Buddha head embedded in roots of banyan tree

Odd experiences in meditation

Buddha head embedded in roots of banyan tree

I get a lot of people writing and asking about unusual and odd experiences they’ve had in meditation, sometimes just once, but often on a consistent basis. Sometimes they’re worried, but sometimes I think they’re hoping that these weird experiences in meditation are signs that they’re enlightened, or close to it, or that they have meditation superpowers.

These hopes and fears are quite understandable. I hate to disappoint, but these kinds of unusual experiences are usually pretty common. Most weird experiences in meditation are not of any great significance. Sometimes they are good signs, though, so I’ve tried to clarify that where possible.

Below I’ve categorized into some of the things people have described. I’ve put them into six groups, and I’ll discuss each type separately.

The six groups are:

  1. Swirling lights and dreamlike images
  2. Helpful signs
  3. Distorted body sensations
  4. Tingling and energy
  5. Involuntary twitching and spontaneous movements
  6. Sensations of pressure

I’ll say upfront, though, that I can never be 100% confident I’ve categorized these odd experiences correctly. After all I’m having to interpret other people’s experiences, often from descriptions that are unclear.

1. Swirling Lights and Dreamlike Images

People get really excited about the swirling lights! And sometimes they get freaked out by seeing faces or other images appearing in the mind’s eye. Here are some real-life descriptions.

  • During my sit I saw a bright white/yellow circle shape flash of light in between my eyebrows (closed eye meditation). The light came rushing at me and filled my vision then vanished. While very interesting, it actually freaked me out a bit.
  • I’ve had noises so loud in one ear they made me jump, lights, weird visual things, feelings of floating or expanding or shrinking – just every now and then.
  • While i meditate in complete darkness i notice swirling of lights. The longer or deeper the meditation the color changes. I noticed it would go from a red, to orange, up to indigo.
  • When I feel I’m getting deep I can see bright purple colors swirling about. I’ve tried for a long time to find out if there is a meaning to this.
  • I have had a recurrent experience during meditation. These involve being completely absorbed by an intense yellow vibrating light, qualitatively ecstatic or electric.
  • i meditate in the dark. when i open my eyes and i look at my hands i can see like smoke coming out at the tip of my fingers.it look like when you get out of a really hot bath and you got steam on your skin
  • I have experienced a similar meditation twice where I am going deep…seeing stars/universes… colors…then silence…and stillness (void?) and then I am aware of a medallion that looks like it is made of stone with low and high relief with a face on it.

I’m going to include with the above other dream-like experiences, such as hearing voices, having images of faces appearing, and so on.

These experiences are nothing to worry about. You’re not going crazy if you see swirling lights. They’re also nothing to get excited about either. No, you’re not on the verge of enlightenment. In fact they’re not even helpful, as I’ll explain in a moment.

The swirling lights are quite common, especially in people who are relatively new to meditation, and sometimes when people do more meditation than usual. They tend to arise when people are starting to get a bit calmer and they are thinking less.

The nearest thing to an official term for these phenomena — that I know of at least — would be an “unhelpful sign.”  Nimittas are unusual experiences that happen in meditation. The Pali word “nimitta” can be translated as a “sign” or “hint.”

  • These unusual experiences (nimittas) can be helpful, in that they are signs that there is something we should pay attention to in order to become more absorbed in our meditation practice.
  • But they can be unhelpful, in that they disturb or distract us, and in that case they are signs or hints that there’s something unbalanced about what we’re doing on our meditation practice.

With swirling lights, dream-like images, and imagined sound that arise in meditation, we’re in the territory of unhelpful nimittas, or unhelpful signs.

This distinction between helpful and unhelpful nimittas comes from a first century meditation text called the “Path of Liberation,” or Vimuttimagga. Although the author, Upatissa, doesn’t use the terms “helpful” and “unhelpful,” that’s clearly what he means. Describing unhelpful nimittas, Upatissa says that a meditator,

…sees various forms such as smoke, mist, dust, sand of gold, or he experiences something similar to the pricking of a needle or to an ant’s bite. If his mind does not become clear regarding these different images, he will be confused.

Because some nimittas are helpful and some are unhelpful, it’s important to recognize the difference. Swirling lights aren’t helpful because they aren’t still or calming. They’re fascinating, yes, but they’re dreamlike.

What I think is going on is that there’s a kind of dreamy state of mind combined with mild sensory deprivation. People in sensory deprivation tanks tend to have very similar experiences to these. So what’s probably happening here is that the mind is becoming quiet, but it’s not used to being quiet, and it creates these odd sensations. They’re mild hallucinations, in other words — although don’t be alarmed by that word. We all hallucinate every night, when we’re dreaming, and most of us hallucinate during the day as well, when we’re having conversations with other people in our heads. The good thing is that we don’t believe these hallucinations are real.

The word nimitta means “sign” or even “hint.” In the case of these unhelpful nimittas, they’re a hint that we’re making some progress — the mind is thinking less and calmer than usual — but they’re also a hint that we need to ground ourselves in the actual sensory experience arising from the body.

So if these odd sensations arise, just note them, but be aware that they’re not helpful and they’re not something you should get absorbed in.

Instead, see if you can notice the actually sensations of the body and the breathing more clearly and vividly. Perhaps you can start with the sensations of contact that the body is making with the floor and with your seat. Notice vivid sensations, such as the air in the nostrils. Notice concrete sensations such as the movement of the diaphragm and the rib cage.

These are the kinds of things you need to do that your mind is a) filled with sensory experience rather than deprived of it, and b) kept absorbed in vivid sensory experience that prevents you slipping into a dream-like state..

If you let your mind get absorbed in these swirling lights it’ll stop you going deeper into meditation.

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2. Helpful Signs (Symbols and Synesthesia)

There’s another kind of nimitta (sign) — helpful nimittas that will actually help you become more absorbed in your meditation practice. Here are some descriptions that students have shared with me.

  • The breath became a shiny reflective surface, a cold metallic grey colour.
  • Sometimes it happens that there is a moment during a sit, when the type of experience changes in a way that can be hard to describe (but I’ll try anyway). It’s as if one sinks a fraction deeper into the seat, and is surrounded by a bubble. There is no desire to finish the sit.
  • Today, and I have noticed on previous occasions, when the allotted time for meditation has expired, I sometimes get “stuck”, in a nice way. I feel the urge to move, but it passes just like an urge to itch. Eventually, I “decide” that it is time to move on. But it has a different quality to it than the urge that comes from a timer.
  • Becoming aware of the continuity of the breath created an infinity symbol for me to flow along, never ending. … I feel like my whole body is breathing.
  • It’s as if I’ve wandered into a bright part of my mind. There’s a shift of my awareness and suddenly there’s a sense of inner light, which is soft and white. I’m free to move my awareness in and out of this area of light, but when I’m in it I feel very calm.
  • I reach a certain point where it feels like I’m acutely aware of my body while being outside of it, like I’m watching it from physically far away.
  • After about 10 minutes or so I flowed into self metta and when the gong rang I felt/saw golden light in and around me.
  • [I saw] some teal and purple circular coloring that I think has to do with retinal pressure. It responds to my movements, mostly breathing and pulse, generally as shrinking concentric blobs alternating between the two colors … it lets me know that I’ve found a good relaxed alertness balance and that my focus is refined enough to notice it.

Some of these might sound similar to the unhelpful nimittas above. In fact it can be hard to know what’s going on in someone else’s experience, and it’s possible that I’ve mis-categorized some of these.

But I think these are all what we call helpful nimittas.

As I explained above, the word nimitta means “sign” or “hint” and these experiences are all signs that we’re getting deeper into meditation. In fact, it’s pretty much guaranteed that if someone uses the term nimitta without the qualifications “helpful” or “unhelpful” (or something similar) they’re talking about the helpful kind.

Usually meditators talk about nimittas in relation to jhana, which is a Pali word meaning “meditative absorption.” The Sanskrit equivalent is dhyana. Jhana is an experience of “flow” in meditation. It’s an experience (or series of experiences) where our meditation shifts gear, and we’re able to be effortlessly mindful. Distractions fall away, and we’re left experiencing calm and joy.

