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strong muscle spasms, what to do?

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strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
4/29/17 9:47 AM
Hi everyone,

I would really appreciate your help as I am having some confusing and scary experinces while meditating and I do not know who to ask about it. Meditation has been a great interest of mine for a long time and as well as a general inquiry into the self it is also an attempt to help with stress, fatique and depression without taking medicine.

I have done 2x10 day Goenka Vipassana retreats. On the 10th night of the first one my body heated up and then waves of very hard contractions would start in my hands and move up my back, neck, and head where it would feel like the energy would burst out. Each wave would take about 5-10 minutes, give me a little break and then start again. My head would move involuntartily to accomodate for the muscle contractions. The contractions are so hard that they come to bone breaking pressure, I can hear craking under the pressure like the muscle is holding as hard as it can. On this first occasion this experience lasted all night around 8-9 hours. I was not intentionally meditating, just lying in bed. The process seemed to work on its own. In the end I stopped it by taking a hot shower. 
After this experience I was too scared to continue with vipassana. I did keep up a light form of breathing meditation which did not create this reaction but I don't think I really focused my mind or stopped daydreaming with this.

After 18 months I decided to try again. I have just completed my 2nd retreat. This time the tension started in my head and neck on day 6. By day 7 the tension was so strong it was again as if something could break, its hard to explain just how strong the pressure is. It was only there when I passed my attention over it and then vanished when my attention moved. After becoming exhausted and emotional by this situation the teacher told me just to focus on the breath. This did not stop the contractions which are now running by themselves. It's a very alien experience, my upper body rhythmically moves itself while contractions in my neck, spine and shoulders rise up, hold for a minute or so and release and then immediately the next one starts. 
This continues the whole time I'm sitting and now even goes in my sleep or whenever I am sitting still with the breath, I dont need to meditate for it to start, just be relaxed. It doesn't feel like it will exhaust itself, it just keeps going. I am sitting as eqanimously as possible, relaxed with my breathing, occasionally thoughts of 'what is happening' or 'explaining the situation to someone' come in but I'm generally relaxed, but it continues. 
I have now stopped meditating. Gradually the spasms are getting less in my sleep. Last time I stopped vipassana for the same reason, because I didn't know what was happening, if I was damaging myself and where to get any support from.
I would like to understand if I am creating these spasms by my own stress, by trying to hard to achieve something with it and therefore holding tension until it moves on its own, in which case I need to stop and figure how to meditate in a way that helps me to relax rather than make it worse. Or am I pulling up old impurities/sankaras and to sit through it calmy and carry on is the point of this meditation. However it feels like the spasms are self perpetuating and I am not sure that they will burn themselves out. 
In other words I have no idea if I'm doing it wrong or actually achieving something with it. The word equanimous keeps coming up but I am not sure if I have the strength to keep this up in these situations or how to build that strength. 
For now I dont know what to do other than stop meditating. I feel sad about this as this was an attempt to help with my mental and emotional health, not to fry it. 
I would really appreciate anyone's help or advise on this one, it will make a big difference to me to understand how to proceed. 
Many thanks in advance
Emma

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
4/30/17 1:33 AM as a reply to Emma Seach.
Sounds like a kundalini awakening. There might be help to find depending on where you live, for example from some serious yoga teachers. I've had similiar but less intense experiences. I was recommended the Middle Pillar excersice from the western esotric tradition, though I'm not sure if it would be appropirate in your case. 
http://www.sacred-magick.com/Practises/pdf/The%20Middle%20Pillar%20Ritual.pdf
You don't have to visualize it in colour, white light might be preferable. Also step 8 can be left out if it doesn't feel good.

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
4/30/17 2:35 AM as a reply to Emma Seach.
That's a standard, expected stage, called various things, generally called the A&P here.

See https://www.dharmaoverground.org/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/MCTB+4.+The+Arising+and+Passing+Away

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
4/30/17 6:30 PM as a reply to Emma Seach.
I'd say take a step back from meditation as long as you have to. No need to put yourself through that. If it happens on its own try not to control it, let it be as much as you can. Do more relaxing activities like yoga,  taking a walk, deep breathing. Do you have history of psychological trauma?  This could be the trauma trying to resolve itself, but maybe it is too intense for you. Don't do retreats. Be kind to yourself.  Sorry my enter key doesn't work.

