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Is this normal? (Spontaneous body movements, nausea and de-realization)

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Hi,

I searched around a bit on reddit and think this might be an appropriate place to ask this question about some uncomfortable personal experiences during meditation. I am slightly worried and considering seeing a psychologist as well. I'd like to share as much info as possible about my experience so that the responses can be more accurate; so this is a going to be a long post.

About 3-4 years ago I attended a 10 day Vipassna retreat and have been more or less regular with my meditation practice, which has gone over time from body-scanning to just following the breath and being aware of whatever arises. I did not commit to the Vipassna school of meditation, being new and interested in other practices as well; in fact, I found the teachings prescriptive and stern, which turned me off this school to a great extent. At the end of the retreat I had more questions than answers and it really surprised me that many others seemed very blase despite hearing all the stuff about past lifetimes and so on. Perhaps I am more sensitive than average, or naive, as it really became a haunting thing to me on some level that I "ought" to be doing this on some level to "liberate" myself-- though from what, it did not organically come to me. I tried to do research but it seemed that I was just picking up intellectual ideas without 'realizing' them.

I have persisted for many reasons. Not out of a sense of self-imposed duty but also curiosity and interest practices of well-being. I practise Yoga as well. My then-BF was good at reiki so he introduced me to a lot of new knowledge and life-habits which I have abandoned or sustained according to how they suit me. I've also dabbled in Dgozchen practice based on their weekly emails.

Over time my meditation deepened and I started experiencing "spontaneous kriyas" and quite violent body-shakes and dance-like movements both during yoga and meditation. While some yoga teachers thought it was unusual they said I should observe and let it express itself,others were more perturbed and recommended I seek medical help as it could be a more serious issue. By this point in my life, the physical responses have become more intense (nausea, retching, screaming if i allow it). Although I know intuitively that these are releases as I always feel lighter and more expansive afterwards and there is more flexibility in certain portions of the body that were rigid, I am still seeking an authoritative voice that can help me allay my fears that there isn't something majorly wrong with me.

The the main point of the post however is this: I recently had an intensely 'bad trip' on a weed edible which has scared me and my friends, who were there, a lot. (I realize that Vipassna forbids drugs but acknowledged, I am not on the path in the way others here might be and I do feel sheepish asking-- ). I have always either had great trips or anxiety-inducing ones on weed. It started as a body-high where I could feel the sensations of my body manifold, but quickly became a 'dissolving' of concepts and language to the point where I was crying and scared and unable to even articulate what was going on. I also started doubting everything and had this horrible feeling that nothing was real-- me, my parents and everything I had been sure of. My friends got me out of that by grounding me with facts; but then my body took over as it does in meditation (where however i am in control) and I was puking, peeing, screaming all at once-- there was no emotional trauma just felt like release (the closest parallel I've read are ahayusca retreats?) I told my friends to let it happen and not be scared but was quite overwhelmed with how intense it was. The thing was over by morning.

Nearly three weeks later, I don't have any persistent feeling of de-realization; I am content, optimistic and focused on my days. My body is releasing faster during yoga and meditation-- the pains that were suppressed are more on the surface so to say. BUT

I am worried that I am not capable of handling all of this as it is quite new and I could be missing a large chunk of information that a psychologist/expert could help me with. I have never had a teacher. A big fear I have after this experience is that I may possibly be prone to paranoia/schizophrenia and for the time being at least I have sworn off drugs. But last night even meditating brought a 'strange' feeling back to me, about how we don't know anything about this world and how shallow our interactions based in language are, but I chose not to focus on that as it gets disorienting. I am considering just leaving all mind practices for a while.

Thanks for hearing me out. Would appreciate any insight.

RE: Is this normal? (Spontaneous body movements, nausea and de-realization)
Answer
3/22/20 8:05 PM as a reply to Ekka Traum.
Hi!
"Perhaps I am more sensitive than average, or naive, as it really became a haunting thing to me on some level that I "ought" to be doing this on some level to "liberate" myself-- though from what, it did not organically come to me."