In contrast to unhelpful nimittas, which you shouldn’t get caught up in, it’s a good idea to pay attention to these sensations because they’ll take you deeper into meditation. They’re “signs” in the same way that a glimmer of light in a dark cave is a sign showing you where the exit is. If you move toward the glimmer of light it takes you closer to the exit, which in the case of meditation is jhana.  (The Buddha actually described jhana as the “escape from a confined space.”) And as you move closer to the exit, the “hint” becomes stronger.What we have here is a positive-feedback loop, which is why this kind of nimitta is helpful.

In some of these cases it’s not hard to see that the nimitta is connected with the object of the meditation, or some other positive quality that’s emerging in the meditation. For example a feeling of love is perceived as a golden light, or stillness is perceived as a sinking into the seat or as an inability to move. The continuous flow of the breathing is perceived as a visual or tactile infinity symbol. The smooth contact with the breath is experienced as having a shiny, metallic quality.

   Jhana is an experience of “flow” in meditation. It’s an experience (or series of experiences) where our meditation shifts gear, and we’re able to be effortlessly mindful. Distractions fall away, and we’re left experiencing calm and joy.

These experiences seem to be to be similar to synesthesia. Synesthesia is a state where sensory information in one form is perceived in another. A common type is where people sense words of numbers as having colors attached to them. Estimates of the incidence of synesthesia vary from 1 in 23 to 1 in 2,000 (thanks, Wikipedia).

I think many of us have weak synesthetic tendencies, but that the synesthetic signals, being weak, are drowned out by other, stronger experiences (thoughts, feelings, etc.). It’s only when we’re still, and the mind is calm, that these experiences emerge. Meditation, in other words, can unleash our hidden synesthetic potential.

Synesthetic nimittas are useful because they are a form of feedback. Paying more attention to a subtle synesthetic signal that arises in our experience as the mind is calming encourages the mind to become even calmer, and so the synesthetic signal becomes stronger. It’s like walking toward the glimmer of light in the cave, and seeing it get brighter; seeing the light get brighter makes it easier to move toward the source.

Sometimes helpful nimittas can take the form of visual symbols. Unlike the swirling lights they’re relatively stable and very, very clear. They can seem more vivid than your experience of the outside world. I’ve sometimes experienced nimittas as images of water – very clear and lucid. For example I might find I’m seeing stones under the shallow water of a pond.

So pay attention to helpful, synesthetic nimittas, and learn to distinguish them from unhelpful, dream-like nimittas.

One last thing: People who are prone to having unhelpful nimittas are often prone to experiencing helpful nimittas as well. Often when people are starting out meditation they haven’t yet learned how to pay attention to the body’s rich pallete of sensations. But they do manage to calm the mind. A slightly dream-like state arises as some kind of unhelpful nimitta.

Once their meditation is a bit more established and they’re able to be more mindful of the body, then helpful nimittas start happening.

The same people seem to have both. It’s quite possible that some people don’t experience either kind.

3. Distorted Body Sensations

Another kind of unusual experience is when the body seems to have changed in some way. Here are some examples my meditation students have shared with me over the years:

  • 26 minute sit. Feeling of extreme spaciousness in the beginning and like my hands were infinitely small.
  • Notable sensations: being very small and yet infinite, as if pulled 35 degrees up to the right 4 feet away.
  • I had that strange sensation of body distortion again. This time, it felt as if my legs were huge and the rest of my body very small. I got a very funny image of what I looked like according to my distorted perception. Then the sensation faded after a few minutes and I moved on to Metta Bhavana [lovingkindness meditation].
  • I don’t know how long I sat, but it was very peaceful and I felt myself expand a little beyond my normal sense of where my body boundaries are. At a certain point my hands and lips felt like they were growing very fat, which was interesting to observe (for example the thought really crossed my mind, unconvincingly, that maybe my lips really were swelling up).
  • I have had the “swelling sensation” in my hands before during meditation and I always find it fascinating. It feels very real, like my body is expanding beyond itself and sometimes I feel tempted to open my eyes and double check.
  • A few years ago when I was first learning to meditate I had an a experience doing mindfulness of breathing where I felt my legs begin to melt. It totally freaked me out causing me to open my eyes and stop the meditation. When I did that, the feeling immediately stopped and I’ve never had anything like that since.

These are also nimittas. Are they helpful or unhelpful? It’s hard to say. I’d suggest that mostly they’re not helpful.

I think they arise a bit differently from either the dream-like kind of unhelpful nimitta or the synesthetic kind of helpful nimitta I’ve described above.

Mostly these changes in body perception involve a loss of the normal boundaries of the body.  Now, some parts of the body, like the hands and lips, have vastly more nerve endings than other body parts. In fact if your sense of how big various body parts are was proportional to the amount of sensory information being received in the brain from each part you’d feel like your body was like this:

Cortical homunculus by stormthor on deviantART.

Which is pretty much how the body can feel sometimes in meditation. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Given that they have so many nerve endings, why don’t we feel that the hands and lips are huge all the time? I think it’s because there’s a “correction filter” in the brain that “scales” body parts and makes the internal feeling of the body correspond more closely to the external visual appearance that we see. In meditation it seems that these filters are dropped, and we experience the body more as it is. And so the lips and hands feel large, for example.

Another (possibly related) mechanism is that there is a part of the brain (the parietal lobes) that keep track of the spatial orientation of the body and of parts of the body relative to each other. It’s been observed by neuroscientists that in some forms of meditation the parietal lobes become less active, and so our perception of the body changes.

The nimittas that these changes are associated with don’t lead directly to jhana, however, but to what are called in the scriptures the “formless spheres” (ayatanas). You’ve probably heard them called the “formless jhanas” or “higher jhanas” but that’s not a term the Buddha used, and they’re distinct experiences from the jhanas proper.

At the point these distorted bodily sensations emerge, you can choose to ignore them and head instead for the jhanas by focusing more intently on the breathing, or you can stick with them and see what happens. (It can take you into some really weird experiences that mess with your sense of self — in a good way!)

So this kind of nimitta seems to be different from either that I’ve described above. They’re signs, all right, but they’re signs that you’re heading to a different set of experiences than the kind of absorption that’s called jhana. They’re signs that you’re headed toward formless experiences. So whether they’re helpful or not depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

Some kinds of physical experiences are not helpful.  For example I had a friend in Glasgow, Scotland, who had an interesting distorted body-perception experience that was definitely unhelpful. He meditated on a kneeling bench, and, as you might know, those benches slope down toward the front. He’d been sitting for a while and felt increasingly uncomfortable. In fact he realized that he was sitting on his meditation bench backwards, with it sloping to the rear. This caused him to lean backward, and he had to put an enormous amount of effort into keeping his back straight. He tried to endure the discomfort, but eventually it became too much to bear, and so he stood up — only to find that his bench had been the right way around all along! The whole experience of the bench being backwards and of being thrown out of alignment was nothing more than an unhelpful nimitta.

A similar feeling is that you’re leaning to one side. Generally, if you’re having the experience of your body being out of alignment, even when it’s definitely not, this is probably an unhelpful nimitta. Just carry on!

One final distorted body sensation I’ll discuss is when you feel the body is floating. This is something I used to induce as a kid. I’d lie in bed, let myself relax, and just lie there, being aware of my body under the sheets. As I relaxed more and more, I’d start to feel that the whole bed was floating higher and higher toward the ceiling. At some point I’d have the feeling that the bed was starting to tip over and I’d panic and come abck to my normal perceptions. I hadn’t been asleep, but clearly there’s something dream-like about this, so we’re back in the territory of those dreamy, unhelpful signs.

I’ve never had this happen to me in meditation, but I know it has happened to some folks. So, sorry, but you’re not developing psychic powers. You’re just having a dream-like experience.

4. Tingling and Energy

Feelings of tingling, warmth, and energy are quite common in meditation. Sometimes people will describe this as an “electric feeling” or like “currents of electricity.” But this phenomenon can take various forms, as you can see from some of the descriptions that I’ve collected from my students over the years.