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
4/30/17 8:21 PM as a reply to Emma Seach.
Hi Emma,
I can relate, I've had the same issues for ten years now, and it is a kundalini awakening 
With all due respect, I think it's another animal from a simple A&P, in that this process takes years, and many times decades
To help with your concern, and answer your questions: yes, these can be considered samskaras that are being released. Understand that any reaction or clinging however creates more, perhaps more subtle karma, so best to develop complete detachment where possible 
In my experience it is best to surrender to the process, it will change, eventually and slowly for the better, but don't give it a time limit 
Wrap your practice of awareness and equanimity around it and everything else, yogic lore has designated the kundalini experience as an accelerated spiritual awakening, hence the discomfort, but it is good for you
Any effort that you try to expend will be fighting the situation, but I agree that it's best not to do retreats if it's too much for you physically 
Side note, the kundalini power itself is a neutral or even pleasant purificatory force, the blockages/pain is your clogged energy body/karma also known as prana, two different things. This is an opportunity for you to grok the three characteristics (especially dukkha) while purifying your system 
It takes some people a few years to complete this process, it takes most much longer, don't let that get you down. Believe it or not you are very fortunate 
- Daniel 

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
5/2/17 11:01 AM as a reply to Pål R.
Thanks for your reply Pal R. A few people have said Kundalini to me, I am going to do some more reading and speaking to some people who may know a bit more about it. It seems like such a vast subject but I'd really like to understand it better. I once did one session of Kundalini yoga, a sun energy kriya, and ended up with a fever so I think I am very sensitive to whatever is it. Thanks for your help.

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
5/2/17 11:12 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hi Daniel, 
This has been really interesting reading for me, thanks very much. I have to say I really didn't know all of this stuff. I am new to the actual experiences of deep meditation and had little idea about these stages. Is this something that everyone goes through, a standard no matter what technique you are following or your personal background and sensitivities?
I have to say though, if what I am experienceing is stage four then I am quite nervous about any Dark Night stages. I think I would really need to get some proper guidance before I went in much deeper. On the last retreat I went through some serious negative emotions but it was hard to tell if that was fear and exhaustion due to the pressures I was enduring or if it was an emtional release from whatever I could have been clearing out. 
I guess I was naive to the emotional clearing aspect to meditation. It makes sense to me but I think I need to take it very slowly and carefully. Thanks for helping, I really appreciate it
Em

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
5/2/17 11:24 AM as a reply to FM Cetin.
Thanks Nick I really appreciated your response. I think you're right, I really do need to do more relaxation. I think this retreat may have been the final kick to help me to understand the importance of that and step back on the idea of achieving something big with meditation. I am trying now to put a focus on relaxation and the things you said. The spasms are still happening if I just sit with my eyes closed but I am breathing through them. I am hoping that they are helping to clear whatever needs to be cleared. Yes I think I have had my share of traumas plus the tensions involved in the subsequent protection devices and fears are also all in there. This is the first practice I have done that makes the physicality of it so obvious. In many ways if this is helping me to clear things and change them then I would like to continue but you are right, with more than enough kindness and relaxation as a priority. 
Many Thanks
Emma

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
5/2/17 11:51 AM as a reply to Daniel - san.
Hi Daniel-san

Thanks so much for your response, it was really nice to recieve. Wow 10 years you have been going through something similar? I would be really interested to know how you have dealt with this kind of thing. I am going to look into Kundalini more. I mentioned in another response that my one attempt with some kundalini yoga gave me a fever so I think I am very sensitive to it. Would you recommend kundalini yoga or continued meditation with more guidance?

So just to get it clearer in my mind, what is the difference between samskaras working their way out and the puritying force of kundalini or do they amount to the same thing?
The spasms are stil happening even if I just sit with my eyes closed. They don't hurt but my neck can get a bit overworked if I let it continue. I am trying my best to detach from them. It's sometimes hard to know if I am continuing them with my expectations or hopes that they are clearing something out, but I am trying to watch any reaction and take out all effort. Sometimes this means that it's hard to focus on my breath while they happen and usually my mind just wanders off so I don't think I'm even meditating anymore just sitting there while my body contracts and spasms. 
If you have any advice on good areas of reading that that would be great. 
I really appreciate your advice
Thanks very much 
Emma

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
5/2/17 12:00 PM as a reply to Daniel - san.
One more thing for Daniel-san...

