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Energy practices, jhanas and migraines

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Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
10/3/19 12:07 PM
Hi all,

I've been having migraines pretty frequently since the beginning of the year. I didn't have any while on a month-long retreat in February, which might make what I'm going to suggest next seem incredibly unlikely, but I'm wondering if my qigong and jhana practice is contributing to what's going on.

I've been keeping logs of migraines for several months now, trying to identify factors causing them. It looks like there's no single easy answer - it's a combination of factors. I've cleaned up my diet, sorted out my stress etc., and no single change has consistently made a difference.
I did go through a long period of consistently having a migraine either immediately after teaching my weekly meditation class or the next day. Then I managed to disrupt that pattern somehow (but started just having them at random instead). More recently I had a three-week break with no migraines, and I wondered if I'd fixed it, but today I got a real doozy, completely lost vision for a while, which was pretty unhelpful because I was teaching a technical training course at work at the time, and it's hard to help students when you can't see what's on their screens...

Something else I've been doing lately is a lot more meditation. I realised that teaching had really cut into my own practice time and it wasn't doing me much good, so I've moved to sitting 30-40 minutes twice daily absolutely without fail - today is day 89 of that process. It's been amazing in terms of stress relief, getting my jhanas much clearer and more stable again, and moving things along on the insight front too - I have stuff going on now which was previously very much in the 'retreat experience' category.

My current practice:
- I start with 'ah-un breathing' (a breathing technique designed to build connection with the dan tien - see this link for details)
- I do a 'qi dissolving' technique from Bruce Frantzis's book Opening the Energy Gates of the Body (pretty similar to a Zen technique called Soft Ointment Meditation/nanso no ho)
- I run the microcosmic orbit for a while; this usually takes me into the first jhana (Leigh Brasington-style)
- I run the jhanas 1-8 (if I didn't get there from the MCO I'll either use metta, which typically takes me into the second jhana, or align the body carefully until I can feel energy gathering, then ride that into the 1st jhana)
- I pop out and do insight practice, typically based on open awareness and gentle investigation of what's going on

So that's all great, but for the last year or maybe two I've periodically been finding myself getting random body twitches in meditation, and these have lately become a lot more frequent, and are happening even when not in meditation as well as during sits. And I've finally put two and two together and noticed that when I'm particularly 'energetic' in this way, I'm much more likely to have migraines. Over the last three weeks my energy was pretty quiet - I was dealing with a back injury, then a bad cold, then tonsillitis, and not much was happening energetically in my sits. I might get very weak jhana access, or it might not happen at all. Over the last couple of days I've emerged from the last of the tonsillitis, the energy has come back on full blast, and my head went bang again today.

Is anyone aware of any connection between migraines and jhana, energy practices, random body twitching etc. or any of the other stuff I've described?

My current plan is to adjust my practice for a couple of weeks and see if it helps. The new plan is to skip the microcosmic orbit entirely and either use metta to go straight into 2, or see if I can hit 3 directly and bypass the piti of 1 and 2 altogether.

How much any of this will help remains to be seen, but to be honest the random body movements are getting pretty annoying and if there's any chance that my practice is contributing to these migraines then I really have to find another way to do it!

Thoughts and suggestions very welcome,
Matt

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
10/3/19 2:00 PM as a reply to Matt.
Hi Matt,

I've had migraines for 8+ years now. In the beginning for about 2-3 years I didn't even know what they were, then I learned about "migraines". For me they've lasted from 1-5 days at one time, about once a month. For two years now, they've become much less. Last week I had it for a day. The one before that was in January so something seems to be happening with it but I have no clue how it works and why. I don't have a diagnosis or special medication for it, I just take 800 mg of ibuprofein when it hits and keep taking them if needed.

Some times I have felt that I've found clear causes behind it, to soon find out that it wasn't the cause after all. Migraines seem to have a life entirely of its own. To me, stress levels don't seem to affect it much, nor stopping coffee or sugar. Organic sulphur seemed to trigger it for me but not 100% sure. It has often started from too watching screens too much, so that's pretty much the only clear cause I've been able to notice. Practices haven't triggered migraines for me.

Hope you find a way to remove your migraines.