  • After the counting was done and Bodhi’s voice was telling me to observe how I felt, I noticed that my mind was calm, there were lights around me and my body felt energized so all-in-all it was a positive experience.
  • Perhaps it was my particular state of mind tonight, but I dissolved easily into simply being aware of my breathing. Hands and feet felt quite warm.
  • Sometimes I’ve felt a tingling in the spine during meditation, and I’m curious what that’s about.
  • During the counting of the in-breaths I was getting real rushes of energy to the point where it was a little uncomfortable. At one point ( not sure which stage ) I had the strange sensation of my mind being stuck/jammed.
  • I felt an uncontrollable wave of extremely strong energy. It felt almost good , but in a sense too powerful – pure pleasure.. I tried to just experience it as is but then felt myself getting physically aroused which freaked me out because I was in public with a large group. I then tried to control it and found it very difficult to do so.
  • During the meditation, I feel tingling in my hands and feet. Is this normal?
  • Certainly I’ve felt a tingling sensation that generally starts in my lower spine and spreads over my whole body

We call this energy piti (Pali) or priti (Sanskrit). It’s one of the characteristic signs that we’re near or are having an experience of jhana. So piti is a good thing!

This kind of energy arises when we’re becoming more sensitized to the sensations of the body because the mind is becoming calmer. Also, because the body is relaxing, there’s a release of tension. The effect can be of tingling, or of rushing energy. Sometimes the piti manifests as warmth. It can be very pleasant.

But it can also be a bit much. If the piti does get too intense, then focus more on the experience of joy, which will almost certainly be present as well.

Piti is, in a way, another nimitta (or the helpful kind), but a very specific one. It’s not traditionally described as a nimitta, but it’s an experience that gives us a “hint” that jhana is near, so it performs the same function.

5. Involuntary Twitching and Spontaneous Body Movements

A lot of people report involuntary jerks, switches, and movements during meditation. Sometimes it’s the head jerking. Sometimes it’s the arms and hands. Sometimes it’s the back.

First, we have to distinguish this from the jerking that happens when we are falling asleep in meditation. When you start to fall asleep – and you might not even realize this is happening, because sleep can sneak up on us — the body starts to relax. And then some part of your brain realizes that you’re starting to fall, and jerks you awake. This can involve just the head. Sometimes I’ve heard this called “the noddies.” One of my students used to call this “having the woody woodpeckers.” Sometimes it’s the whole upper body. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time this is what is going on when people experience involuntary jerks in meditation.

Obviously it’s normal to fall asleep in meditation. You’re sitting with your eye closed. You’re in a low stimulation environment. And you’re probably tireder than you realize, since many of us are sleep-deprived, even if we’re in denial about it.

There are other kinds of jerks and twitches, though. Here are some examples:

  • I was breathing, but only a teeny speckle of attention to each breath. Then my leg muscles started jerking which I felt disappointed about. Then I just got into a rhythm of moving and said ‘ok, ok, it’s ok’.
  • Yesterday’s meditation was short. I had the “twitchies” and just tried to notice them and be kind to them.
  • My muscles started twitching. I tried to ignore it, but then realized I was pushing the experience away. I tried to just stay aware, but on an impulse was out of the chair before I even knew it.
  • Tried to follow the wave of relaxation on the out breath. Lots of twitching by different muscles. By the end of the day, I felt more peace in my body.
  • Lots of twitching as my body settled in to the longer sit. Then came the memories of unskillful behavior (from yesterday). Back to breath. I kept returning to thoughts, judgments, stories. Finally, I became aware of the message….. Own my behavior and make amends.
  • Fairly quiet mind during the sit. Some twitching of my body in the beginning…think that was tension releasing.

Related to this is when the body spontaneously relaxes, which happens a lot. You’ll just be sitting there and suddenly your shoulders will drop, for example. It’s spontaneous because you didn’t decide to do this. In fact you probably didn’t even notice that the shoulders were tense. As far a spontaneous relaxation goes, pretty much everyone is going to welcome it, and it’s hard to imagine it being of concern. But the movements people are describing above as just as spontaneous!

Involuntary movements are things I’ve experienced myself. Many years ago I developed a twitch in my back that would kick in whenever I got to a certain level of relaxation, which didn’t take long to happen in meditation. This twitch would throw my entire upper back and head backward. More recently I realized that what my back was trying to do was realign a vertebra that was out of place and causing me pain. I was on retreat and starting to experience a lot of back pain. And then one night in meditation my back started to spontaneously twist, hold, and release. I knew enough to let it do this, and after a few minutes the movements spontaneously stopped. And when they did, the pain was gone. Somehow my body had figured out how to do chiropractic adjustments on itself.

So this may be a part of some movements. The body wants to adjust itself. Maybe it wants to straighten up, for example. Or maybe, as someone suggested in their comment on spontaneous twitching, it’s the body releasing tension.

One person above described how she experienced remorse about previous actions just after a bout of twitching. I imagine that the part of her brain that was trying to bring those memories to mind was in some kind of tussle with a part of the brain that wanted very much not to think about these things. Net result: physical twitching.

Spontaneous bodily movements can be expressive of other emotions as well. I’ve known people who have experienced physical movements, like the arms flying in the air, associated with joy or devotion.

Going back to piti, which is described above. Not all piti is sensed as tingling or energy. One kind of piti that’s traditionally described as “momentary piti” may well be a kind of twitching more along the lines of an “energy release” than an actual experience of energy.

So there’s probably not just one cause behind spontaneous jerking and twitching in meditation. It can result from the body adjusting itself, from suppressed emotion, from up-welling positive emotion, and maybe for other reasons as well.

If you have spontaneous twitches or body movements I’d suggest just accepting them. Let them happen. There’s almost certainly nothing to worry about. The brain is very complex, and most of the movements your body makes are not under conscious control. Next time you’re walking, for example, notice that you aren’t consciously giving commands to the dozens of muscles involved in that action. They’re acting spontaneously, and in a very complex way. And no one thinks anything of it.

6. Sensations of Pressure

Having sensations of pressure in meditation is not a type of experience I’ve had myself, but it seems to be quite common. Certainly lots of people have written to me describing feeling pressure. Here are some examples:

  • Another strange sensation I had during today’s meditation was pressure on the eye balls, just like fingers pressing. It was near the start of the meditation and only lasted 30 seconds or so. Another new sensation. In the end I found myself feeling pretty relaxed.
  • I have developed a feeling of pressure in my head–sometimes in my forehead or scalp, sometimes more in my face. At times it is quite strong and unpleasant.
  • I have noticed that I get quite hot, develop damp skin, and recently have felt a pressure in the top of my head, as though something is trying to burst out. It is not painful, just unusual, and not a serious distraction.
  • I have physical sensation in my body, rising pressure in stomach, sometimes shaking, right now I always notice that and let that sensations to pass.
  • i also was feeling two points of pressure (i cant think of another word to describe it) on my chest
  • I feel pressure, not pleasurable or painful, just pressure, on the middle of my forehead. I this normal, or is it something I should be worried about?

I suspect that these are nimittas, and that the only problem with them is freaking out about them. If you experience these, please relax and be aware that the sensation of pressure is just a sensation like any other. It’s not going to hurt you. I’m told that relaxing the muscles in the head helps, and that the sense of pressure can have a stabilizing effect on your attention, as with any other nimitta.

If you found this article useful or interesting, be sure to check out our blog, where we regularly share practical information on how to get more out of your meditation practice.

368 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi! I just read your article about certain feeling we can get while meditating. I never meditate but I am experiencing something really strange since an online reiki session this past Wednesday. The session went well as I was laying down on my bed. But the day after and since, I have these horrible feelings on the left side of the chest, like a ball of pressure inside that moves around and doesn’t leave me alone. It comes back and forth. It is bothering me. It is very veru present and keeps me away to do things sometimes. Sometimes it is in the stomach area, sometimes the breast area and sometimes just up the Brest. I don’t know what is it. It comes without warning. I don’t know anything about energy work. Does this sounds like I have some work to do on releasing energy? I have never experienced this in my entire life, I am lost. Any help would be more than appreciated. Thank you so much

    • Hi, Lee.

