Spasms while meditating

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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:15 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:15 AM

Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Practical Dharma

I’ve had a series of unusual experiences lately and I’m not sure what to make of them. Here’s what happens. I close my eyes and begin following the breath; as I go deeper, I begin feeling energy surges in my head and chest; sometimes just waves of muscle tension, sometimes it feels like a burp “bubbling” up (but I rarely burp from it). The last couple of sessions the tension began to feel stronger, I feel shakiness in the solar plexus region and then I begin shaking uncontrollably and fairly violently – head jerking all over the place and my mouth involuntarily opens wide, it feels like it is wedged open somehow. I’m trying to notewatch and maintain some sense of equanimity, but it’s getting a little weird...any thoughts about what this is, and what, if anything I should do differently are appreciated.

Thanks,

John
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Kenneth Folk, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:23 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:23 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Hi John,

This is natural and not at all uncommon. Can you put it into a larger context? How long have you been meditating? Why did you begin meditating in the first place, i.e. did you have some spontaneous experience or did you just think it would be a good idea, reduce stress, etc? Have you always had this shaking during practice, or has it begun recently? If the latter, what was going on during sittings before?

Kenneth
Nathan I S, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:34 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:34 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
I know exactly what you're going through, because I had it really bad. I think the consensus here is that it's related to Cause & Effect, Co-dependent Origination, the Three Characteristics, Kundalini, etc. It's "just an energy release" and "old karma" but it really sucks.

Out of curiosity, are you an abdominal breather?

The trouble I had with it is that in a way it can be self-perpetuating. Right now, I don't experience the physical stuff to any great extent, but I can re-create that raised energy state, so I think there can be an element of intention and self hidden behind it. I.e., I would spend too much energy investigating it, when I probably should have cultivated more tranquility and shifted to a standing or walking position to reduce the energy involved.

You'd think there would be more insight about how to handle this stuff, but I think you'd be better off going to the kundalini yoga people for that. Standard Buddhist advice, I think, would be to eat heavier foods and meat, walk more vigorously and quickly, keep the eyes open, straighten the posture, etc., give the energy a place to go: that's what I was told, but none of it really helped that much. My teacher also said it was indicitive of one-pointedness overwhelming other factors of concentration; sometimes when I sit I just have to resolve to back off and "do nothing" to let it bleed out.

It's also worth noting, at least for me, that it hasn't gone away. I'll still have to sit with it to a certain extent until I get a little further into the vipassana jhanas and even then it can recur, just it's much less likely and not very severe, and usually I think a sign of me losing energy--going from subtle energy to a grosser one, like switching from a hybrid motor to a V8 to move the same speed, the V8 will "feel" stronger but is less efficient--and backsliding.
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:42 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:42 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Hi Kenneth,
Thanks for your input. I've been meditating off and on for a couple of years. I initially began as a means for stress reduction/relaxation but as I learned more about insight meditation I shifted my practice and took an online course in vipassana techniques. I stumbled across Daniels book a few months ago and was inspired to really apply myself and see how far I can go with this.
This situation began to develop back in the fall (I posted this: http://dharmaoverground.wetpaint.com/thread/2070876/Hello+and+a+question+from+a+newbie...) back in November (see also my update on page 2 of this thread).
Prior to this situation my sittings were relatively unremarkable from the standpoint of anything like this happening. I had hoped that by just watching, noting and trying not to interfere (avert) anything that manifested that whatever it is would work itself out. It's very distracting, and a little scary to me.
Hokai Sobol, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:43 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 3:43 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 4 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
First, check if raising your pelvis a few inches helps. If there's too much tension in holding posture, this sort of thing is magnified. You have to be able to relax while holding an upright position. Your breath has to be allowed to descend to abdomen without effort.

PLUS
Try 20 min of brisk walk and 20 min of relaxation alternate, every day, before doing meditation. See what happens. Also, after sitting to meditate, inhale/exhale left nostril, inhale/exhale right nostril, inhale/exhale both, repeat all 3 times. Let us know what happens. My two cents.
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Kenneth Folk, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 4:14 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 4:14 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Hey John,

I just reviewed your previous posts. Together with your current experiences, all of this says third ñana to me. You have not yet penetrated the object, hence have not crossed the Arising & Passing. What you are experiencing is not the dissolution of the Dark Night, but the solidity of pre-vipassana. The fact that you have come this far, though, is very promising and the prognosis is excellent. In addition to carefully practicing the vipassana technique, there are two attitude adjustments that may help.

