Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

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Nick W (aka Bagpuss), modified 7 Years ago.

Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
Headaches in practice are no fun. The purpose of this new thread is to log some experiments I've been doing to get through a very rough patch in my meditation. If anyone else is experiencing headaches in their practice, please tell us what you have done to work through them!

If you know about my practice history (or don't care) skip down to "Headaches" below.

History
About 2yrs of Goenka style body scan practice with the last 6mts or so spent largely on navigating the stages of insight through the jhana I learnt to generate with that increased perceptual threshold in regard to sensations. It seems I'm quite attuned to kinaesthetic/somatic type stuff. I can generally feel a "field" of awareness in and around the body all of the time. On the skin it is a light tingling that shifts and shimmers to varying degrees depending on what Im doing. Outside the body it's like an extension of that but felt as a field of sensations surrounding the physical "core". It varies from close to the body to maybe the size of the room (when meditating).

Headaches
My headaches in meditation have been getting worse for a while now. They started with a pinching/creasing sensation in the forehead that I seem powerless to release. At night I have to go to sleep with one hand on my forehead to stop it from tightening up as the body-mind starts to meditate itself. It happens when I read, write, watch tv etc but not when I walk or exercise. This in itself is not a huge issue. But what really floored me on my recent retreat was the addition of a really ugly pain right inside the skull that feels kind of like the whole brain is tightening. This increases as I meditate. It feels intuitively like all the vibrations in my body are centring in my head and that my attention is "pooling" or "gravitating to" that spot. It's a real mess.

This has put the breaks on my jhana practice because it seems even concentrating on the pleasure generated in the body still eventually turns into crippling headache. Not just in the 3rd jhana where I would normally experience some degree of dark night like sensations in the head, but even in what may be 4th, or at least is 11th-nana territory -- generally in the 4th/11th kind of area the headache will get the better of equanimity and dump me back into the dark night.

It's quite possible I'm mis diagnosing and ALL of the above is the dark night. I don't think so though.

Things I've Tried
  • Focusing with the lightest of light touches on the jhanic pleasure -- doesn't work
  • Exercising more control over jhanic states -- the teacher on retreat had me try this. I seem to have no control whatsoever. My "jhana" seems to be very much of the "concentrated nanas" variety and I experience it in a reasonably linear fashion and cannot yet jump about from jhana to jhana. I certainly can't go backwards.
  • Metta practice -- sounded like a cracking idea, but it's still all about the body, and results in the same thing: crushing headache.
  • Goenka body scanning -- going back to the strict technique of keeping the attention moving at all times did help a bit. Scanning only from the neck down in a downward direction as once advised by a TA on a course also helped a bit but this does not have the ring of "possible solution" about it.
  • Willpower -- for a time at least I do appear to be able to force the energy/tightness to stay out of my head by brute force. Turns out to be a bit like sticking your finger in the hole the damn though. At some point it's going to blow...
  • Visualising/directing energy -- another thing i was recently told to do was try to imagine the energy dissipating out of the top of my head (or my ears heh!) etc. -- Didn't work
  • Physically raising my eyebrows in meditation to release the forehead tension. -- This works, but only for a few moments and only on the forehead. Once the brain pain is in full swing, no amount of eyebrow wriggling is going to help!


Current Practice
I've had a bit of a fascination with Shinzen Young for some time now and figured I'd look more closely at his "5 Ways" I like the systematic style of noting and the way you can create combinations and variations to suit your needs. And it's hard not to like Shinzen.

So.. what Im doing right now is Just note "Gone" but restricted to sounds. Essentially I meditate with the window open and listen to the birdsong outside in the trees. Cars, planes, machine gun fire <--really, not joking. etc. When something ends abruptly I note it as "Gone". Mostly I do not use an actual label, but if the mind is a bit less concentrated I will. This is fantastic with birdsong as a birds noise is generally long enough for you to notice it end, but not so long as to become the background. In between noting gone I am paying (bare) attention to to the background noises.