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
10/3/19 3:30 PM as a reply to Matt.
I dunno about the migraines but I found the preliminary exercises and visualizations for tummo to be useful in clearing up 'energy' related aches and pains including what I used to call '3rd eye' headaches that arose for me in vipassana. Seeing the body as an empty, luminous shell was especially valuable in freeing up constrictions. Might give that one a whirl. Some of the others are I think specific to the Indian conception of the energy body. .

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
10/3/19 3:44 PM as a reply to Matt.
Hi Matt, I'm 45 and have had persistent headaches for 20+ years. A lot of pain radiating from the teeth through the sinuses and also in the forehead, with the occasional "brain shock" which feels like an electric shock or shift between the cerebral hemispheres. It used to wax and wane, based on stress, tiredness and alcohol/cafeeine consumption, but since it was basically always there on some level I didn't think of it as a migraine (although my mother suffers from migraines). It never afffected my vision or functioning and I was usually able to ignore it except when I relaxed. I've also suffered from tinnitus over the same time period. I tried to ignore all of this as much as possible and attribute it to stress and unhealthy lifestyle (I was physically fit and ate reasonably well, but mentally a mess).

Anyway, when I started meditating heavily again a few months ago the intensity of the headaches really ramped up. I attributed that to the increased concentration and bodily awareness. But as I got into (lite) jhana I started feeling energy sensations (piti) in other parts of the body, started reading about kundalini and connected the dots ... yeah, this is kundalini awakening. I would also get semi-involuntary movements (kriyas). I say semi because I can usually relax or get of the cusion and then they don't happen. But from age 5 I was beseigned by semi-voluntary tics which I found hard to control and which I now attribute to the same kind of energy needing an outlet.

It's up to you how much you want to focus on it, the buddha just called it piti and Mahasi Sayadaw recommends just noting it and ignoring it. But the energetic sensations are so strong and evolving that sometimes it's hard to ignore. From my limited perspective, it's just a natural process which needs to happen and is a result of past karma/conditioning/vasanas. Ignoring it does seem to help more in terms of opening up other chakras and getting the energy/bliss more diffused througout the body. Focusing on kundalini you start to fall into the trap of thinking you can control it and know where it "should" go, whereas really it's a physical expression of mostly unconscious drives. However I did take it seriously as an indication of past karma/vasanas and where I needed to make changes in my life (more sleep, more loving, less selfish, more patient etc.). These changes caused opening in the lower chakras which enabled some of the energy to "flow" out of my face and whilst the headaches are still there, there's a lot more movement and now other more pleasurable sensations in the face as well. If I extrapolate this process then I can imagine a future were there is mostly the bliss/pleasure aspect of piti and the occasional painful knot which would indicate either a past vasana to dissolve or else some present issue in life or practice.

I view kundalini as a kind of "emotional/spiritual barometer", can be painful and confusing but ultimately helpful and just another part of the spiritual path (some people eleveate it to the status of THE path).  I found Tara Springett's book helpful and had some sessions with her husband Nigel who really helped me work through some stuff which seemed to help the process. Joan Harrigan's book is very technical but there are some good simple models in there as well. Ken Wilbur wrote a good essay on it. There are lots of other books. I'm not an expert, just a practioner still undergoing the same issues so don't take anything I say as authoritative. Good luck.

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
10/3/19 6:49 PM as a reply to Matt.
I used to have migraines since early childhood. After I started doing energy practices, I got a handle on them. In the beginning, I could make them go away. Then later on, I could make them go away and then make them come back. After that, I didn't let them arise. It is all psychosomatic and if you go deep enough into your mind, you will get a handle on it.

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
10/4/19 9:00 AM as a reply to Matt.
Thanks all! I'll definitely check out that Tara Springett book, because that all sounds verrrry familiar, and it's an aspect of practice that I haven't delved into much so far.