1. Trust that this is a natural process and let it happen. Any kind of holding back is just holding you back. :-)
2. Be a scientist. Take a real interest in the fine detail of your experience, as though you were a scientist. Start a notebook of your experiences. After a sitting, write down as much detail as you can remember about the sensations that arose in the body. What was the sensation and what happened to it? Here is the format:

I felt a pain in my leg. I noted "pain, pain." The pain changed to burning. I noted "burning, burning." The burning disappeared and was replaced by stinging. I noted "stinging, stinging." The stinging broke up into tingling. I noted "tingling, tingling." The tingling broke up into vibrations. I noted "vibrating, vibrating."

This is how you deconstruct an apparently solid object into its constituent parts. Don't strain to see something that isn't there; just see what is there and DARE it to stay the same. It will not. It cannot. Be there to catch it when it changes.

This is a procedure. Think of it as algebra. You cannot skip steps and obtain the results. Apply the formula and you will get the "right answer." (There is no right answer. You are doing it right if you are seeing clearly. Vipassana means "seeing clearly.")

Keep us posted.

Kenneth
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C4 Chaos, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 4:35 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 4:35 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 0 Join Date: 7/26/09 Recent Posts
John,

i'm by no means as advanced you are when it comes to practice. however, i have a first-hand understanding of what you're experiencing. though, in my case, the "energy" is not as intense as you described.

it's good you mentioned that your main practice is vipassana. sounds like we're on a similar path so i can share my practice/technique with you.

i practice vipassana techniques as taught by Shinzen Young. in his lingo your experience of energy bubbling is a tangible aspect of "impermanence" as experienced with bodily sensations. in this context, impermanence is not a philosophy or a description of passing time, it literally means vibrations/energy/waves/kundalini/chi however you want to call it. this is impermanence at the microscopic scale.

having said that, a general vipassana approach is to just observe the sensations and let it run wherever while infusing it with equanimity. don't make stories about it, don't get afraid, don't get caught up with it. let is massage your body as if you're sitting in a vibrating chair. let the energy well up and subside on its own.

that's the general approach. in addition, you can continue to do "noting" technique using the following labels: expansion, contraction, flowing, gone.
see "Focus On Change" for details:
http://www.shinzen.org/Retreat%20Reading/Focus%20on%20Change-Summary.pdf

for the conceptual part, i highly recommed listening to "the Science of Enlightenment" CDs. Shinzen talked about the vibratory nature of impermanence and how to ride them with equanimity. also, checkout some of Shinzen's dharma talks on impermanence. i personally find them helpful.
http://www.shinzen.org/DharmaTalk.htm

i hope this helps. godspeed on your practice.

~C
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 4:42 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 4:42 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Thanks Nathan,

Yes, I am an abdominal breather.

You said: ....sometimes when I sit I just have to resolve to back off and "do nothing" to let it bleed out.
That is exactly what I've been trying to do - just let it run its course, but I would have thought it would be done by now.
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 4:48 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 4:48 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Thanks Hokai - I'll give these a try. I have normally meditated sitting in a chair (I have lower back issues, sitting in lotus, etc. is very uncomfortable). I built myself a seiza bench and find it very comfortable, but maybe I should add a cushion to see if that helps.
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:00 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:00 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Thank you Kenneth,
Very encouraging to read that I'm actually making progress, I felt it was just the opposite.
I am trying to trust the process and let it go where it wants, focusing on not resisting and giving it freedom to go/do whatever it needs to, but I have to admit there is a fear factor there as it feels very powerful.
I will begin logging my experience as you suggest. There is definitely a rhythm in the way it manifests so I guess I should have noticed that it isn't one, solid object (my big "duh" for today).
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:03 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:03 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Hi c4chaos,
Thanks for the links and info about Shinzen, I will definitely check them out. I never considered that what I was experiencing was impermanence manifesting - interesting....
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C4 Chaos, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:10 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:10 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 0 Join Date: 7/26/09 Recent Posts
cool. actually, i never considered that too. when i heard Shinzen talked about it and made tangible descriptions of it, that's when i started to sense the vibrations while doing sitting practice. previously, i only experience the fine vibrations during lucid dreaming, but now, i can sense them when i'm relaxed even when i'm not meditating. very groovy emoticon

~C
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Kenneth Folk, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:12 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:12 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
John, this is another door for you. You can penetrate the apparent solidity of your experience by noting mind states. If fear arises, note "fear, fear." How long does fear stay around? Is it replaced by some other mind state? Perhaps aversion? Guilt? Amusement? Disgust? Anger? Annoyance? Interest? Investigation? Wonder? Despair? Note them all carefully. How long do mind states really last? One second, maybe two? Don't be satisfied with some generic overview of the situation. What the hell is going on here, anyway? Find out. Are you tired of being bullied around by your experience? Bring that experience out into the open and see it melt away like ice on a sunny day.