Results
After 3 days of practice (2 sits a day) this appears to be working out great. The "brain pain" has got less and less and today it is not there at all. Forehead tension still happens during meditation but seemingly to a much lesser degree. I have hopes of that falling away too! I seem to be progressing through the nanas, though i do not trust my diagnosive ability much at present. I "think" i have been reaching EQ on the 2nd sit of the day. The DN appears to be vastly reduced. There is still a lot of "gripping" sensation in the forehead but it seems less. More a minor curiosity than a major problem.

Why this is happening is anyones guess, but here's a few thoughts:

  • Im not meditating so intensely so my brain just hurts less
  • I've simply moved past a particularly bad DN experience
  • The continuous bare attention on sound is channeling attention away from "vibrations" which in turn is helping to stop the "pooling" effect of attention in the forehead region.


I am still getting jhana like states doing this practice but i have been mostly ignoring them. My concentration seems very good right now (by my own history only) and I do not get any discursive thought at all until i reach the DN like stages and those jhana things seem to just happen in the background. Last night and this morning I have begun to split my attention very lightly between pleasure and sound/gone and so far so good. It seems to have good effect but I need to be wary of allowing a backslide toward headache.
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Simon T., modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 381 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
Look if you can get that tension to pulse by paying attention to it while paying attention to all the muscle that are pulling on it. Track to muscle from the tension, into the neck, into the back and finally to the tailbone. Pay attention to the muscle around the tailbone. Look if you can get it to pulse in synchronization with the pulsing of the brain tension. Muscles tension in the limb need to be taken care of too but I suppose you body scanning is working on that.
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Nick W (aka Bagpuss), modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
Simon T.:
Look if you can get that tension to pulse by paying attention to it while paying attention to all the muscle that are pulling on it. Track to muscle from the tension, into the neck, into the back and finally to the tailbone. Pay attention to the muscle around the tailbone. Look if you can get it to pulse in synchronization with the pulsing of the brain tension. Muscles tension in the limb need to be taken care of too but I suppose you body scanning is working on that.


Have you had any success with this Simon? I think I understand what you mean. I have an amazing amount of chronic tension around the neck and shoulders I cannot seem to loosen, but it does not appear connected to this very "inner" pain in my head. Any attempt to focus on it directly seems only to amplify it unfortunately...
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Nick W (aka Bagpuss), modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
Yesterday evening it appeared that splitting attention between auditory "gone" and the jhanic pleasure of concentration just irritated the headache into a full blown brain pain session. This morning, ignoring everything except sound was much better, but then my meditation is always less intense in the morning anyway.

Practice
I am now including all auditory states/events as per Shinzen's system: Sound, inner talk, auditory flow, auditory rest and Gone. This worked best with explicit labels about 1 per second. I gave no attention at all to body sensations other than to peripherally notice that varying degrees of pleasure were happening in concert with varying degrees of gripping sensations in the forehead.
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tom moylan, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
Hey Nick,
i feel your pain...

i don't know if these two cents will help but i hope they do. whether my experiences line up with yours i can't say but mayhaps.

in my experience the A&P presents as an energetic event with a range between a throaty yawn and a brain scrunching, facial richtus and has the character of an energetic vortex. i think of it as a black hole. i also have an analogous transition somewhere in EQ which is, i suspect, where you are...si o no?

anyway, at the A&P this has not been a problem for me but i can see how if i were a bit more sensitive or if a bit more power were applied the jump from richtus to pain would be a very short one. i have had recent experience with this in EQ and have made some adjustments in the face of it: your mileage may vary.

when i notice that this energetic phenomena is arising my first strategy is to note it. often thoughthe result is not satisfactory due to the fact that this vortex seems to have a component or aspect of bodily bliss associated with it. if i allow it to become the center of my attention i am pulled over the "event horizon" and either my brain scrunches or i pop out in jhana or fall back to re-ob or something.

while one could make a case that i am avoiding reality or manipulating it i see this more as a way to stay in eq and see my method as effective means to correct for a natural tendency fo follow that bliss and hang on to it. i believe that the key for me in keeping this under control is by balancing the two enlightenment factors of energy and discrimination or investigation. when i notice this event horizon approaching i simply scan for other "reliable" phenomena which are arising (for me usually internal audio). after a very short period i relax my targeting and go back to noting everything.

