Discomfort in breathing- Meditation which involves any type of awareness or control of breathing can result in disturbance of the natural breath programs in the nervous system. One should go very slowly with breath work, and never attempt to alter the natural frequency or depth of breathing, except for a short exercise done no more frequently than once a day. Blood pH is normally close to neutral, and may be changed from acid to base, or vice versa, by breath control, resulting in health problems. This is only one of the problems that can be created. Symptoms of breathing disturbance may involve chest pain, dizziness, vision disturbances, heart palpitations, rushing sounds in the ears, pounding in the head, or headache. If symptoms are felt, suspend all breath work for at least a week, then try again more gently. Consider consulting a health care professional if symptoms continue.
Dealing with negative emotions- Meditation may bring up negative emotions of which one was previously unaware. This happened to me when I was just beginning. This is a healthy purging of repressed material, I believe, and will pass. Do not suppress these feelings, just be aware of them. After a long period of simply experiencing a negative feeling, certain solutions may come to mind. Do not act precipitously in dealing with negative emotions. Hasty actions which cause unjustified pain to others can cause irreparable damage to everyone concerned. Sometimes it may be very difficult to find a way which does not cause pain to someone, including one’s self. In such a case it can be very helpful to talk with a sympathetic person, and to consider and meditate for quite a while before acting.
Unbalanced practice- It is easy and sometimes tempting to emphasize one aspect of practice, especially the breathing parts, to the point where unhealthy imbalance occurs. This imbalance for me typically takes the form of focusing on breath to the exclusion of other events, such as dealing with the bothersome details of everyday life and getting along with other people. Typical symptoms of imbalance for me are insensitivity to the needs of myself or other people, irritation with other people over minor annoyances, and social withdraw. It is the purpose of the “gaps” in my practice, and also the idea of being relaxed with the whole process, which usually helps me avoid imbalance.
Hidden concepts- Watch out for thinking about meditation using inaccurate concepts, such as “I am practicing such-and-such a way”, or “Here is how this feels to me”. These statements reinforce the idea of an ego in control of the process. Another common statement is similar to “Just watch thoughts go by without interfering.” This sounds good, but it suggests the idea of an ego off to the side, a separate observer, if not a controller. Even the concept of “mindfulness” implies an ego watching, so it is avoided here. Using such inaccuracies is like looking at the stars with a mirror rather than a telescope.
Pain while sitting- Meditation as used herein is not about pain or enduring pain unnecessarily. It is not necessary to sit in the lotus position. Use a seat that allows you to sit without pain. Your typical chair or sofa is the worst seat. In order for the spine to take its natural erect, relaxed curve when sitting, the pelvis has to rotate forward a bit. This can only happen if the seat slopes toward the front a bit (best), or if it is flat (next best). Also, the pelvis cannot rotate forward unless the upper legs slope downward toward the knees (best) or are level (next best). Weight needs to fall on the base of the spine, not the legs. Also, pants need to be loose. If these measures are taken care of, so that the pelvis rotates forward, then the stomach and the butt should both stick out, unlike a fashion model, and there should be a fluid relaxed feeling in the back. This takes care of the lower spine. For the upper body, do not lean on anything, and try to raise the back of the head as far as possible. Now relax! Actually this is not a joke, if the bones of the spine are stacked up like blocks, it should be possible to totally relax without falling over. It may help to get into what appears to be the right posture, then just wiggle around and sway in every direction, to check for tension and settle into a relaxed stillness. Note that chronic pain or numbness while sitting may be damaging ones body, sometimes permanently. Especially never straddle a log-type cushion placed between the legs, as nerve damage is possible.
Sleepiness- Sleepiness really de-rails meditation. Don’t get in the habit of dozing off. Here are some tips:
-Get more or better sleep!
-Make the body cooler.
-Move around a bit. Do walking meditation rather than sitting.
-Breathe deeply, for a short time only.
-If the eyes were closed, open them half way. Make the room brighter.
-Meditate at a high-energy time of the day.
-If sleepiness is a problem, never sit on a soft sofa or with one’s back leaning against anything, or lying down.
-Don’t meditate where you sleep.
-Have lively music in the background.
-Use caffeine as last resort.
-Perhaps one is sleepy because of excessive control. Try allowing thoughts more freedom. A good fantasy always wakes me right up.
-Hold the hands palms up, feeling energy in the palms.
Bizarre perceptions or hallucinations- If these might correlate with a change in breathing patterns, see the entry on breath discomfort. But if these events seem to be related solely to holding very still, then there is nothing to worry about, and also nothing to brag about. Just let these float on by. Some of these events can be really weird, but they have no significance either positive or negative. If weird body sensations become a nuisance, try moving a tiny bit while sitting, and also move the eyes a bit to dispel hallucinations.
Unable to establish a routine practice- It’s important to have a dedicated time every day for practice, even if it is short, although 45 or 60 minutes will work wonders. If this dedicated practice is done at a different time every day, soon it is not done at all, I find. So be realistic about how much time is available, and then just practice, every day at the same time, so it is no longer something one has to choose to do. And, as the saying goes, a short stick is hard to break.
Subliminal thinking- This is as bad for the practice as sleeping. There can be layers of thoughts- personal observations have occasionally found three simultaneous layers of thinking. This has got to stop! Some remedies for concern with thinking:
-To some extent thinking is an unavoidable function for social animals like us. It is unrealistic to try to stop thoughts. I like the analogy used by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” (my favorite reference by the way), where he compares the thinking mind to a horse or a cow, and says that one must give one’s horse or cow a wide pasture to run around in, suggesting freedom with limits.
-The standard practice given herein (whole breathing plus gaps) should tend to reduce thinking to what is necessary.
-It is important above all to be aware of thoughts. Trying to ignore them or suppress them is the worst policy.
-An interesting tactic is to use judo- when thoughts occur, pretend they are being shouted out, loudly and slowly, in the mind, then wait attentively for the next one and repeat this over and over- soon there may be quite a long wait before another one surfaces.
-Another trick is to picture thoughts as bubbles rising up from the ocean depths, and try to spot them as early as possible. This can be fun.
Meditation can be used to accomplish goals, such as addiction therapy and many more, but that is not the aim of the path described herein. As used here, meditation is a technique to investigate reality. Goals and expectations are contrary to the open mind which is needed to investigate the unknown. Like Davy Crockett, travel light and you will cover more territory.
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