      For me the term “energy work” and talk of “releasing energy” are just metaphors. From my point of view as a meditation teacher you’re simply experiencing unpleasant feelings. Feelings are simply internally generated sensations that are an attempt by one part of your brain to communicate with another. The problem is that the part of your brain that’s meant to respond to these feelings hasn’t been able to figure out what they’re about, and so it can’t do anything with the communication. And the part that’s trying to communicate is stuck in a loop, like a person abroad who doesn’t speak the local language, so they just SHOUT in their own language, which of course doesn’t help. So you’re in the situation of someone being yelled at by a foreigner, which can be scary.

      Bear with me for a moment… A friend of mine, who uses a wheelchair, was visiting Italy with a friend. Neither of them spoke Italian. They were outside a museum that could only be entered by mounting step stone stairs. With assistance, that’s possible in a wheelchair, although it’s daunting. A museum guard came down and started talking excitedly to my friend, who of course had no idea what was being said to him. The guard kept talking, but getting louder and louder, and gesticulating wildly. The more he talked, and the louder he talked, the more confused my friend became. But fortunately he wasn’t alone. His companion said, “He’s telling us there’s another entrance around the corner.” So they headed off in that direction and the guard smiled and nodded. My friend was puzzled how his traveling companion knew what the guard had been saying. What he’s done was put a few clues together: they’d obviously been trying to see how they could get up the stairs, the guard seemed like he was trying to be helpful, and some of his hand gestures seemed to be pointing in one direction. The companion was in the situation where he felt less pressured (he wasn’t the one being yelled at) and so he was in a more relaxed state, and was able to observe the whole of the interaction. My friend, on the other hand, felt anxious and was trying to focus on the guard’s words, meaning that he wasn’t paying as much attention to his body language.

      Anyway, you can figure out what these feelings/communications are saying to you, but, like my friend, you’re not allowing yourself to be in the best state for doing that. You’re busy focusing on how you don’t like having these feelings, and wishing they’d stop. You’re busy resisting them.

      In being mindful of feelings we adopt the view that they’re simply sensations, like any other. So try seeing if you can accept them. They’re communications from a part of you that, like the museum guard, is trying to help. They’re not your enemy. So just allow them to be there. Don’t try to shut out the communication.

      And spend some time relaxing with these feelings, and even when they’re not present. Just try lying on the bed, letting your body’s muscles relax. Let your mind unwind, so that you’re in a slightly more “floaty” state of mind. To help with this, let the muscles around your eyes, and the focus in your eyes, be soft, like when you’re staring into space. That’s the ideal state (relaxed but aware) for making creative leaps of understanding.

      You might even want to drop in a question from time to time. It might be something like “Is there anything I’m holding on to?” or “Is there anything in my life I’m resisting?” (Holding on or resisting are probably the two main things we do that cause us problems.) You’re not trying to work this out for yourself, so don’t try to answer these questions. You’re asking a stranger (a non-verbal part of your brain) to communicate with you. You can’t answer your own question because only the stranger knows what the answer is. When the answer comes it might well be in the form of a hunch or an image. And once you have the answer it’ll start to unfold itself.

      Anyway, I hope this is reassuring and helpful. I’d be interested to know how you get on.

      All the best,

      • I uh am not the original poster but I found this description of feeling / working with unpleasant feeling super helpful!

  • I scanned through the article but I dont think it mentions what i experienced.
    I dont meditate much nor regularly. I tried it in the past but couldnt stick to it.
    But once a month or so, when I wake up early in the morning – 2 or 3am I sometimes feel an urge to do some slow breathing. I dont really have to do too much, I just let my body do it. After a certain time of this slow breathing my body seems to do some movements independetly. I feel I could stop all that process but I am just curious and wanna know what will happen. It s like my body is correcting its posture, my head leans back, my eyes move randomly, sometimes my lips are mouthing “words”. It kinda feels as if something/someone took over my body. But not in negative way and not without my control. But it s strange and i wonder what is happening.

    • Hi, Olla.

      Well, it’s not at all uncommon to feel an urge come from somewhere to slow down your breathing or relax. The way everybody’s mind works is that we’re unaware of volitions until they begin to arise in conscious awareness. Mostly we just accept this, but sometimes those volitions take us by surprise.

      It’s less common for the body to want to make movements, but it’s not exactly rare. I’ve had it happen many times myself. Sometimes the movements can be an attempt to meditate more effectively, or an attempt to adjust the body so that it’s more balanced. You can just trust that there’s a part of you that knows what you need and is helping you to bring it about.

      Actually, if you catch yourself in the midst of doing things like walking, driving, or washing the dishes, you’ll recognize that your body is moving all the time without you consciously controlling it. It’s a normal part of life. We’re simply blind to it most of the time!

      • Thank you for your time and the reply. I really appreciate it.
        It s funny that there is so much to explore about ourselves and it s like neverending process.

        All the best!

  • So I accidentally meditating too much in one day I wanted to explore more of my third eye and I think I messed up ever since I been having I think energy waves in my body and it hurts my chest and I got cramps in my stomach and neck and I feel the energy my mom keeps saying it’s in my head when I actually physical feel it how long does this last it’s almost been a week and I don’t feel like my self

    • Hi, Jordan.

      Those “energy waves” are harmless. If you just accept them then they’ll subside. I can’t tell you how long that will take, though.

      You may find that there’s some point of focus in your body, that if you pay attention to it will help make the energy waves easier to handle. Try paying attention to the movements of the breathing in the belly, for example. The cramps are due to you resisting what’s going on, so the more you practice acceptance the quicker that will pass.

      Lastly, if you’re going to practice meditation, start with a reputable teacher. I get a lot of people writing to me who have weird experiences after meditating to random YouTube videos!

      All the best,

  • Sometimes when I meditate I get a feeling in my spine, like a little massage from my tailbone to the middle if my back and back down again. And I see faces and objects out of know where? I almost feel like I’m in space flying but I’m still and things are flying at me?

    • Tingling feelings in the body, and up and down the back specifically, are quite common as the muscles relax. The technical term for this is “piti” or “priti,” depending on whether you’re using Pali or Sanskrit. The rest of what you describe is you being in a semi-dream state. I’d suggest paying more attention to the physical sensations of the breathing, so that you stay more rooted in sensory reality rather than in imagination.

  • Hi, I’d like you to explain me about an experience that I had while doing my meditation that I had done with the shamanic meditational trance. I was into deep meditation and I felt goosebumps all over with constant throbbing around my body while I kept concentrating on my breathing. Suddenly the music I was meditating on went mute to me it started feeling wierd I looked at my phone and the music was still playing but I just couldn’t hear it it was all still and weirdly peaceful awfully quite. I felt like I was seeing thing through my forehead I couldn’t feel any emotion, no feeling of spirituality or sensation. It was all a questions in my mind like I felt trapped in this body constant raise of questions like why this why that and when I turned on the TV I understood nothing that kept playing i switched to a channel I often watched but it gave me no meaning I couldn’t understand them no entertainment nothing. Can you explain what this experience meant?

    • Hi there. I’d suggest talking to the person who taught you the shamanic meditation you’ve been doing. I’m afraid it’s not an approach to meditation I know anything about.

  • I just started meditating and I have experienced spasms in my body , my finger tips tingle during hours after. I also have this pressure across my head in the middle of my forehead and behind my eyes. I see colors like purple, white orange, green and it is just beautiful but I don’t understand what is happening.

  • I have been practicing meditation for the past one year. Recently I noticed that soon after meditation their is a point in my lower back which hurts ( though slightly) for some time before vanishing away. And I don’t have any back pain issues. I do hatha yoga so other than a little bit of knee pain( because of my osteopenia) I am fine sitting in meditation. Could you shed light on this? Thanks.

    • Hi, Geetanjali.

      I’m afraid that without seeing how you sit I wouldn’t be in a position to comment.