In Buddhism, especially theravada vipassana tradition, the dharma is framed as a teaching to release one from samsara, the cycle of suffering. It is the (traditional) view in Buddhism that we are trapped in a cyclic realm of samsara, a continous cycle of suffering and rebirth and we need to seek salvation (nibbana), else we will keep tumbling round and round in endless realms of rebirth. So there is often a sense of urgency within the tradional teachings. However, not all dhamma teachers convey the dhamma in that way.

Belief in rebirth or not, the teachings are still often presented as liberation from our present human condition, that being birth, aging, pain, sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, despair, grief, anguish...

Over time my meditation deepened and I started experiencing "spontaneous kriyas" and quite violent body-shakes and dance-like movements both during yoga and meditation. While some yoga teachers thought it was unusual they said I should observe and let it express itself,others were more perturbed and recommended I seek medical help as it could be a more serious issue. By this point in my life, the physical responses have become more intense (nausea, retching, screaming if i allow it)

It is not uncommon occurance for spiritual practitioners to experience kriyas or spontaneious movements. I have experienced them in the past and sometimes still do. They are not usually a cause for concern, even when they present as more drastic such as screaming or retching as you mentioned for yourself. The mechanisism that causes them is still a mystery to me but it does have something to do with relaionship between the mind and body, and that the peripheral nervious system (body) is just an extention of the central nervous system (brain). As science has already shown, meditation and deep relaxation causes changes in the brain, and for reasons not understood by me yet, these changes in brain activity may trigger unusal activity in the peripheral nervous system (twitching, rocking, grimacing, noises). I recommend watching this video by Shinzen Young where he explains his model of why these kriyas occur. You may also want to check out this thread by a poster experiencing "violent shaking". One of the posters who replied posted an except from the book "A path with a heart" where Jack Kornfield gives some insight on these movements. I also believe Daniel wrote a section in his book where he describes these spontaneous movements. He doesn't so much offer an explantion for their cause as much as a prescription for how to deal with them.  

 I recently had an intensely 'bad trip' on a weed edible which has scared me and my friends, who were there, a lot. (I realize that Vipassna forbids drugs but acknowledged, I am not on the path in the way others here might be and I do feel sheepish asking-- ). I have always either had great trips or anxiety-inducing ones on weed. It started as a body-high where I could feel the sensations of my body manifold, but quickly became a 'dissolving' of concepts and language to the point where I was crying and scared and unable to even articulate what was going on. I also started doubting everything and had this horrible feeling that nothing was real-- me, my parents and everything I had been sure of.

You have to ask yourself what is your intention with taking drugs because anything can happen when you take psychedelic substances. I experimented with many of them in the beginning and found they can quite often be a mixed bag in terms of what experience they elicit, however I found the experience can be directed better with set & setting and a thoughtful intention for taking them. The downside to psychedelics is it's easy to loose your mindfulness during the experiences, and so one becomes engrossed in and identified with the content of the experience. That's precisely what leads to bad-trips as the one you mentioned. Instead of being mindful of being scared, you become scared, you become identified with the surge of sensory content that so often arises during a drug trip. It's easier to remain mindful and aware of these emotions when they arise in formal meditation than it is during a strong edible trip when your friends are over and you're not intent on anything and wallowing in your thought process. emoticon So I can't recommend drugs unless you really know what you're doing. Psychedelics can be a spiritual path in and of itself but comes with many caveats. 

RE: Is this normal? (Spontaneous body movements, nausea and de-realization)
Answer
3/22/20 8:48 PM as a reply to Ekka Traum.
Hi Ekka,

I'd suggest asking yourself if these extreme events are having any impact on your daily life. Can you still go to work/school OK? Are your relationships with friends, and in particular, significant others, still solid? Is your general health, including mental health, still pretty solid?

If the answer to these is "yes", then I'd recommend to continue your exploration with meditation and yoga. With drugs, I would say to proceed with caution as the outcomes with drugs can often be more unpredictable and more likely to be negative than for meditation and yoga. If the answer is "no", then I'd recommend to back off for a while, maybe see a therapist (if that is financially possible with you) to try to work through any unexplored issues you may have, and possibly see a doctor (again if financially possible) and determine if there are any physical issues. When you feel you want to start again, I'd recommend finding a teacher to work with, with whom you can develop a long term relationship.