1
Side note, the kundalini power itself is a neutral or even pleasant purificatory force, the blockages/pain is your clogged energy body/karma also known as prana, two different things. This is an opportunity for you to grok the three characteristics (especially dukkha) while purifying your system

I am not sure I fully understand this. The two different things: kundalini and blockages in the the energy body- is this the difference between kundalini and samskaras? How can this help with the three characteristics? Also forgive me, I am new to this I don't really know what the three characteristics are, maybe you could know a good link so I can read about it. 
Thanks again emoticon
Emma

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
7/4/17 7:58 PM as a reply to Emma Seach.
Hey Emma,

I have dealt with VERY similar experiences so here are my two cents. I don't believe that anyone really knows why these bizarre spasms happen. They just do. And they often happen in a noticeable pattern (the stages of insight from Daniel's book).

In my experience, the spasms will fade, especially if you stop meditating. If took me about a month after my first retreat to "come down." Now the spasms still occur when I sit, but only sometimes and it isn't a big deal.

Unfortunately, they do not truly explain to people that when they start a vipassana course they are using a technique that's designed to show them some hard truths about life: it's transitory, it is wound up in suffering, we all lack a permanent "self." They also fail to mention that it can cause some intense side effects.

BUT I wouldn't worry too much. If I were you, I'd chill on the meditation, and then decide if you want to take the vipassana journey or not. It can be a lot of fun and beneficial but it is not always pleasant. I can't say for certain, but I think you will be FINE. My first retreat where I had really intense experiences like that has turned out to be one of the most important and valuable experiences of my life. Your experiences while scary are actually fairly standard. And they're actually a sign that you were following instructions. A lot of meditators would be jealous! emoticon Good work.

Jeff

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
5/2/17 10:45 PM as a reply to Emma Seach.
Emma Seach:
Hi Daniel-san

Thanks so much for your response, it was really nice to recieve. Wow 10 years you have been going through something similar? I would be really interested to know how you have dealt with this kind of thing. I am going to look into Kundalini more. I mentioned in another response that my one attempt with some kundalini yoga gave me a fever so I think I am very sensitive to it. Would you recommend kundalini yoga or continued meditation with more guidance?

Hey Emma. Yes it's been ten years, and one way my story was similar is because a couple of ten day Goenka courses preceded my energetic reactions as well. As an experienced practitioner said to me, it's amazing that the Goenka tradition is teaching a technique that is so conducive to creating kundalini experiences/energetic imbalances, but then has little to no understanding of how to treat them when students find themselves in difficult situations. Of all the advice you may get, much of it conflicting, I can tell you that one of the worst things you can do is practice any sort of kundalini yoga. Many of those practices will be the exact opposite of what you need, and IME there are next to none in the kundalini yogic world (at least in the Bay Area of CA that I could find) that have any first-hand knowledge of the actual process. These are feel good practices for people that think they want to have a full on kundalini awakening, but actually have no idea what they are talking about. 

So just to get it clearer in my mind, what is the difference between samskaras working their way out and the puritying force of kundalini or do they amount to the same thing?

Not the same thing. Uncomfortable sensations are the energetic/tactile expression of conflict in the mind/body. For those that are not undergoing kundalini process, practicing letting go, bare awareness and relaxation can clear the body of these sensations, or prana. Samskaras are conditional reactions that create vedana (sensation). No reaction (awareness and equanimity) no production of vedana. For those experiencing the different types of K-openings (see 'Kundalini Vidya' by Joan Harrigan for the most comprehensive treatment of the subject of anything that I've found) it's different. The K force moves through the pranic blockages, so the discomfort you feel are those blockages, not the kundalini force. It doesn't stop though, the purfying force of kundalini is unrelenting. The story goes that K is uprooting your many lifetimes of accumulated karma in the form of reactions and the discomfort that inner conflict has created, over eons, and the process ends when you are fully enlightened. So it's a long game. Whether or not any of that is true, you will need to decide for yourself, and noone really knows, and those that say they do know will most likely be very eager to show you their beautiful collection of handmade tin foil hats. Kundalini force is historically likened to the feminine Shakti power, the life force manifested, Shiva being the masculine potential. The two want to meet and get it on at your crown chakra is order for you to be a fully formed human being. Once that happens the energy on it's own moves to the heart center to open you up completely. This is an intimate and fully felt experience, imagination doesn't play a role in a true awakening. Experiences run the gamut depending on one's personal psychology, and karmic and nervous system makeup, from pure bliss to excruciating pain, and everything in between