      All the best,

  • Thank you for this post. I have a question, I don’t know where else to ask..I am a regular meditator and seeker. For the past months I have this uncomfortable intense ‘electric’ ‘pins and needles’ sensation through out my body (both on and off the cushion). Often to the point I cant sleep (have been medically checked over nothing wrong). When my mind rests in awareness I can detach from this sensation and feel it both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ my body, both at once or separately. My ‘awareness’ has no sensation whatsoever, it is neutral, empty, Teflon. The discomfort seems to grow the more I tap into being the aware empty self. What is going on? How do I release or understand what is happening, it’s very intense. My practice is not strong enough to remain in awareness through the heights of the sensation. Can you recommend any strategy?

    • Hi, Beth.

      It sounds like you’re experiencing a lot of piti (priti in Sanskrit) which is a perfectly normal and actually helpful experience to have in meditation. It’s something that happens when we’re in touch with the body and it’s relaxed and energized. I think the core difficulty you’re experiencing is that you’re assuming that there is something wrong.

      Piti can sometimes be so intense that it becomes uncomfortable. At those times it’s best to move our attention toward the heart, and to be aware of any joy (or any other emotion) that’s present. That shifts our focus away from the body a little, so that we begin to “tune out” a little of the piti sensation.

      You don’t say anything about what kind of meditation you do. For some reason hardly anybody does. But if you’re not doing a lot of metta/compassion practice I’d suggest starting. Do it a lot. Having a neutral, affectless awareness is not healthy. In fact it can become very damaging in the long term. I don’t mean to freak you out; it’s just that the development of warm emotional qualities is essential, even though a lot of people tend to neglect this.

      All the best,

      • Thank you so much, your advice is absolutely spot on. My practice is sitting still, getting in touch with the ‘I am’ and opening to being aware of what is present, I also do a very constant self inquiry practice when I am off the cushion. I think however since my ‘awakening’ into affectless/void I have been rather stuck there. I have however noticed that from neutral awareness the first response to a situation is always the most kind and compassionate (however I don’t always follow pure awareness’s great advice -much growing to be done). Metta practice therefore is the perfect antidote. I do notice that the Piti? has also affected my eyesight. I see pixillated energy, everything I look at vibrates in this same ‘electric’ way. I have been in a kind of subtle-stalemate resistance both to the bodily sensations and appearances, as it can be at times quite ‘overwhelming’, but the overwhelm when I sense into it is actually my labelling that something is ‘wrong’, or I feel that I must be blocked. Thank you so much for pointing to love. Strange as it seems I’m worried I will fall in love with the world and loose ‘myself’ :) It therefore makes sense that love is the next unfolding of ‘awakening’. I hope I have understood correctly your advice. With deep gratitude for your time and wisdom, Beth

        • Hi, Beth.

          I think you understood me perfectly, and I’m glad you were open to the suggestion. I’d suggest that it’s not your eyesight itself that’s been affected, but the way you perceive your visual field. Most people assume that things are more solid and stable than they actually are. In fact they want things to be more solid and stable than they actually are. And so they tune out the fact that there is a certain amount of instability and “pixelation” in what we see. It’s there all along, but they just don’t see it.

          The experience of piti can open us up to the fact that within the body there is no such thing as a stable unchanging sensation. The experience of the body is pixelated as well. As are feelings. As are mental representations. The question arises, where, in all this ever-changing experience, can a stable and permanent self lie?

          Anyway, these days there’s a tendency to think that the goal of Buddhism is having an insight experience. Actually it’s to become an all-round, excellent, patient, kind, modest, and compassionate human being. Insight without those other qualities can, for some people, be devastating.

  • Hi, I wanted to write a follow up from the advice you gave me on practicing Metta meditation it may benefit someone who reads this:

    I was struggling with a kind of ’emptiness sickness’ and with strong uncomfortable Piti energy. Metta practice was given as the antidote, and I have been practicing it in earnest for some weeks.

    I am a person who has lived in my head for so long, away from the hurt in my heart , spiritually I had hit a brick-wall, I was getting nowhere. The only path left was to go down- down deep inside the place that has stored all the hurt, to sit in silence in the heart and meet the pain with the light of attention that for what ever reason I could not give at the time. I have to love the hurt. I have to give compassion to myself so I can love the world again. There is no separation, as I love my pain, I love the world’s pain, as I love, I am love, it arises from a wellspring so deep it feels inexhaustible, how wrong I was to assume I only deserved a teaspoon. I can’t feed the world with a teaspoon of love.

    Now when my guard is down, when my mind is quieter. When the wall of thoughts are thin ‘I am that’, the god, the everything, the love. And now I know it’s possible to be whole. For someone who has experienced the numb and isolation of depression for decades, I can offer hope. Go visit your pain when you are ready, bathe it in the love and careful attention that it never received, it is the door way. Such is the gift, love and compassion are not outside to be found, I can not think my way through, I have to feel it with the filter of my heart and being….the only way out is through feeling, it will be there on the other side…emanating from within.

    As a side note: at first when I practiced I only watched the pain..I could not feel love at all, so deep was my numbness and fear. But I contemplated, ‘may I be safe’, ‘may I be a peace’, ‘may I be ease’, ‘may I be well’, ‘may I be happy’..one by one, day after day to calm my nervous system to a point where I could hold my own pain. Love is a confusing word for me. What arises is a unity. The pain is no longer separate from a ‘me’ but unified in an embrace that does not expect change. It doesn’t need to be gone to be worthy of my attention it can be allowed to just ‘be’. That is love. deep abiding acceptance of what is. Warmth, softness and light sometimes arise in tandem, I can’t conjure it, it arises by itself as grace, I aim to be humble in it’s presence.

    Thank you so much for your guidance, you have pointed me back in the direction of home. With love,

  • Hello there. I have been meditating for almost 2 weeks now and I would like to get a feedback or explanations on my experiences. On my 1st week, I usually focus trying to breathe thru my spine, then I always feel a sensation first on around my forehead then at the top of my head and at the back of my neck. The sensations always make my head (from bowing down position) move upwards on its own and I feel my hands and back neck getting stiff and my eyes are moving rapidly although it is closed. It’s freaking me out and I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. The first week I also, I experienced a very bright white light, it started very dim and became stronger and stronger and I freaked out so I stopped. Afterwards, my hands and feet were sweating I wonder maybe because I got scared a little. Thank you I hope I’ll get a feedback.?

    • Hi, Grace. If you feel uncomfortable then it’s probably best to stop. I think it’s best to meditate (especially early on) by paying attention to the actual physical experiences arising in the body rather than trying an “imaginative” approach that’s essentially taking you away from your immediate experience. But you really ought to talk to whoever is teaching you to meditate in this way. If you’re just making it up as you go along then I’d suggest finding a reputable teacher.

  • Patri Friedman
    March 7, 2021 4:23 pm

    Thanks so much for collecting these! It’s wonderful to have these experiences not only normalized but also explained in the context of the path.

  • I came across this article after having a very strange sensation during a yoga nidra. The only time I’ve ever felt anything similar to this was as a child. I used to have night terrors, and I distinctly remember my tongue feeling too big for my body. I’d try to scream but couldn’t speak or move. I also had this sensation in my hands, as a feeling of expanding or growing, but I was terrified because there were walls constraining me. So in effect, like the walls were closing in on me and I was being crushed.

    During the yoga nidra, again the feeling started in my hands and tongue with a sensation of growing, swelling. Somehow this time it didn’t feel scary, so I followed the feeling and allowed it to spread. Gradually it spread to my whole body and I began to feel as though I was expanding, beyond my body, beyond my container. I felt expansive, it’s hard to explain! But like the size of me was infinite.

    I’m a qualified yoga teacher so I understood that it may have been something to do with homunculus, or sensory perception. But it still had me reeling for a while afterwards! I find that yoga nidra affects me so much more profoundly than regular meditation. I am also highly susceptible to hypnosis!

    Do you think this may have been a nimitta or simply a distorted sensory perception sensation as my body relaxes?

    • Hi, Jordan.

      When I was a kid lying in bed, I would have the feeling that the bed was levitating. It was fun until it felt like the bed was tipping over :)

      Anyway, you ask whether your experience may have been a nimitta or simply a distorted sensory perception sensation as your body was relaxing. But that’s probably a false dichotomy and I’d suggest that it’s both. It’s not just your body relaxing, though. It’s your mind becoming calmer and more in touch with the sensations of the body as they actually are.