I've had similar problems, though with not as extreme physical symptoms, in the past, so this advice is coming from that.

Good luck!

RE: Is this normal? (Spontaneous body movements, nausea and de-realization)
Answer
3/22/20 9:37 PM as a reply to Ekka Traum.
Ekka Traum:

I am worried that I am not capable of handling all of this as it is quite new and I could be missing a large chunk of information that a psychologist/expert could help me with. I have never had a teacher. A big fear I have after this experience is that I may possibly be prone to paranoia/schizophrenia and for the time being at least I have sworn off drugs. But last night even meditating brought a 'strange' feeling back to me, about how we don't know anything about this world and how shallow our interactions based in language are, but I chose not to focus on that as it gets disorienting. I am considering just leaving all mind practices for a while.

Thanks for hearing me out. Would appreciate any insight.
I have a therapist (2x a week) and a meditation teacher (1x a week virtually). I've found them to be enormously helpful in very different ways. I'm only just getting to the point where I appreciate them for what they offer, rather than seeing them as proof of my own illness or lack of capacity.

I don't have enough experience in practice or psychology to recommend a path forward. But I notice in your post a wish for support. I think that wish is super healthy and might yield good results, whether or not you are prone to mental illness. 

Somewhere there's a saying about meditation: "Better not to start. Once started, better to finish." I get the sense that you've started, and you kind of know you're on a path. Rather than suspending practice maybe (with the help of a teacher?) support your practice with activities that can help build capacity. So the next time you have those experiences you might be able to hang with them for longer.

I hope you receive this well – I'd normally stay out of other people's biz but as someone who went through a few months of practice-related terror recently I felt like chiming in. Re: your question "is this normal?" – in a nutshell yes. It's also normal to seek out a therapist &/or teacher emoticon

RE: Is this normal? (Spontaneous body movements, nausea and de-realization)
Answer
3/25/20 1:13 PM as a reply to David Matte.
David Matte:

 I recommend watching this video by Shinzen Young where he explains his model of why these kriyas occur. You may also want to check out this thread by a poster experiencing "violent shaking". One of the posters who replied posted an except from the book "A path with a heart" where Jack Kornfield gives some insight on these movements. I also believe Daniel wrote a section in his book where he describes these spontaneous movements. He doesn't so much offer an explantion for their cause as much as a prescription for how to deal with them.  


Thank you so much for these references. I had a vague idea about it being a cleansing process, but these helped to both explain and normalize it further. The advice in Kornfield's extract about sitting still and letting energy create new pathways is counterintuitive but I can already feel the difference when I follow it. Young's explanation is very similar to what I heard in the Vipassna retreat and again has suggests an urgency towards 'erasing' past samskaras which for some reason does not sit well with me-- it is so stern and judgemental and I do not know at this moment how to reconcile it with the rest of my knowledge or whether I must.

Many interesting implications follow from the way such body movements are treated in any school of thought; seen as self-expression of emotion and allowed to release in movement, they become the same as dance, while if we see them as the imperfect flow of energy encountering blocks (which are habits and patterns) we would want to transcend that human dance into a non-self...
You have to ask yourself what is your intention with taking drugs because anything can happen when you take psychedelic substances.
In retrospect the dose was medicinal and made my body awareness grow by a huge leap, maybe something that would take months through practice, but the mental bad trip was not worth it. I understand the caveats better now-- not all drug trips will be productive, they can just exacerbate physiological conditions within you, which is what scares me. 

I realize especially after reading around on this website that my practice needs more intention and gentleness, it comes from a stern place otherwise. Thank you again for responding!

RE: Is this normal? (Spontaneous body movements, nausea and de-realization)
Answer
3/25/20 1:28 PM as a reply to Demoxenos.
@svmonk and @Demoxenos, Thanks a lot. I feel pretty good at the moment, and don't feel the need for a psychologist per se. I do however realize that serious commitment to meditation needs at least a community for support. I've been doing it in isolation which doesn't always help for those prone to overanalyzing or just new and still learning. Unfortunately there are too many gurus that turn out to be problematic at least in the area I am from -- so a teacher has been hard to find. It is encouraging to read about your experiences with teachers and therapists, I think I have been searching for a guide of that for a long time now, and hope I shall come across a figure. Really glad I came across this forum for sure. Cheers!