The spasms are stil happening even if I just sit with my eyes closed. They don't hurt but my neck can get a bit overworked if I let it continue. I am trying my best to detach from them. It's sometimes hard to know if I am continuing them with my expectations or hopes that they are clearing something out, but I am trying to watch any reaction and take out all effort. Sometimes this means that it's hard to focus on my breath while they happen and usually my mind just wanders off so I don't think I'm even meditating anymore just sitting there while my body contracts and spasms. 
If you have any advice on good areas of reading that that would be great. 
I really appreciate your advice
Thanks very much 
Emma

I like Kenneth Folk's practice because it is simple and it mirrors my own meditative practice, rather put what I happened to do into words. He calls it the three gears. Read about it here, but to paraphrase, first gear is observing something, like the breath or sensation, as is taught in Goenka courses: subject/object. Second gear is self-enquiry, where the awareness is directed back at who/what is observing. I would say there is no right or wrong way to do this, just the way that you do it, but one hint you can look at is where do I start and end in felt experience, and are these lines of me/not me really true or perhaps arbitrary. Maybe that was more than a hint. Third gear is letting be. Dropping all effort and trying, including the effort to drop effort. This is a sinking in of sorts and the relaxation side of meditation that in IMO in sorely lacking in the Goenka technique. This letting be is also very personal, and you may feel like you're floating and not quite sure where you are. That's ok, you're giving up control 
There's a lot out there to read, believe me, I've read a lot. I would say go to what you gravitate towards, but since we are on the dharma overground I would of course recommend Daniel Ingram's seminal work, 'Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha'. Everyone is eagerly awaiting his updated volume
I also like 'A Path with Heart' by Jack Kornfield. There's a lot of foofy stuff out there about kundalini that isn't worth the paper it's printed on, the recommendation I gave above by Joan Harrigan is a good place to start and finish if you want an overview of the terrain and how in-depth the subject can be. The reason I say you're lucky is that you have awakened the inner guru, your higher self, Buddha Nature - and while everyone has one, yours is now manifest in a more powerful way, and much more difficult to ignore. So if you have things in your life now that are not in alignment, like relationships or diet or alcohol or drug use etc., those issues will most likely become more pronounced and unbearable moving forward, and you'll need to drop them. It's just a matter of becoming more sensative, but on the flip side, more compassionate, and more fearless 

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
5/2/17 10:52 PM as a reply to Emma Seach.
Emma Seach:
One more thing for Daniel-san...

1
Side note, the kundalini power itself is a neutral or even pleasant purificatory force, the blockages/pain is your clogged energy body/karma also known as prana, two different things. This is an opportunity for you to grok the three characteristics (especially dukkha) while purifying your system

I am not sure I fully understand this. The two different things: kundalini and blockages in the the energy body- is this the difference between kundalini and samskaras? How can this help with the three characteristics? Also forgive me, I am new to this I don't really know what the three characteristics are, maybe you could know a good link so I can read about it. 
Thanks again emoticon
Emma

All good questions grasshopper. Besides your inner guru, don't forget Google ;)

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
6/28/17 2:22 PM as a reply to Daniel - san.

Uncomfortable sensations are the energetic/tactile expression of conflict in the mind/body.


ha! that's something I was trying to explain to my doctors recently; there's a link between mental conflict and my mysterious chronic pain issues.
I wasn't expecting to find it here, or someone else suffering bizarre muscle spasms, although Emma's sound much milder than mine.
Add to that that my pain management routine seems to double as insight meditation, and... well, maybe it's about time I got back to intentionally meditating.