oddly enough, i too have been playing with shinzen young's "gone" technique lately based mostly on anapanasati. this may also help your brain pain. i do my anapanasati based on a combination of the first part of the body meditations of satipatthana and the following of the breath from the base to the 3rd eye chakra as espoused on the AYPsite.org site. i find the combine well without contradiction (he breathes in experienceing the entire body...) and for myself it reduces the energetic focus in the throat and head areas which is where all of this energetic stuff tends towards on its own in my case.

anyway, now that i've given you some eye strain i wish you further good success..lighter touch on the energy!

peace

tom
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fivebells ., modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
It might be time to emphasize insight over concentration for a bit. When this happens to me, it's been because I've built up some reasonable concentration skills which have helped to mitigate some pain and tension, but now the identity constructed around those skills is itself the source of some tension. It it's like I've honed a knife to cut away calluses which were causing me discomfort, but now the knife itself is uncomfortable, and I'm trying to bend it around to cut it from my own hand.
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Simon T., modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 381 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
Nick W (aka Bagpuss):
Simon T.:
Look if you can get that tension to pulse by paying attention to it while paying attention to all the muscle that are pulling on it. Track to muscle from the tension, into the neck, into the back and finally to the tailbone. Pay attention to the muscle around the tailbone. Look if you can get it to pulse in synchronization with the pulsing of the brain tension. Muscles tension in the limb need to be taken care of too but I suppose you body scanning is working on that.


Have you had any success with this Simon? I think I understand what you mean. I have an amazing amount of chronic tension around the neck and shoulders I cannot seem to loosen, but it does not appear connected to this very "inner" pain in my head. Any attempt to focus on it directly seems only to amplify it unfortunately...


The brain isn't a muscle. Any tension has to come from the body. A tension in your leg can act on that tension in the brain by pulling on the muscle in your back and neck.

I don't know how to define success since I'm cycling quite a bit but hopefully in upper stages so I'm making progress. I came to the conclusion that relaxation is another axis of progress than insight. When dealing with the dark night in real life, it's natural to put more focus on relaxation. There is exception to this, of course, like when breaking through re-oberservation.

We cannot actively relax. If we try too much to relax a muscle, we just end up moving the tension elsewhere. When you try to let go, just let the attention move from sense to sense, what happen? Do you feel you are tensing up somewhere? Probably in the lower back? If that's the situation you are, just learn to ride on the edge. If you hold too much, you are not going to relax. If you give up too much, it become debilating and you can only do it for a short period of time. So, keep it at the edge of discomfort. Let you attention move around. You can do it your with your eyes open, sitting we your back rested on the wall and your leg extended. There is also some benefit to let go entirely even if you feel you are contracting more. I'm still experimenting with this.

I must admit that if there is absolutely no pulsing going on, it might seems impossible to do. It requires patience. Keeping good awareness all day long is important. 1 minute being un-mindful can waste hours of practice.
Change A., modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 797 Join Date: 5/24/10 Recent Posts
If you sit in half-lotus or full-lotus posture for meditation, then you may try sitting in utkatasana posture for a short while during your meditation.

But any of the physical practices can be helpful only to an extent that one first has some experience with renunciation, bodhicitta, and emptiness. Otherwise, the mind may either keep the pain and suffering hidden and increase the physical pain symptoms or the physical practices may bring them up for a while but then they may go back without a permanent release.

There are shortcuts only to an extent, beyond that one has to labor hard and let it unfold and take its own time.
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katy steger, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 1745 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi Nick,

So for me --- if it were me --- this seems like dukkha nanas. I'm thinking of how much pressure comes with upmuncitu-kamyata-├▒ana (desire for deliverance (paths notwithstanding). The wanting and practice towards equanimity are not happening alone: they are happening because of the relentless push of dukkha nanas: so arising pressures tend to be what drive a person in practice.

I recently spent weeks working on what maybe a similar tension to yours.

So maybe you'll relate to the below.

