Breathwork Piti - Oxygen deprivation

Aaron Baron, modified 3 Years ago at 10/28/20 5:19 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 10/28/20 5:12 PM

Breathwork Piti - Oxygen deprivation

Posts: 8 Join Date: 8/4/20 Recent Posts
this seems like a strange question, but hopefully DhO is strange enough for it...

I'm interested in access concentration & jhanas for the healing power of basking in piti. I've read a lot of books & articles on the experience of piti & jhana and how to get there, and put in maybe 100 hours of practice so far at various concentration techniques (mostly fire kasina or staring at candle w/ open eyes, some metta, anapanasati). I feel that my concentration is greatly improved - for example I can absorb into the candle flame, see every flicker, have my thoughts get light and backgroundey, keep my eyes on constantly enough (resisting eye access cues) that everything but the candle looks purple and flickerey and cool and magickal.

But through all of this I've basically experienced no piti - zero pleasant sensations. There is some tingling in my energy body sometimes, that ringing in the ears that comes with sinking into meditation, and various other sensations that suggest I'm "getting concentrated", but none of them are in any way pleasant, even with multihour sessions, or 10+ hours in a week.

In contrast, I have been doing some intense breathwork, including some holotropic type breathing, Wim Hof cycles, and a lot of breath hold practice (using time tables from divers), and finding that if I do a long intense session (say 1-3 hours) I sometimes get a brief intense piti experience. It generally lasts 5-30 seconds, and includes a warm feeling of deep pleasantness and contentment that covers at best perhaps 20% of my energy body. It's like being wrapped in a warm blanket of love, it's a little like an orgasm, or like the body high of a psychedelic - it's blissful, delicious, delightful - "as advertised" as Daniel might say.

I am wondering if this is actually piti; or some totally different phenomenon - perhaps related to oxygen deprivation. Even if it is piti, while this feeling is exactly what I want and am practicing to reach, I'm not comfortable accessing it this way often, because of the difficulty and load on my body of doing hours of breathwork including a lot of breath holds. (plus it doesn't last). So I guess I'm wondering how to bridge from these experiences to meditative joy during more ordinary meditaton. I'm leery of just continuing to put hours each week into concentration practices in the hope that they'll eventually start producing these kinds of feelings that they never have before (although I'm open to it since that's the conventional wisdom - when samadhi gets good enough, joy arises).

One thing I've done, now that I sort of know the "feel" or "frequency" of piti (assuming that's what this is), is try to summon it by playing with my breath in various mild ways (based on Rob Burbea's lectures), and then concentrate on the pleasant feeling. I am able to get a very very mild but noticeable whiff of pleasant sensation doing this - as if it's 2% of my energy body - just enough to be noticeable - and it lasts if I focus on it. This gives me hope that perhaps I can access piti through conventional methods. I've also been able to get it to stick around longer after a breathwork session by focusing on it, and breathing into it, although it fades away over time.

I'm wondering if anyone else has had similar experiences; has an opinion on the relation between meditative piti and this breathwork bliss, or has advice for my quest to cultivate meditative piti. FWIW I struggle with depression and anhedonia, and am looking at meditation, much like physical exercise, as a place to invest spare time & energy that will hopefully create long-term healing.

Thanks for your time,

p.s. some related past threads on hypoxia / jhana:
George S, modified 3 Years ago at 10/28/20 10:30 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 10/28/20 7:16 PM

RE: Breathwork Piti - Oxygen deprivation

Posts: 2752 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Sounds like piti to me. emoticon 

Reduced breathing feels good due to the Bohr Effect (increasing CO2 in the blood results in haemoglobin releasing more of its oxygen load). There's a lot of stuff on this if you google Butekyo breathing. I find that reducing my breathing immediately relaxes me and releases piti (body's natural feel-good hormones). It's a very mild technique (nasal breathing with slightly smaller inbreaths and a slightly longer pause after each outbreath). Are you doing hyperventilation as well as part of this holotropic breathing? That would have the opposite effect (making you feel anxious, light headed and numb).

In order to cultivate piti you don’t really need any heroics. Just focus on that mild pleasant sensation and try to let it spread out. Think of it as massaging your body with your awareness. It’s quite a sensual self-indulgent thing. We might feel that we don’t deserve to feel pleasure unless we’ve earned it, paid for it or ingested it, so there can be resistance to feeling pleasure from doing nothing. Piti and bliss are the reward for letting go. Craving piti will counteract it. You just have to take it as it comes. The less you want it the more you get. It’s the best form of pleasure there is, but ultimately it is still unsatisfactory because it’s either too weak or too strong (agitating) or too short. There are some important lessons to learn there.