  • I have a question to anyone that can answer. During my meditation I heard/felt a door closing kind of hard what could that mean?

    • Hi, Jordan. It quite possibly doesn’t mean anything. It was probably just an irruption of dream-like sound into your waking experience. It might even have been a sign you were beginning to nod off. Often in meditation people will experience momentary jolts as they fall asleep and wake up rapidly. It may be that the combination of being close to sleep and the jolt of waking up represented itself in your dreaming mind as a noise like a door slamming.

  • Hi,

    Could you please comment about the following?

    I was into guided throat chakra meditation as I noticed the burning sensation in my left hand: at first from my elbow to my my fingertips, then vert intensive one in my palm and fingers. This sensation continued for second half of meditation time (approx. 15 minutės), and I still feel remnants of it 10-15min after meditation ended. I am vert curious what might that mean?..

    Thanks, Aiste

    • Hi, Aiste. Feelings of warmth, and their significance, are discussed in section 4, “Tingling and Energy.”

  • Samantha Stewart
    June 15, 2021 1:42 am

    I tend to feel pressure on my neck where I can’t breathe is that normal in a deep meditation? I’m asking cause it affects my asthma

    • Sensations of pressure aren’t uncommon, Samantha. It’s probably a little bit of anxiety coming around to say “hi” to you. The most natural and least helpful thing to do in relation to it is to create more anxiety. So just accept it as best you can.

      You might want to talk kindly and reassuringly to those sensations — saying things like, “It’s OK. Everything’s OK. I’m here with you and I’ll take care of you. I want you to be happy and at peace.” In other words give it the same kind of reassurance you’d offer a frightened pet or young child. It’ll pass in time.

  • Hello Bodhipaska,
    Thank you so much for this article, is very helpfull.
    I have a question, during meditation my body bends down and my forehead touches the floor, sometimes my body moves in pendulum like motion and lastly my head rest on my neck and I feel something something moving the insides of my head, I try not to freak out as I feel great after it ends.
    Is this normal?

    Thank you so much!

    • Hi there.

      What you’re describing would come under the “Involuntary Twitching and Spontaneous Body Movements” section of the article, although the exact movements you describe aren’t something I’ve come across before (except with very flexible people who are falling asleep, which doesn’t seem to be happening here). You could just go along for the ride. Your body may know what it’s doing. On the other hand maybe your body is being a bit dramatic and it would be useful to train it to be more still. Only you can figure that out…

      All the best,

  • Angelica Rivera
    July 8, 2021 10:06 pm

    Hello! I am a therapist and one of my clients came in saying that during a meditation her hands cramped up, experienced panic (feeling out of control that she could not uncramp her hands) and had flashbacks of previous trauma. I am trying to do some research to help find an explanation. Do you have any insight or could point me to resources?

    • Hi, Angelica.

      It’s very common to notice in meditation that the body is doing something by itself. Actually, this is an everyday experience outside of meditation as well. The body breathes and blinks without our conscious intervention, and we accept this as completely normal. The body walks across the room to get something and the action of walking is automatic — we don’t have to move our feet, legs, and arms consciously, thank goodness. Again we accept this as normal.

      Sometimes the body spontaneously relaxes in meditation, and most people will welcome that. It’s less common to have something like the hands clenching involuntarily, but it’s essentially the same phenomenon — some part of the brain that’s operating outside of consciousness is producing movement in the body.

      Why would this clenching happen? At a guess, your client was probably beginning to relax, her defense mechanisms saw that as a potential threat, and this caused the hands to clench in preparation for fight or flight. Does she seem rather hyper-vigilant, by any chance?

      A seasoned meditator would see the hands clenching as strange but interesting, and would accept and observe the sensations there with curiosity as they breathed with them.

      If they were me, they would regard that part of the body with loving eyes, and speak comfortingly to it, offering reassurance to the part of the brain that’s in charge of that particular defense mechanism.

      As you say, in the face of the unexpected and involuntary clenching of her hands she felt out of control and panicked. Perhaps for her being out of control is reminiscent of past trauma (was she unable to control a situation at a time she was traumatized, or did she physically freeze, for example?). Anyway, that may be why she had flashbacks.

      I don’t know how much experience your client has of meditation or what she’s learned, but regarding both the clenched hands and the flashbacks, if she were one of my students I’d offer her reassurance and communicate some of the skills of self-compassion that I described above.

      Meditation can potentially be very helpful for people with PTSD, but because of your client’s history of trauma it’s potentially risky for her to meditate unless she’s working with an experienced teacher.

      As for resources, the only one that springs to mind is Willoughby Britton’s Varieties of Contemplative Experience project at Brown, which looks at the unwanted side effects of meditation, including the re-experiencing of traumatic memories. You might want to make contact with them for further advice, since although working with trauma is something I’ve done, I’m no expert.

      • Angelica Rivera
        July 9, 2021 12:21 pm

        Thank you! This was all really helpful. I appreciate your speedy response. Your conclusions were spot on and helpful for me. I will investigate the resources you gave and work on making meaning of the experience with the client.

      • I’ve been searching articles and information about my experience today. I experienced the clenched hand. It wasn’t a fist, more like clenched with straight fingers. My wrist felt tight, and slightly raised. Earlier in the meditation I did feel extreme waves of sorrow. I had purple and blue visuals. I felt out of body. I was a bit scared. I was kind of losing my focus with it but I was zooming out on my body, and I don’t know what happened, but my hand had curled up and was clasped tight. And I didn’t have much sense of my body, but once I realised how tight my arm and hand was, I had a huge rush of heat through my body. I wasn’t focusing on any movement in my body at all it just, right at the end was held on itself. It was pretty intense and confusing and I’ve spent the last 3hrs today trying to make sense of it all. I’m glad this exists. I still feel very strange about my clenched hand.

  • Can you please tell me why would I see a diety pull out an object and that object would be like a long snow sharp piece.. it starts oozing out red paint and then he smears it across my face. Please help me get my answer.. have I doing something very wrong.

    • Hi, Joe.

      What you’re describing sounds very dream-like, and it would have the same significance as any dream — in other words there may be some personal symbolic meaning in the imagery your mind has conjured up. You’d have to ask yourself what these images mean to you and how they relate to your life.

      In terms of meditation, you’re probably managing to calm your mind to a certain extent, but haven’t yet learned how to anchor your attention in the physical sensations of the body. So I’d suggest following some guided meditations that teach you to pay attention to the body.

  • Hi, I haven’t meditated in about 20 years because of a bad experience I had. I still don’t understand what happened and hope you can help me work out what I experienced and/or what I did wrong.

    I was feeling stressed and agitated one afternoon and decided to do a short relaxation meditation while sitting in front of my full length mirror. I was alone at home at the time. I undressed and sat crossed legged in front of the mirror. Looking in the mirror, I could see my room doorway, the passageway and my roommates door (both doors were open) so I could see all the way into my roommates room. I began my meditation by relaxing each individual body part while maintaining eye contact with myself through the mirror. After a while I noticed differences in my appearance until the difference was full body…as though I had ‘upgraded’. I had no definitive skin color other than describing it as a glowing pink, no facial features, hair, body hair and no gender specific traits, just a smooth skin without any ‘flaws’. While looking in awe at myself, I caught movement out of the side of my eye and immediately raised my head (I made sure I was alone at home before meditating) and looked just above my head…through the mirror. A large black male-like shadow was running at speed towards me and had almost reached me when I somehow pulled (snapped) myself out of the meditative state I was in.

    That incident scared me enough that I moved out of the house a couple of days later as I found myself always being afraid when any door in the house opened. I have never meditated again since that incident took place..

    • Hi, Mauddel.

      I’m sorry you had such a frightening experience. I think the thing to remember is that just because you call something “meditation” doesn’t mean that it is actually meditation or that it has anything whatsoever in common with other things that have that name. Staring into a mirror for a prolonged period of time is known to lead to odd visual effects and even a sense of unreality and depersonalization. In one study, most people asked to stare into a mirror for a long time saw facial distortions, and almost half imagined that they saw strange and scary beings. So it’s hardly surprising that you were going to have weird experiences doing what you were doing.

