hyperventilation during sitting meditation

Noah 42, modified 11 Years ago.

hyperventilation during sitting meditation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 4/12/10 Recent Posts
Hello everyone,


Since a week or two, I'm experiencing periods of hyperventilation regularly while sitting.
It goes a little something like this:
I sit down, and my breath slowly calms down. Then gradually i become more aware of a pressure in my gut, the area where you feel your emotions. Then, when i keep noting it, it seems to 'take over' my breath, starting with a light but rather fast breathing. It feels like my gut is pumping my breath (I note pumping pumping). When i surrender to it, it can build up and build up resulting in very heavy and very fast breathing that can last half an hour or longer. Sometimes it suddenly stops and i feel extremely calm, with a sense of relief to it, breathing very slowly. Then it might or might not build up again.
The experience is quite intense and overwhelming, giving me a hard time to keep noting.

I'm just curious as to what to think of it. Is it a characteristic of an early ├▒ana?
I guess i should just surrender to it and try my best to keep noting.
What do you make of this?

Cheers,
Noah
Dan K, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: hyperventilation during sitting meditation

Posts: 33 Join Date: 5/15/10 Recent Posts
I think the common answer you will get is that you are experiencing fear or anxiety in response to losing control, or something along those lines. I think there is truth to this, so I recommend working on letting go and cultivating acceptance and compassion.

There's something else that may be going on here as well. If you look closely, you may notice that there are two rhythms associated with the breath. One is the rhythm of the physical sensations, and the other is a mental object associated with those physical sensations. It is the mental breath which is under "your control". The two breaths are causally related. Normally the two breaths are closely coupled, so it seems that they are one. During meditation, as the mental aspect gets more prominent and starts to feel blissful, the mental breath tends to speed up. This happens all the time - one or the other of the rhythms speeds up or slows down, and the other follows suit so that they remain in equilibrium. But sometimes one or the other speeds up or slows down too quickly, and the other can not keep up. Under these conditions the breath can become irregular, as the rhythms try to catch each other but keep overshooting or undershooting.

Next time this starts to happen, I recommend paying very close attention to the impulse to breath. Notice how there is an impulse to start inhalation (mental breath) during the outbreath (physical breath). Try to manipulate the impulse so that the impulse to breath in happens exactly with the inbreath, and the impulse to breath out happens exactly with the outbreath. Think of it like a two person dance. The breath has the lead, and you are just trying to follow it. Try as hard as you can not to step on any toes (don't control the physical breath). This will cause the breath to become refined, so if you are doing insight practices on the breath sensations you may want to step on some toes regardless.
Noah 42, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: hyperventilation during sitting meditation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 4/12/10 Recent Posts
Hi Dan K,

Dan K:

[...]
There's something else that may be going on here as well. [...]


I think what you describe is exactly what is happening. Just before the 'pumping' breath in my gut takes over, it feels like two distinct breath-systems are competing for dominance. These must be the different breath rhythms you're talking of.
Also, if the heavy pumping breath suddenly stops, there's no intention to breathe whatsoever. It's weird, gives me the sense i could just sit here and not breathe for eternity, and I have to consciously decide to start breathing again.

I've been trying to notice the intention to breathe, but find it hard to recognize intentions so far. Guess I'll just try harder. Maybe now that I've gained some awareness of these two breathing rhythms I'll have more luck.

Thanks a lot for you're response, a very helpful one.

Cheers,
Noah
Dan K, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: hyperventilation during sitting meditation

Posts: 33 Join Date: 5/15/10 Recent Posts
I'm glad my response has relevance to your situation. Don't obsess over my word choice of "intention". I could also have described it as expectation, projection, or desire related to the breath.

Something else occurred to me. As you approach the end of the inbreath or outbreath, you might notice a slight anxiety or fear. The timing of this feeling depends on whether the breath starts and ends on the inbreath or outbreath. I have noticed that it is a desire to resolve this anxiety which causes the inbreath or outbreath to start prematurely on every cycle, causing irregular breathing.

This situation happens as the mind starts to settle on the present moment. Before, the mind was considering future breaths. Now the mind is only considering one breath at a time. The mind takes a single breath cycle as an object, sweeps over it from beginning to end, and then at the very end of the cycle the mind jumps to a new breath and starts sweeping from the beginning. This is fine until the mental breath speeds up. When the mental breath is a little ahead of the physical breath, there is a brief instant, just after the mental breath has switched to a new cycle, when the mental breath "can not find it's dance partner" and freaks out. There's a lot to be learned about much more than the breath by investigating why, how, and when this sort of thing happens.
Noah 42, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: hyperventilation during sitting meditation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 4/12/10 Recent Posts
Hi Dan K,

Thanks again for your response.
I'm trying now to align the two breathing rhythms, and it's working out quite well. You're analogy of the two person's dance is quite accurate, it feels very relaxing when the two get into the grove. I have to be very careful not to control the physical breath though.

Thanks for your elaboration on what's happening with the two. I'll pay close attention to what the mental breath is doing and see if I can find what you're describing.
For now actually, it seems it's the mental breath that is slower than the physical one. More like former is trying to control and holding down the latter, like a parent holding his raging kid. Only when they align the physical breath relaxes and slows down.

Cheers,
Noah
Dan K, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: hyperventilation during sitting meditation

Posts: 33 Join Date: 5/15/10 Recent Posts
After a little bit of practice the mind should get better at estimating the length of the breath, and you can stop bothering with the physical/mental breath discrimination, unless you need to get through a bout of hyperventilation. Can you give an update in a few days?
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: hyperventilation during sitting meditation

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Hyperventilation: late 1st vipassana jhana, early 2nd, early A&P stuff likely, where Cause and Effect-like phenomena (breath jerking, getting rapid, etc.) happens. Normal stuff. I remember doing something like that for 3 days every time I would sit when on retreat, just side effects, more objects for exploration.

Don't worry about it. Don't try to control it. Just not every little bit of sensations that makes it up and don't worry one bit what the breath does, regardless of how fast it goes, how slow it goes, if it stops, starts, etc. Just follow all the sensations and eventually you will get to the next thing.

Daniel

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