I suffered from depression as well. For me depression was a way of shielding myself from unacceptable feelings of anger. Once I was able to acknowledge and really feel my anger (without acting out on it) then the depression started to lift. Depression is not really a feeling, it's a way of thinking about things (I'm no good, I deserve more/better etc.) Try to observe what you really feel in your body when you say you feel depressed.

I can also see now that depression was a distorted reaction to an essential truth – impermanence or emptiness. I was clinging to the idea that my life or personality should be better or that things should last and make me feel happy, while it was becoming increasingly clear that none of that was going to happen. Once I started to let go of that clinging then impermanence/emptiness became less of a threat and more of a source of true happiness (independent of conditions).
Nicky2 nickjye, modified 3 Years ago at 10/28/20 9:54 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 10/28/20 9:54 PM

RE: Breathwork Piti - Oxygen deprivation

Posts: 51 Join Date: 4/18/20 Recent Posts
Naturally, any type of pleasant feeling can be piti but it may not necessarily be the wholesome & sustainable piti of Dhamma. emoticon
Oatmilk, modified 3 Years ago at 10/29/20 11:21 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 10/29/20 8:45 AM

RE: Breathwork Piti - Oxygen deprivation

Posts: 142 Join Date: 7/30/20 Recent Posts
I wouldn't do Fire Kasina practice as a beginner, you should at least have some basic Shamata skills. I don't think that your unification of mind is already strong enough for meditative absorption. What I mean by this is, that you need intentions for the practice itself and by repeatedly applying techniques over and over again, your intentions will become stronger, since there's less cognitive dissonance. Once you've reached a certain level of unification of mind it's easier to let go and be with the object of meditation until you reach access concentration. For Shamatha I don't know a better manual as "The Mind Illuminated" - give it a shot. It can take a while before you reach stable attention but it's worth it. 
Good luck! 
Jim Smith, modified 3 Years ago at 10/29/20 11:41 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 10/29/20 11:20 PM

RE: Breathwork Piti - Oxygen deprivation

Posts: 1595 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
I use the breath to trigger the jhanas.

But I do it in a different way.

I breath in a relaxing way somewhat deeper and slower. I try to relax and I notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as I inhale and exhale.

The feeling of relaxation is pleasant it makes me want to smile so I practice with a half-smile. That's important because the nervous system is organized into networks of interconnected neurons that work together. Because they are interconnected when some neurons in the network are activated, the others become activated too. So smiling triggers the "happy network". 

If  you want to experience piti I suggest you try this technique. Be patient, let the feeling of wanting to smile come naturally from the pleasant feeling of relaxation, and let the piti come naturally from the even more pleasant feeling that comes from relaxing and smiling. Be patient don't force it. If you feel the pleasant feeling of relaxation, that in itself is the seed of piti and in a sense you already have piti, so just let it grow naturally.

I find relaxation is more important than concentration. I think in terms of "access relaxation" not access concentration. So doing relaxation exercises first is very helpful. I usually find the jhanas are immediately accessible using the above technique when I do these relaxation exercises first:

There are many things that can influence brain chemistry, stress diet etc so if it doesn't work one day it might on another, so try it a few times and if it works sometimes don't be discouraged if it doesn't work every time.

One of the biggest obstacles is wanting to do it too much, or trying too hard. So if you are sitting and feeling grumpy or craving because it is not working, it is definitely not going to work under those conditions. Just meditate to relax, let go of your intention, desire, expectations. Try to tell yourself, "okay it's not working today I will just meditate and relax". If you feel the grumpiness lift after that, it is a good sign, keep at it for a while longer. Once you have experience with this you know when you are doing it right and even if you don't feel piti you know you are doing it right from the feel which is a big help in dispelling craving and attachment.

A few of other suggestions: 

Try this when you are naturally happy. Meditate on the feeling of happiness. That should produce the feedback loop that produces intense bliss. Once you experience that you understand what is involved and the rest will be easier. I don't think it is that good to routinely push the bliss to intense levels I prefer to keep it at a constant low level - too much of anything, even bliss is tedious and might not be good for you.

Try after a meal because sometimes eating elevates your mood.

If you haven't eaten in a long time there is something called a "fasting high", where your mood is elevated from not eating. that can also help give you a boost.

Sleep deprivation can make you feel silly, that can give you a boost too (I am not  recommending forced sleep deprivation).

Thinking of something you like can help make you want to smile.

Noticing the sensations in different parts of the body can also trigger the jhanas. Noticing the sensations in your lips might help. Or turning your palms upward and imagining "energy" coming down into them from above.

Metta meditation is similar. Try thinking of someone you love and meditate on the feeling of love. It that feels nice, let yourself smile and focus on the feeling of pleasure and that can trigger bliss. Be patient.