      Calling what you did “meditation” is highly misleading, because meditation is something that’s been around for thousands of years, and it involves specific techniques designed to bring about certain ends. For example there are meditations for grounding our awareness in the sensations of the body, or for helping us to become kinder. I’ve taught meditations like this to tens of thousands of people and I’ve never heard of anyone having experiences similar to yours. (Although I have received reports of disturbing experiences from people who have made up their own meditation practices.)

      So stick to traditional practices, and you’ll be fine. You’ll probably have a bit of anxiety at first, because you’re still remembering how you freaked yourself out, but that’ll pass.

      All the best,

  • Bodipaksha,
    I have been meditating for a while and I have experienced a very scary face right in front of me with a very red tongue out. I have seen many scary images like 15 years ago not actually something like this like a human. Then I said I’m not scared and continue to meditate and saw part of a lion sort of a thing. I’m so scared about the experience and read a bit about it. My question is can this effect my normal life if they are spirits around me? Is that true I can turn my self to mad if I keep doing it? Also third eye meditation is that what it is? How to shift it to something else then if it is dangerous? Any suggestions to face this?

    • Hi, Krissy.

      Thanks for writing.

      I’m happy to say that the imagery you’ve been seeing is nothing to do with “spirits” around you. It’s just your mind conjuring up dream-like imagery.

      It may be that you’re experiencing this either because you’re doing some odd form of meditation (a lot of people seem either to invent their own practices or follow weird stuff that others have shared on YouTube etc) or because you’re doing a valid meditation technique in an unhelpful way. You don’t say what you’re doing, so I’m not in a position to be more specific.

      I’d suggest trying some classic, tried-and-tested forms of meditation. You’ll find recordings on this site under the “meditation guides” section, or you can find a number of my meditations on the Insight Timer app. Hopefully you’ll have experiences that are less disturbing, and even calming and pleasant.

      All the best,

      • I started with breath in breath out. Then I started seeming less scary images this was long ago and recently I started again after a while breath in breath out I see big yellow or green green circle opening it’s in between my eyes. I see I only do breath in and out very slowly actually I’m only looking at it by this stage. I started to see a very disturbing image as it was night and shocked me. I stopped for a while. Then started after two days every time that yellow circle appears I force to not to look and concentrate on that but only how my stomach moving in and out. But because of that experience I hv that always in my head. Could you pls tell me what I’m doing right or wrong. And will this effect my normal life ?? I’m glad you mentioned it’s not spirits. But if I continue without being scared what will happen is this common to others?

        • Hi, Krissy.

          Some people are more prone to this kind of imagery arising in meditation. I’d suggest just allowing yourself to be at peace with it. If you see a colored circle, then just note that it’s happening, and remember that it doesn’t have any great significance, and is just a mental creation.

          I may be wrong, but I suspect you may be keeping a lot of attention in your head when you meditate, rather than staying rooted in the body. I’d suggest really experiencing the physical sensations of the breathing as vividly as you can. Be in the body. If imagery still appears, that’s fine. But now you’ll feel more grounded in relation to it, and will be better placed to experience it as just another sensation.

          All the best,

  • Lots of words.
    Lots of division into “unhelpful” and “helpful”.
    Attend to everyone that happens,
    but don’t get “drawn in” to it.
    Observe one’s reactions.
    Don’t deny one’s feelings.
    Don’t dwell on them, unnecessarily.
    If one’s heart races or breathing speeds up,
    then attend to that.
    There is no right and wrong.
    There is no goal.
    Everything is a sign and nothing is a sign.
    If there is no destination
    How can there be a sign to it?

    • Hey, Mike.

      I don’t know what spiritual tradition you are into, but as best I can I practice the teachings of the Buddha. In the Buddha’s teachings there certainly is a destination, and there are things that are helpful and unhelpful in moving toward it.

      “Nothing is right or wrong” — but here you are to tell people they’re wrong. Does that strike you as odd? It’s something to think about, maybe.

      All the best,

  • Bodhipaksa,
    Thank you for sharing this information.
    I would appreciate your insight on an experience I had many years ago. This experience was so intense that I have never meditated again. It may be that it was as you mentioned about your floating bed experience being an aspect of dream state. I am in my sixties and from a young age, early teen, I have been able to begin a dream quickly by imagining a window, and climbing through the window. Sometimes it was a dream that I started and other times it was my subconscious. Sometimes I controlled my dream, other times I was the spectator. I give this tidbit of information to explain I guess, that I feel and understand the difference between dreaming and what I felt many years ago.
    As I was meditating, I felt as though I was enveloped in a bubble of comfortable equal pressure. In one aspect my hearing lessened (I was unable to hear my surroundings), but as this bubble sensation came over me, I could feel myself raise up from my body and float upward. As I moved upward I could sense what I have associated with as a stream/current of energy and could “hear” the sound of it.
    I will say that until I got to the point where I felt I was about to join this “current”, I was relaxed and observant.. not really the right word but it is difficult to explain the feeling.
    When I became aware that I was entering this “stream”, I became afraid that I would not be able to come back and so I opened my eyes and sat up, hit the lights and then dwelled over what had occurred. Note though that I wanted to go, but my fear was not being able to find my way back..
    So as you have suggested, this could be a nititatta.
    Please, enlighten me :)
    Thank you for reading this!

    • Hi, Lori.

      The first part of what you describe — the feeling of being cocooned — certainly sounds like a nimitta of the helpful kind. The rest of it may be, but I can’t be certain. It sounds rather dream-like to me, starting with the sense of detaching from your body and floating upward. But I really don’t know!

      All the best,

    • Lori! I have had a VERY similar experience! A few times I have gotten these strong pulsing vibrations (which may be similar to your “cacooned” feeling, and then felt my body PHYSICALLY rising to the ceiling. In fact, once I even physically felt my “body” being inverted and looking downward at myself (or the spot where my ‘physical body’ was. It was very unnerving but also kind of awesome. I don’t know what to make of this, but like yourself, I know it was NOT a dream because I was aware and monitoring my breathing the whole time. It was truly awesome and from time to time, I do feel a milder version of this experience when I meditate.

  • I started meditating a few months ago, had a couple of Reiki sessions and am seeing a spiritual coach. I had an experience where my right arm started twitching and vibrating, and I started seeing a download of what I can only say is a screen full of random words one night and then the next, binary code, that just kept going for several minutes. I knew I was not asleep and I could not control it, so I just let it happen. I cannot find anywhere where someone else has had this experience. Just thought it was weird.

    • Have you talked about this to the person who taught you to meditate? That would seem to be a good place to start.

  • What if you have a cooling sensation in your whole body? Is this near to Jhana?

    • Hi. A sensation of cooling in the body doesn’t in itself mean that you’re closer to jhana. As you’re approaching jhana there will be some combination of the mind becoming much calmer and clearer than usual, the body being more alive and sensitive, and the arising of joy. There could be periods of all three.

      It’s not uncommon for people to feel a bit colder after meditation. Perhaps that’s to do with the metabolism slowing down. I just don’t know.

  • Namaskar sir!
    During meditation i felt like i had wings. As if wings made of vibrations or energy.

  • Hello sir,
    I feel a tingling sensation in my legs during yoga nidra. This feel increases so much that i am unable to continue with the session. Do i continue doing yoga nidra or should I stop?

    • Hi, Sumana.

      I’m afraid I have no idea what yoga nidra is, so I suggest you ask your yoga nidra teacher about this. If you don’t have a teacher, then finding one might be a good idea, since they could tell you what’s normal and what isn’t.

      All the best,

  • Hi,
    I very much appreciate the guidance you provide on this site, and would be grateful if you were able to comment upon my situation. I’ve been meditating now for about 4.5 years, and currently a daily 45 minute practice of following the breath. I can certainly recognise the benefit it has had over time to my concentration and calmness, however I’m a bit puzzled about what is happening when I actually meditate.