Much metta,
Matt

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/15/19 5:26 AM as a reply to Matt.
A brief update for anyone who may be interested:

Many thanks to all respondents, especially agnostic for the Tara Springett recommendation. I found it a hard read in places but it was extremely helpful in terms of explaining my experiences and giving me a map to move forward. Between that book and a conversation with my Zen teacher, I've refocused my practice around grounding, embodiment and developing the hara/dan tien/navel chakra, with excellent results. I still can't go up to the 5th jhana without getting a whopping headache, but I've been migraine-free for several weeks now, I'm more grounded in general, and after some fairly intense emotional spasms things are calming down in general. I've tried a lot over the last year to deal with the migraines and this is the first thing that's actually worked. Thanks!

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/15/19 11:32 AM as a reply to Matt.
Glad you are feeling better and more embodied! Speaking of the "soft ointment" meditation, I feel this explanation might be relevant: http://www.purelandnotes.com/meltingduckegg.html

"

As Hakuin said, he felt hotness in the lungs, icy coldness in his feet, and a constant roaring in his ears from having strenuously pushed his chi into his head. To try and cure his condition, he went from doctor to doctor without any results. No one could help him."


The most effective cure does seem to be focusing on embodiment and really feeling your own gut, as you've been doing. In particular, the practice of letting the body feel its own stillness can instantly reconnect without getting too heady about doing anything or manipulating the experience. An example of this type of practice is what Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche calls the "three precious pills" of body, speech, and mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa2zvm2jjo4&feature=youtu.be&t=386



RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/15/19 1:11 PM as a reply to Matt.
I've had good results in relieving the symptoms you describe by practicing Zhan Zhuang standing meditation, as taught in the book The Way of Energy, for about a year now. These standing postures are also good for practicing the microcosmic orbit. 

Since taking it on as my main practice, I've experienced tension, migraines and blockages in the head dissolving and releasing downward into the belly and chest. It's been a long slog of daily practice but things seem to be moving in the right direction, there continues to be an ever-increasing sense of embodiment. The only caveat I will mention is that with this increased sense of embodiment, many, many years of suppressed emotional capacity have come back online. It's been a bumpy ride of metabolizing old "stuff" and getting used to feeling deeply through the body, but it's been entirely worth it. 

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/17/19 3:56 PM as a reply to Matt.
I recently wrote this thread: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/16721688

My theory is that all physical and mental sufferings (mental illness, depression, cancer, all headaches) are caused by wrong acts one has performed in the past. I'd be very interested to hear if any migraine sufferers have performed wrong acts, and what those acts have been.

Using some meditative perceptions, I've perceived that some ill-feeling I had was related to something to do with a house corner, tension headaches I had were related to metal instruments, a depression I had was related to maybe a lie -- at around 16 I developed a very tiny bladder, I urinate roughly every hour or so, and this was related to a wooden edge between two doors.

I detailed a wrong act I made in the thread I gave a link to, and the metal instruments were involved with an operation my younger brother went through to patch up his lip, a lie was related to the way I explained my wrong act to my younger brother at the time as "you could've ended up splitting a vein in my thigh and killing me" or something like that, the wooden edge between two doors was where he hit his head.

My theory is that by amending your past wrong acts, it's possible to lose all suffering completely. I've done this successfully with the depression by asking whether my younger brother needed help -- the depression never returned. I've done it successfully with tension headaches by praying (for lack of anything else) to give my younger brother money or presents to make up for it -- I completely eliminated a tension headache I was having. I'm still working through small bladder and am a bit confused about what a house corner means in this case.

Anyway, anyone who experiences migraines or any conditions, could you please tell me if you've done any wrong acts ever, and what they were? Much appreciated!

Edit: migraines can be fixed the opposite way -- I've never had a migraine, but tension headaches, one would assume they can be fixed with water, they are fixed by giving money (or say praying something to that end) to the person one has wronged.

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/18/19 11:40 AM as a reply to Lasse.
Lasse:

My theory is that all physical and mental sufferings (mental illness, depression, cancer, all headaches) are caused by wrong acts one has performed in the past. I'd be very interested to hear if any migraine sufferers have performed wrong acts, and what those acts have been.


Anyway, anyone who experiences migraines or any conditions, could you please tell me if you've done any wrong acts ever, and what they were? Much appreciated!