1- lay in the fetal position with sits-bones (ischium bones) against the wall (spine perpendicular to wall),

2- roll onto back and elongate legs up the wall (can spend a minute or two pointing toes into one another to stretch outer ankles),

3- lift the heart-chest area up by bringing the shoulder blades together on the back --- closing the shoulder blades like sliding barn doors coming together will not only lift the thoractic spine and open the heart area of the front rib area, but this closure will press the sacrum into the floor a little: the spinal column will feel a little lifted and long and curved. The stomach will seem to sink in and breathing will seem to expand the chest-heart area mostly.

4- hands can be tee'd out to the side should level palms down, or just some distance away from the hips palms up--- the important thing is not do something with the arms that collapses the chest.

5. Now with the face, relax the jaw and with eyes shut, on a deep inhale look up with your eyes as if you're looking at the eyebrows, and on the exhale let each eye seem to relax out to its respective side of the head (as if you are an ungulate and each eye is naturally at the side). So this is like a little eye-ball vinyasa to play with breathing into the plate between the eyes where space is being created.

6. If you want to stay here for a little meditation, you could place a warmed bean bag on the forehead--- or place a warmed towel on the forehead and then place a book on the towel over the forehead plate between the eyes to just help deter that area from mounding up into a tension.

7. Now these are "clearing" the forehead area of tension as it arises with a little eye vinyasa (my eyes probably do not move much to their respective sides "ungulate style", but just making a light effort to do this action moderately clears the tension out of the forehead), just be with the tension as a great listener, really do nothing other than hear it with a little welcome. I think these issues have their own answer baked into them, but it helps a lot to meet the discomfort with comfort.

My thing passed after a few weeks and was certainly related to practice and natural cycles.

Good luck!

[edit: and I'm assuming you're considering medical stuff properly, such as family history, blood pressure, etc...]
Olaf Treebark, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 5 Join Date: 5/20/12 Recent Posts
Hi Bagpuss, I've experienced a lot of tension from energy stuck in my head and throat, and have recently been finding Thanissaro's instructions in Each and Every Breath particularly helpful. Like most of his writing, it is freely available online.

Also, Bruce Frantzis' Energy Gates of the Body has a lot of guidance of 'sinking' and dissolving energy downwards.
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Nick W (aka Bagpuss), modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for all the cool replies. Let me see if I can respond to some.. (its half term here so do forgive my lateness!)

Simon, I think we are talking about two different things. Or at least mostly. I am lying down and cannot detect tension in the low back. Sometimes in the abdomen though.

Tom, it's good to know I'm not the only one with weird as hell Dhamma emoticon I see what you mean about the event horizon, there is certainly a point of no return for me but it is a very gradual process which starts with the first breath -- it just gradually gets worse and worse as I go on (even after breaking into EQ, though it does ease off some and become less problematic)

fivebells:
It might be time to emphasize insight over concentration for a bit. When this happens to me, it's been because I've built up some reasonable concentration skills which have helped to mitigate some pain and tension, but now the identity constructed around those skills is itself the source of some tension. It it's like I've honed a knife to cut away calluses which were causing me discomfort, but now the knife itself is uncomfortable, and I'm trying to bend it around to cut it from my own hand.


That really strikes a chord with me Fivebells. I drop to barely breathing within a second (often it seems i am not breathing at all for minutes on end) and there is just no thought, no images right until things get a bit messy in the DN where the mind wants to be somewhere else... on the face of it this seems like good stuff. It was not very long ago i could not even imagine what that kind of concentration would be like, but though it feels like i am making no effort, it currently shows symptoms that intuitively map to "over-concentration" right?

Bearing in mind that this concentration is almost out of my control (i.e. it just happens on it's own) would you have any suggestions about how to emphasise insight?

Katy:
eye vinayasa


Mental emoticon Love it.

I'll give this a shot. I've also got a book here on Tibetan Kum Nye Yoga which has a very detailed section on massaging key points on the face to relieve tension. I'll let you know how it goes.

Olaf, thanks. I'm going to look at that stuff in the morning. Oddly i've not read that Thanissaro book. I really wish you could get his stuff in actual books. Reading PDF's online or after printing is such a pain in the arse for me..