    For the first 6 months to a year, the experience was very different. I noticed a racing mind and images, which much of the time subsided after a while to reach a place of calm. it wasn’t that unusual to experience some fleeting bliss, weird body sensations, body ‘dropping’, single-point focus, and on a couple of occasions a really odd body distortion and release of emotion that was quite profound. However, gradually, and for the last three years, when I meditate I don’t have too much problem with distracting thoughts, or staying with the breath, but it’s just a whole lot of nothing. I realise that sensations aren’t really the point, but having experienced distinct markers in the past, it feels quite frustrating, and makes me wonder if I’m ‘doing it’ and just need to let it be what it is, or if I’m just having a nice sit down for 45 mins. Have you any recognition of this? With thanks, Allan

    • Hi, Allan.

      It sounds like you’ve kind of plateaued, which doesn’t really surprise me if you’ve only been doing the one form of meditation. Doing one thing for a long time is bound to get stale.

      Various different kinds of meditation play off of and feed into one another. So I’d recommend adding a regular practice of metta/kindness and of karuna/compassion. Occasionally introducing some form of insight practice or an element of insight would also be helpful. For example there’s the six element practice, which I teach, although you can also bring more awareness of impermanence into your anapanasati. Paying conscious attention to the cultivation of jhana/dhyana is also a healthy thing to do.

      Also, meditation is just one of the factors of eightfold path. The other facts again play off of and feed into what happens in your meditation practice. There are also considerations such as ethical practice and friendship. In other words, meditation is not enough. If you can find a sangha (spiritual community) to practice with, that’d be very helpful!

      I wish you all the best with your practice!

    • Alan, may I ask how old you are and if you are in good health?
      I’m getting early to mid 40’s and you are in good health.

  • Should those with mental illness in their family avoid meditation? This is my case. I stopped meditation because of 4 strong experiences involving voices speaking to me or a presence visiting me. (None of them in a threatening of negative way.) All of these I experienced in a positive way. However, I started to worry that I might be slipping into something that I shouldn’t be playing with. Any thoughts?

    • I would be cautious. In certain individuals, meditation can trigger or enhance delusional thinking. Part of the delusion can be that what’s happening is highly significant, spiritually. The voices or supposed insights can seem very positive but can also be completely out of tune with reality. People, for example, who think they are the Buddha Maitreya are not conscious that anything is at all wrong with this conception. (Not saying this is where you’re at — just pointing at an extreme example for illustration purposes.)

      I’d suggest perhaps focusing on forms of meditation that are more body-based and less internal — like mindful walking or the slow forms of walking meditation, or even hatha yoga.

  • I need to make sure I will be able to meditate in this fashion. First, I have Bilateral Vestibular Deficit. In other words, I have no inner ear function. The inner ear, our eyes, and our feet, all provide us with the ability to be in a space and be upright, and not feeling “off balance.” With no inner ear function, being in the dark, or outside at night, will almost guarantee I will fall. Is this going to effect my abilities to meditate?

  • These are interesting to read. One experience I have quite often is that of “vibrations”. Not quick ones like a vibrating toothbrush, but slower rhytmic “pulses” like 120 beats per minute. It feels like something in my body is going “wah-wah-wah-wah-wah” and my awareness is expanding and contracting quickly. Its kind of a shimmering sensation and often accompanied by aural “static”. It feels very much like the “vibrations” those people in the “astral projection” chatrooms describe. And although I don’t really believe in such a thing (I think they are just lucid dreaming) I do find the vibrations very startling, as sometimes they can get VERY intense, to the point it feels like my awareness might shatter into a billion atoms and get lost in the Universe. Its unnerving, but as a tell myself to accept it, it becomes pleasant.

  • Hi, I have been meditating for years and sometimes the dhyaan comes easy and sometimes it doesn’t. I used to feel a pressure between my eyes while meditating about 8years back and then it went away. I always felt happy meditating, just focusing on my breath and becoming a watcher. Last few weeks that heaviness in between the eyes has returned. I feel happy about it. One day I felt warmth inside my body, which was also a good feeling. Tingling in my my finger points. Last night, I had an experience while lying in bed my body grew bigger and though remained attached to my body in bed, rose to the roof of the room. I was not sleeping. Complete tingling in all parts of body. Happened twice back to back and then I kept my eyes open as I did not know how to process that, felt the heaviness go from the middle of my eyes like a knife to the top of my head. Felt good. Was not able to sleep for a long time. I am not sure if my chakras are becoming active or what is that.

    • Hi, Shilpi.

      Thank you for writing and for sharing your experience.

      It’s interesting to hear that you had the sensation of pressure between the eyes and that it went away. It’s something I’ve heard of from several people, and so it seems to be quite common, although I haven’t experienced it myself. I’m sure other people who have this experience (and sometimes worry about it) will be reassured.

      The warmth and tingling that you describe are very common and very wholesome developments. They’re a sign of deeper relaxation and of the mind developing a more detailed appreciation of the body’s sensations. Neuroscience teaches us that when you practice a particular skill, the part of the brain related to that skill grows. I imagine that as we pay more attention to the body’s sensations, the part of the brain involved in that act of attention gets larger, which means that we develop an even greater capacity to observe what’s going on. And the more sensation we detect in the body, the more we pay attention to it. I think this means we get into a bit of a feedback loop, where the body becomes more or less permanently interesting. For years now my body has been full of currents of pleasant energy at all times — or at least any time I’m paying attention to it.

      When I was a child I used to have the same experience of floating up to the ceiling that you described. It’s a sign of relaxation, but I don’t think it’s spiritually significant in itself.

      Interestingly, the Buddha never talked about chakras at all, and since that’s the teaching I’m steeped in they’re just not part of my spiritual vocabulary. So without getting into the terminology of chakras, the neuroplastic process I talked about above does lead to us being more aware of the body generally, and although of course the chakras do represent parts of the body where feelings can be particularly strong. The sensations get stronger as we bring attention to those places, and so, yes, they do become more active, but I think it’s more the result of mindful attention rather than of some mystical process.

  • Once while meditating lying down, i felt a tingling at the base of my spine, which changed to vibrations with a rumbling sound, which started going up my spine to reach my head. Thereafter, I saw swirling circles of lights and then it felt I was floating above the bed. It stopped abruptly after i freaked out. But it seems I had fallen asleep while meditating and was just dreaming.

  • I was trained in TM many years ago. I have experience many of the sensations listed in previous poses with the addition of one I have not seen addressed. A handful of times I have come out of a deep meditation and my arms are floating in front of me at shoulder height. It was disconcerting the first time but not frightening.

  • Hello,

    This happened to me recently in a group meditation. We didn’t even start mediation yet . We , first hold hands in a circle . My hands started shooting out what felt like the whole circle tingling energy sensations . Chakra bowls are used in meditation and the hands got worse like burning up and can feel like energy is being pushed forward. I , held my hands up in front of me . I , had my eyes opened and can see the hands twitch and burn all the way to the fingertips . It was paining a bit . Later group when finished just hang out and chat . I , noticed when I walked further away from the group the burning subsided but not quite my finger tips .

    By the time I got home the burn was gone except the fingertips were still burning . What , was odder the rest of the night while sleeping they were so itchy my hands wouldn’t stop and definitely was not dreaming because I , was awake . By morning only certain fingers were blistered . It , took 2 days just to get rid of the burning on fingertips disappeared and the blisters vanished .

    Is this even normal ?

  • I have started meditating every day for the last 5 days. (Over the years I have meditated but never kept it up long term). When I meditate my heartbeat starts to go quite fast. I am happy to sit with this and continue to be present with it. I’m sure there is some subconscious issue behind it, something my mind is fighting. I just wanted to know if anyone else has experienced it and whether they got to a point where this subsided or if they discovered what was behind it. Thank you

  • Last month I went to a meditation sound bath I was totally relaxed and enjoying my journey when all of a sudden it felt like someone had hit me with a pole in my lower back causing me to sit up immediately. I felt very disturbed and my body went freezing cold. As I’m menopausal it’s very unusual for me to be cold.
    What do you think happened?
    Should I go back?

    • Hi, Maddy. Unfortunately I don’t know anything about sound baths at all. It does sound like something within you was looking for your attention one way or another, though, so letting yourself settle into a relaxed, still state and bringing some gentle, inquisitive attention to the parts of the body that were affected might be helpful.


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