I've suffered a persistent migraine and committed tonnes of wrong acts (detailed in my practice log). I can't link it to a specific act because there were so many, but there was a pattern of selfish/narcisstic/sociopathic behavior and as I became aware of it, started repenting and making ammends then the headache started to open up and the energy flow around more blissfully. The ammends weren't so specific given the volume of transgressions, it was more like ok I need to be less selfish so I will give up my work and look after the kids, or I will start praying for other people, or I will think about other people's needs.

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/22/19 6:08 PM as a reply to agnostic.
agnostic:
Lasse:

My theory is that all physical and mental sufferings (mental illness, depression, cancer, all headaches) are caused by wrong acts one has performed in the past. I'd be very interested to hear if any migraine sufferers have performed wrong acts, and what those acts have been.


Anyway, anyone who experiences migraines or any conditions, could you please tell me if you've done any wrong acts ever, and what they were? Much appreciated!

I've suffered a persistent migraine and committed tonnes of wrong acts (detailed in my practice log). I can't link it to a specific act because there were so many, but there was a pattern of selfish/narcisstic/sociopathic behavior and as I became aware of it, started repenting and making ammends then the headache started to open up and the energy flow around more blissfully. The ammends weren't so specific given the volume of transgressions, it was more like ok I need to be less selfish so I will give up my work and look after the kids, or I will start praying for other people, or I will think about other people's needs.

Cool -- the basic pattern I've found for myself that eases my own sufferings seems to be closing of spatial distance, say helping someone or giving them a hug or living close to them or understanding their suffering deeply. I'm still looking for a simpler way than to individually make amends for any individual suffering one has caused, but it seems to work. 

Edit: another way to maybe lose suffering, in my case, is to lose the sense that my younger brother is "inferior" to me -- to ask him for advice, wholly cast his suffering in a different light, so he didn't suffer because of me, but being superior he just went through pain. 

Edit 2: the other way to fully burn down past karma might be to just lose in life. After losing one begins to develop amity and happiness with the people one has wronged. 

Edit 3: a simpler way that might work -- pray to the one you wronged. Maybe I was lost and lonely and just needed help from my little brother, that's why I pushed him. Alter the motivations behind the action, ask for forgiveness from them -- might work.

Edit 4: the ^ above way doesn't seem to work, only amending for the sufferings one caused seems to work. I figured that, if I had helped to ease my little brother's suffering after committing a wrong act, we'd have an entirely different relationship, a relationship which due to not helping is experienced as distant. So helping would've closed the personal distance greatly. So the distance might be what the bad karma is, and needs to be closed. I think the other person needs to come to you, and this would greatly undo ALL suffering! 

Edit 5: you could go to extremes and right caused suffering with servitude. 

Edit 6: bring it all back to the person you wronged as pleasure -- if you caused pain to someone, you can give them a great massage. 

Edit 7: it's full Disney, if you cause suffering you receive suffering. Maybe if the hurt person didn't want a Disney ending, because you are there in their heart. It's just becoming real friends -- maybe. It might undo the suffering of the hurt person. Becoming real friends is some insight into many lives.

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/20/19 3:13 PM as a reply to Lasse.
There is Rightness, a universal Mother who wants us to right wrong acts. Suffering is based exclusively on right and wrong acts, it arises pre-birth. The Mother involves thousands of births. Sometimes we only get a chance to right wrong acts in future births. With a blindfold we act onward. The blindfold is based on the entire physical system, containing sense organs floating in space, etc. 

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/23/19 1:30 PM as a reply to Zachary.
Zachary:
The only caveat I will mention is that with this increased sense of embodiment, many, many years of suppressed emotional capacity have come back online. It's been a bumpy ride of metabolizing old "stuff" and getting used to feeling deeply through the body, but it's been entirely worth it. 
You are describing my current experience. :-) Initially I actually became physically ill for a couple of days (violent upset stomach), then after that I thought I was out of the woods, but oh no. First I keyed into anger - holy crap, so much anger. I had no idea I was carrying around so much. At least I had the perspective to notice that I was unusually angry and irritable and that this was a bad time to be making long-term decisions, but even so, it was a bit of a wild ride. Next came some pretty intense insecurities, which are still percolating through. I've just discovered that I've spent my whole life feeling like I don't fit in and essentially looking for evidence to prove to myself that I'm being excluded from whatever's going on, The turbulence shows no sign of abating in the immediate future. I'm trying to take the view that whatever is happening is precisely what needs to be happening right now.