Emma, if you're still dealing with the spasms and side-effects are lingering, here's a few ways to be kind to your body afterwards:

* topical magnesium is relaxing and comes in many forms, from epsom salts to gels.
* for stubborn knots, grab a tennis ball or something and work them out. Kelly Starrett has a lot of youtube tutorials (I have his book, it was extremely helpful back when just standing up risked a spasm)
* or if you can afford it, have a massage therapist dig into those knots for you.
* get to know those poor muscles; practice being mindful of them during the day whether you're meditating or not. learn what sets them off and what exactly is happening when that happens, if that makes any sense emoticon

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
7/3/17 6:14 AM as a reply to Emma Seach.
I´ve been sitting with this for nearly 3 years now and it is a life changer. To the better. So I advise not to worry and explore. Be very kind to yourself and do not push anything.
I recommend seeing a Rolfing therapist. This might be helpful. Try finding a Certified Advanced Rolfer, they have at least seven years´ practice.
Also interesting: David Berceli´s book “Trauma Release Exercises”. There is no need to do the exercises he suggests, but the book provides a few interesting explanations.

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
7/4/17 4:45 AM as a reply to Jo Jo.
Also check out Internal Moving Healing by Robert Harry Hoover, who also trained with U Ba Khin but was taught different stuff by him.

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
7/9/17 11:23 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thank you, Daniel, ordered it.

RE: strong muscle spasms, what to do?
Answer
7/9/17 6:20 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
Also check out Internal Moving Healing by Robert Harry Hoover, who also trained with U Ba Khin but was taught different stuff by him.

Super interesting Daniel, I ordered the book as well.
The guy is definitely a character, the writing style is nutso, but not so hard to get the gist. 
I remember Goenka tells a story about an engineer at one of U Ba Khin’s retreats and he was jumping off the walls. U Ba Khin told people to just let him be, that he had some serious sankaras to deal with because he had designed atomic weapons that helped to kill loads of people. Wonder if it's the same dude. 
Anyway, I have questions, and if anyone has answers/opinions I’d really like to hear them.
What Robert Henry Hover is talking about, is what I would call Vipassana, as taught by SN Goenka. That said, this is more how I practiced Vipassana for the first year or so when I started over ten years ago, and maybe more aggressive than intended. 
He is instructing the practitioner to push and chop and compress the heavy sensations in the body with awareness, by being there in the body. He refers to uncomfortable sensations as ‘faint matter’, but basically he is referring to chi (IMO). He says not to passively observe the sensations with equanimity, as is really the Goenka instruction, but to actively move them out the body, chop them, plane them, compress them. So, energy work.
I did lots of stuff like that when pretty deeply concentrated, and there are loads of energetic side effects – kundalini type stuff that has lasted for ten years for me, since my second 10-day retreat in July 2007.
It took me some time to discover passive bare awareness, effortless effort, and it was like finding gold. Actually Goenka doesn’t really get into this so much, he is more focused on the anicca aspect of phenomenon than the anatta characteristic, which is where the experience of effort seems to point. i.e., who/what applies effort, and against who/what?
To me, effortless effort is more like a Dzogchen teaching, dropping the doer completely and finding the natural state. The gold was that meditation practice finally provided fruits beyond what I had imagined it even could when I first got into it. I connected (on again off again) with the fearless Buddha Nature within, the Inner Guru, that is content and fearless and wise. I transcended afflictive emotions, albeit not permanently.
My intuition was that practicing effortless effort, more specifically, bare awareness of sensations with a deep well of equanimity, allowing everything/anything to happen, was the highest form of meditation, and by that token, the highest form of energy work, as whenever I applied effort, even in a subtle way, it felt stressful, and like ‘mind against mind’. That effortful practice seemed to create some subtle sensations in the body, more sankaras. It's an avoidance of reality because you are trying to change it, there is dissatisfaction inherent there. The ‘taste of purification’ was strongest for me with bare awareness practice (Ken Folk’s third gear?) and my idea was that this practice would deal with my blockages the best, all the stuck prana and issues I have after going overboard practicing effort-based, overly-aggressive meditation. The strings of my instrument were definitely wound too tight.
The thing is, it never panned out. Ten years later, I still deal with these symptoms. Granted, I took half that time mostly off practice because of life circumstances, but still.
So, my question: Does anyone have an opinion about this? Effort versus non-effort in the context of meditation, and which practice is more effective for progression on the path? For clearing stuck prana? I know that in MCTB Daniel poopoos emotional perfection models, but I actually think they’re primary in the field of meditative practice. Mostly because I’ve experienced it, just never permanently sustained anything. I’m looking forward to what MCTB2 has to say about all this too, if it's different.