when she woke up; in a public park in San Francisco.
Only God and Rebecca knew how much she had struggled to spend her nights here, in this park.
This park had been her home for the last 2 months for which she was grateful. Because this park saved her from sleeping on the roads. These were her absolute fate after the death of her father.
She had the same nightmare for the 15th time in these 2 months. In which she was drowning in the river, screaming for help.
Instead of rescuing her, a man remains standing far away from her. He kept on repeating the words “We will meet again until you learn to breathe underwater.”
She kept on thinking of this dream, lying on mild wet grass, staring at the sky with opened eyes.
She stood up and combed her hair. She washed her face with the water from a nearby fountain and went to the cafe where she was hired.
She worked to wash the dishes and in the reward, she used to get 3 meals a day with no salary
That the whole day she kept on thinking about the dream. She wanted to decode it then because she was tired of waking up to the same dream every day.
While washing the dishes she took water in a pot and put her head inside the pot. As soon as her face dipped in the water, she started feeling shortness of breath.
The heart in her chest started pounding fast, but instead of pulling her face out of the water, she endured it.
She faced it because her eyes were witnessing the presence of her father. Yes, it was Rebecca’s father which she was seeing in the dream.
The same man kept repeating the same words “We will meet again until you learn to breathe underwater.” But this time he had a smile on his face because finally, his daughter succeeded in decoding the dream.
Her father was trying to tell her that she has to learn to survive in this cruel world.
Instead of spending a miserable life, she has to work hard. She has to fight for her rights, and she has to take revenge on his father.
Only then she’ll be able to justify her love for her father. And all this was as difficult as breathing under the water. But now she has to learn how to breathe underwater.
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Dream interpretation and symbology have fascinated me ever since I read Freud’s classic, “The Interpretation of Dreams.” Ever since, I have explored Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist as well as Jungian psychological ideas about the meaning of dreams. Thanks for joining me in my exploration of the amazing intersection between our conscious waking world and the rich expanse of our subconscious-the home of our intuition, instincts, and hidden potential.