RE: Is this normal? (Spontaneous body movements, nausea and de-realization)
Answer
3/25/20 1:28 PM as a reply to Ekka Traum.
Dear Ekka Traum,

I have had quite similar experiences myself. Allow me to tell you "my story"...

Early on in my practice (around October 2016) I had returned from a 17 day noting retreat. My girlfriend and I took some edibles and she had a very bad trip, similar to what you describe: fainting, catatonic, vomiting, though not screaming. Although at the time I was fairly calm about it the next morning I began to feel waves of intense anxiety and fear, intense dissociation, fear that she or I were going mad etc. Over the next 9 months (until summer 2017) or so I experienced at least weekly panic attacks that manifested with a feeling that I was going to die by heart attack, perception of irregular heartbeat, combined with shallow breathing. Also baseline moderate anxiety. I kept up my practice through this time, and I would say that for the most part the panic attacks ceased after around 9 months (coincedent with a rather unpleasent mushroom trip) in summer 2017. In summer 2017 I had some amazing experiences of vast spacious peace and bliss, as well as some more intense dissociation.

Between summer 2017 and summer 2018 or so I still had consistent anxiety, but that too eventually began to fade (especially with a 2 month retreat summer 2018) and I now no longer experience much anxiety at all. In fact, though I still experience frequent negative affect it's hard to remember the last time I have felt anxiety.

Some things I've learned on anxiety, dissociation and other negative effects associated with spiritual practice:
  1. Be kind and realistic with yourself. I've learned that my mind and body are quite deterministic. If I put them in stressful situations all day long for months on end, they will habituate to stress (anxiety). Add in huge spiritual transformations and you are asking for trouble. Thus, I strongly recommend reflecting on how you can simplify your daily life to promote ease and a feeling of relaxed well-being. Note that this simplification may include lots of relaxing with crossed legs (meditation). For me, I was working intensively on my bachelor's degree and research in 2016-2017 and then applying to PhDs while still completing research and courses in 2017-2018. Since then I've made a strong priority of keeping my work schedules within reasonable limits and not getting too sucked in. I believe this is AT LEAST as important as consistent practice for dealing with some of the negative effects.
  2. Be patient. The physical symptoms of anxiety and fear lasted long after my mind would (for the most part) no longer buy into them. Anxiety seems to be a predominately physical and energetic phenomenon. Also, my experience has definitely been that these de-realization effects are sort of the "first-blush" of insight. They are more of the conceptual mind reacting to certain experiences, that later may be perceived in a complete different way. This has a lot to do with the following point:
  3. Practice calm-abiding meditation. Although this is unlikely to have a strong acute effect, compounded over months and years I have found that the mental stability conferred by this form of meditation is a huge aid in the natural abandoning of conceptual problems. By this I mean that when the mind has an ability to rest and become relatively stable and still, there is much less of an urge to "go out" and "figure out" the meaning/import of various insight experiences/conceptual objects. It's like the untrained mind is a huge knot of rope and trying to conceptualize about untangling this knot is equivalent to pulling the ends and bunching it tighter and tighter. On the contrary, relaxed concentration practice feels like the knot just naturally loosens and then eventually totally falls open. It heals your heart.
  4. Be cautious with drugs. The above probably makes me sound like an inveterate user, but actually I have only eaten edibles a couple of times and mushrooms about 5 times. I regularly go months without using alcohol or marijuana, and don't feel that I am missing anything at all.
I hope that I am not projecting/sharing too much here. Sounds like you aren't experiencing too many negative things now which is of course good. But if you do experience more then hopefully these points will help you. As far as whether you can "take it", I've wondered the same thing myself and for me the answer was "I don't know but I guess I'll find out." For whatever reason, this stuff calls to me. Maybe you're the same. I think exercising caution with drugs and backing off if you are having trouble executing daily life tasks is a good bar for "too much". Otherwise, I say full steam ahead!