Kenneth
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:29 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 5:29 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Kenneth, I literally laughed out loud when I read your post because I had just finished saying to myself, "I'm tired of this bullshit - I'm gonna get to the bottom of it if it kills me."

Thanks for the advice and encouragement!
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 10:05 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/17/09 10:05 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
I just did about 1 1/2 hr. sitting. Started off with Hokai's breathing drill, then set out to slay the dragon by noting it to death. Funny thing -- I only experienced dragon-light this time. The spasms were still there, I still felt a sort of gurgling in my chest, but not nearly as severe as usual. I also felt a couple of jolts - it actually reminded me of when an elevator suddenly drops an inch or two - at the base of my spine. Still processing, but thanks so much for all the tips.

Metta
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 6:21 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 6:21 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Thought some of you might be interested in an update on my situation. After making a few adjustments based on suggestions here, the manifestations in yesterday morning’s sitting were again greatly reduced. In recording my experience (thanks Kenneth!), a couple of things stood out. On closer examination, the sensation I described as feeling like a burp bubbling its way up now seems to morph into something like a stream of small, hard, oval objects on (like those small, polished river rocks if that makes sense) working their way up the neck (this is going to sound really nuts) into my mouth, up through the roof and into my head. What I earlier sensed as dizziness I now recognize as energy just buzzing around up there. Near the end of the sitting, my body abruptly straightened into what felt like the most perfect posture possible and my torso felt like a tube channeling rushing energy up and out.

I was able to see for myself, for the first time, what is meant by the statement that things are not solid. For example, the muscle cramps that simply felt like a solid lump of pain to me were perceived as a cluster of pinpointed sensations arising and passing rapidly all over the area. After realizing – really understanding at a gut level what I was observing, I immediately felt this tremendous surge of energy described above, where the body was “pulled” into posture. Just an amazing experience.
Also, I re-read Dan’s description of the 3Cs in the Progress of Insight section, MCTB, and what a relief it was! – I have experienced or am currently experiencing most of the physical phenomena described therein, so thanks, especially to Kenneth for pointing out what now seems so obvious to me. I finally feel I have a good handle on where I am in the process. That helps a great deal.

(Continued)
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 6:21 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 6:21 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Today I again started out noting in detail, but it now seems that things are sometimes coming too fast for detail; in fact some things I just have time to “beep” at as Dan described. I seem to be carrying around this sort of buzzing energy in my head now, even when not meditating – feels a little dizzy and I have the sense that something is building up inside.

Thanks again for the help and support!
Chuck Kasmire, modified 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 6:39 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 6:39 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi n8sense,
Doesn't sound nuts at all. Very similar to my own experience. As Kenneth says: “Trust that this is a natural process and let it happen“

“I seem to be carrying around this sort of buzzing energy in my head now, even when not meditating – feels a little dizzy and I have the sense that something is building up inside “

-I think so. Keep at it!
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 6:40 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 6:40 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Hi n8sense,

I just read through this thread, and it has been very enjoyable to read about your progress. Keep it up!

Regarding the quote in caption, it seems like you are really understanding how the progress of insight maps are useful. I can't even begin to tell you how helpful they are at each and every stage of the path. Though, if you're experience doesn't match up exactly to Daniel's descriptions, that's ok too.

You also wrote in an early post... "Very encouraging to read that I'm actually making progress, I felt it was just the opposite." If your practice unfolds in any way like mine did/does, you will come to this place often. The Dark Night stages can really bring this uncertainty to surface, and cause you feel like you're back sliding. Where you once were able to see both the arising and passing of phenomena, only the dissolution (passing) is noticed in some parts of the path. When this happens, don't give up! Stay familiar with the maps and stay present with what IS while practicing.

Be sure to report your findings as they unfold. Best of luck!

Jackson
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Kenneth Folk, modified 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 7:35 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 7:35 AM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Outstanding work, John. I'm really excited to hear that you have made this breakthrough.

Now you are doing vipassana. You have penetrated the object and are experiencing the 4th ñana, Knowledge of the Arising and Passing Away of Phenomema.

Thank you for your dedicated effort, and thanks to all the people who have contributed their expertise to this thread. John, please keep us updated on your further progress.

Kenneth
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John Finley, modified 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 12:29 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 2/19/09 12:29 PM

RE: Spasms while meditating

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Thanks CheleK, Hipster and Kenneth - words truly cannot express how grateful I am to Dan for his book and to the others who helped create this site. I cannot imagine there is a monastery, school, society or organization of any type with a knowledge and experience base that exceeds what is resident here, who so seflessly and generously share with any and all who find their way here in search of answers. I feel very fortunate (good karma?) for having found my way here.

I'll do my best to remain diligent and progress as far as possible toward the goal of full enlightenment - and I'll try to follow your examples and contribute what I can to help others along as you all are helping me.

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