Thanks for the support, I appreciate it. :-)

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/23/19 1:35 PM as a reply to Matthew.
Matthew:
Glad you are feeling better and more embodied! Speaking of the "soft ointment" meditation, I feel this explanation might be relevant: http://www.purelandnotes.com/meltingduckegg.html

"

As Hakuin said, he felt hotness in the lungs, icy coldness in his feet, and a constant roaring in his ears from having strenuously pushed his chi into his head. To try and cure his condition, he went from doctor to doctor without any results. No one could help him."

Yeah, that's the bunny. My Zen teacher's book Practical Zen includes a translation of a chunk of Hakuin's Yasenkana (Night Boat Conversation) where he talks about all this, and I actually laughed out loud in a coffee shop a month or so ago when I was re-reading it because I recognised so much of my experience in Hakuin's distress. Turns out that deciding to skip all this stuff because it 'probably wasn't important' wasn't such a good move on my part. emoticon

Matthew:

The most effective cure does seem to be focusing on embodiment and really feeling your own gut, as you've been doing. In particular, the practice of letting the body feel its own stillness can instantly reconnect without getting too heady about doing anything or manipulating the experience. An example of this type of practice is what Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche calls the "three precious pills" of body, speech, and mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa2zvm2jjo4&feature=youtu.be&t=386
Nice. I can get a sense of that pretty much straight away - I'll continue to play with it. (Thinking back over the last year, I realised the one time I didn't have migraines was on a month-long retreat where I was spending quite a lot of time focusing on the gut, ironically because I wanted to improve my Tai Chi rather than for any meditation-related benefit...)

Cheers!
Matt

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/23/19 3:27 PM as a reply to Matt.
Matt:
Zachary:
The only caveat I will mention is that with this increased sense of embodiment, many, many years of suppressed emotional capacity have come back online. It's been a bumpy ride of metabolizing old "stuff" and getting used to feeling deeply through the body, but it's been entirely worth it. 
You are describing my current experience. :-) Initially I actually became physically ill for a couple of days (violent upset stomach), then after that I thought I was out of the woods, but oh no. First I keyed into anger - holy crap, so much anger. I had no idea I was carrying around so much. At least I had the perspective to notice that I was unusually angry and irritable and that this was a bad time to be making long-term decisions, but even so, it was a bit of a wild ride. Next came some pretty intense insecurities, which are still percolating through. I've just discovered that I've spent my whole life feeling like I don't fit in and essentially looking for evidence to prove to myself that I'm being excluded from whatever's going on, The turbulence shows no sign of abating in the immediate future. I'm trying to take the view that whatever is happening is precisely what needs to be happening right now.

Thanks for the support, I appreciate it. :-)

I can relate to this. Speaking of what needs to be happening right now, I have just found out that when one explicitly resolves to have that shown in meditation, the stuff that comes up can be a bit overwhelming at first. Sounds like you are doing great work and dealing with stuff skillfully. 

I have very recently discovered the work by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, whose work was mentioned above, and some of it resonates very well with me and seems to have a stabilizing effect on me, like his elements practice. 

RE: Energy practices, jhanas and migraines
Answer
11/25/19 3:36 AM as a reply to Zachary.
Zachary:
I've had good results in relieving the symptoms you describe by practicing Zhan Zhuang standing meditation, as taught in the book The Way of Energy, 

deeply through the body, but it's been entirely worth it. 
Thank you for recommending that book. For a tree loving meditator, lacking a standing practice and with a tendency to expand/collect energy in the head it can be a perfect puzzle piece. Found it online as a PDF easily.

tried it this morning and could feel chi in both feets and hands. 

How long do you hold the postures?

taking "the awakening the body" online course at the moment and a big focus is the trauma locked as tension in the body. Reggies exercises could also be a piece of the grounding/embodiment puzzle.

As well as Reichian Therapy which I've been practicing this summer inspired by the DO thread. Probably more to release trauma than to ground yourself though.