Thanks again everyone,
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fivebells ., modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Nick W (aka Bagpuss):
...would you have any suggestions about how to emphasise insight?


It probably doesn't matter which insight technique you use, but my favorites, for what it's worth, are tonglen and the 4NT. For tonglen, breathe in with the intention to take on the tension-pain of the world, and breathe out with the intention to offer something good, perhaps your power of concentration. For 4NT, you already see that you are suffering, so that's the first truth. Next, hold the question "What is the craving behind this suffering?" When you see it, it often releases of its own accord. If not, I generally do tonglen with the intention to take on the craving of the world during the in-breath. The fourth noble truth will happen of its own accord as a result of the release, which is the third.

I described here another concentration-based technique I have been using to release tension recently. Basically, you do a micro body scan just of the region associated with the tension, looking for small, pleasant regions within it, attending to those mini regions on the in-breath, and spreading the pleasure through the region on the out-breath. The main risk I have found with this is that it trains your attention to habitually go to the region of tension, which can make things worse when it happens unconsciously. But when that's not happening, it's a very fast and reliable approach.
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Nick W (aka Bagpuss), modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
Just a quick update...

I had an opportunity to speak with Shinzen Young recently and he basically confirmed that this was a symptom of a stage (ie the DN, though he did not use that term in our conversation) and that I could either back off, distract myself and allow myself to slip down a bit, or try to work with it as best I can till it passes.

Obviously I decided to work with it..

I've been practicing his contraction/expansion version of Focus on Flow --not too far removed from what I was already doing. It certainly appears to have helped, though who's to say the same progress would not have been made with any technique? I have been focusing on the contractive, gripping quality of the head tension and the expansive, letting go quality of the field of impermenance surrounding the body, in the body, etc. At times I can note both contration and expansion within the head tension which is very interesting.

The most helpful thing I've done though is to stop worrying about it too much and try to just infuse it with equanimity and "be okay with it". It seems like I might be over the worst, but we'll see how it works out...

BTW, thanks for the 4NT thing fivebells. I tried it but did not really get very far though. I struggled with how to hold the question in mind without resorting to a mantra like practice! This is something I should return to, it's a technique I would really like to learn.
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fivebells ., modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Nick W (aka Bagpuss):
I struggled with how to hold the question in mind without resorting to a mantra like practice!


It's similar to a visual scan when you're searching for a physical object, or when your mind is looking for the solution to a problem but doesn't have any traction on it so it's blank, like in basic koans.
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Eric B, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 186 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Nick W (aka Bagpuss):

I've been practicing his contraction/expansion version of Focus on Flow --not too far removed from what I was already doing. It certainly appears to have helped, though who's to say the same progress would not have been made with any technique? I have been focusing on the contractive, gripping quality of the head tension and the expansive, letting go quality of the field of impermenance surrounding the body, in the body, etc. At times I can note both contration and expansion within the head tension which is very interesting.



Nick:

Interesting stuff. Could you say a little more about: the expansive, letting go quality of the field of impermenance surrounding the body, in the body, etc?

Eric
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Nick W (aka Bagpuss), modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Bagpuss' Brain Pain Log

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
Hi Erik,

so there are various ways of experiencing impermanence in the body: Here comes an itch, oops now it's gone!; Billowy wavy floaty lying on a waterbed; star trek phasing in and out; champaign bubble energy flows etc. There is also the (perhaps) more subtle long slow expansions and contractions of various parts of, or the whole of the body. If you haven't experienced this then you can find it pretty much the same way you find the various strands of pleasure that build jhanic experience. You just "tune in" very carefully until you find the right frequency. From there its a matter of a) being willing to be totally crushed by gripping contraction, b) being completely equanimous with expanding out into the ether, or c) experiencing both expansion and contraction in exactly the same spot (for me this most often happens in my head) or different parts at the same time. Sometimes it feels like being stretched and ripped apart very gently. With enough equanimity it's actually a very peasant practice.

Sometimes when expanding one expands into the "bubble" of bodily energy/awareness surrounding the physical form, sometimes one is that awareness. Its a bit tricky to nail down.

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