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Pulsing sensations throughout the body

When sitting, as I calm the breath I usually get a very pronounced and eminent observation of my heart beats through the body. When lucky, attending to these pulsing sensations lead to a beautiful calming and numbing of the body which in turn - sometimes - leads to a first glimpse of joy, comfort and warmth in the mind and heart. Unfortunately, for the time being, that’s as far as I go in my usual (5 out of 7 days per week) 45 minutes sessions.

With this in mind, I would like to bring the following questions to the group:

  • Do we find anything explicit in the suttas or commentaries around this experiencing of pulsing sensations?

  • Do we find anything explicit in the Visudhimagga, Vimuttimagga or other quasi-canonical manuals around this experiencing of pulsing sensations?

  • Should I try to stretch my sessions to beyond 45 minutes? Has anyone gone through this stepping up in session length and could share any tips on how to do it and what not to do when trying it?

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By the looks of descriptions on the internet, as the mind and body calm down, feeling heartbeats throughout different parts of the body seems to be a pretty common occurrence in meditators. I’ve also noticed it in my own meditation but I’ve never given much attention to it and have instead stayed with the breath.

I haven’t read much of the Visuddhimagga so I can’t say about that but I have read most of the suttas and don’t remember them ever describing this phenomenon. I do recall a talk by Venerable Analayo, where he said that in meditation (especially when you don’t know what you’re doing) it’s best not to mess with the heart or the brain.

As far as trying to stretch your meditation sessions beyond 45 minutes, I would definitely recommend doing that. For me it’s usually around the 80 or 90 minutes when things start to get really interesting.

When I first got interested in meditation and buddhism around 4 years ago, I started trying it out on most days for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Half a year later I managed to start doing it every single day (with a few exeptions) and was up to around 30-40 minutes, a year later most of my sessions were between 1 and 2 hours and it was around that time I started to slowly understand what was going on :smiley: Over the past few years I went up to 3 or even 4 hours per session but then realized I was overdoing it and have now stabilized on two 1.5 - 2 hour long sessions per day.

The main reason I was able to take it so far without agonizing pain was the fact that I mostly meditate lying down on my back. Since I have some problems with one of my legs, sitting cross-legged was impossible in the beginning and even sitting on a chair didn’t feel comfortable enough to keep at it. Since I figured meditation was all about the mind and I’ve never been able to fall asleep on my back, I gave “corpse meditation” a go. Over the past year I’ve slowly started to transition into sitting cross-legged on a cushion, but lying on my back still enables me to let go of the body the most. I’m also planning on taking up walking meditation when I move to a little hut in the forest in the spring.

So in conclusion, maybe try alternating between sitting and walking or take short mindful breaks between two sitting sessions if lying on your back or reclining doesn’t work for you.

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I have not come across the notions of pulsing in texts (also not the Viss., but if it’s anywhere it should be at the beginning of the earth kasina chapter I guess) - except a memory that Goenka used to talk about a pulsing throbbing sensation in the retreat-tapes.

When it comes to stretching the length of sessions, the ‘inner clock’ is probably the adversary, you know, the slight restlessness just a few minutes before the end of the usual session. When I extended sessions I started with the determination of ‘no matter what, I will get up only when the alarm goes off’ - because you can’t trust your sense of time any more when you extent the time. So with that sense of determination I was free to dedicate myself more to the meditation activity. Of course the thoughts of ‘is it over soon?’ popped up in the investigation, but that’s just natural. For me personally the additional determination helped…

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i remember when i would practise Shavasana (a corpse pose), a relaxation lying pose, at the end of a yoga exercise session, i’d too feel heartbeat shake the body, so i suppose it could be a concomitant of relaxation

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Yes, I would definitely recommend trying to lengthen sessions, but time is both limited and relative, so here are some other personal reflections you might find useful regarding both time and bodily sensations. Obviously, all of these (somewhat rambling) reflections are provisional and based only on my own current understanding of where I am in my own meditation.

First, the more worldly garbage that builds up in the mind between sessions, the more time that must be wasted at the beginning of a session in “emptying the garbage.” So follow the precepts, engage in right speech, guard the sense doors, and avoid anger and other strong passions so as to prevent the accumulation of unwholesome worldly kamma throughout your day, the fruits of which then pollute and defile your mind during sitting, and have to be dealt with in the initial stages of the sit.

Mix in walking meditation and other briefer meditation sessions and skillful reflections during the day as much as you can. The more you can approach making all of your life bhavana, the easier it is to achieve peace and absorption quickly in sitting sessions.

I found my own sitting session lengths stretched out of their own accord. Once you get better at identifying and letting go of the hindrances, then the various urges that make you want to get up in the first place start to abate. My late nighttime sitting session had stretched out to an hour and a half - sometimes two hours. However, I have had to cut them back a little due to knee issues. I try to compensate by sitting more than once each day. I also changed my sitting posture. However, I have also found that less time these days is consumed in getting to where I “left off” so to speak in the previous sessions. I have recently had some half hour sessions that were really “deep.” On the other hand, I have had 90-minute sessions that were frustratingly cluttered with mental junk. So it goes.

The body is a nearly endless field of sensations, so there is no telling anyone which ones can be potentially skillful objects of attention. I’m sure attending to pulse sensations could be useful. ( I used to attend to the ringing in my ears, since I have tinnitus.) Personally, I have found it more important to stay with the heart itself, as well as the sensations around the heart, in the chest and solar plexus, and the way these interact with breathing. For me this is all bound up with attending to emotions/sankharas. Fear and dread, anger and other painful emotions consist in part of a range of bodily symptoms, reactions and responses - many of which are experienced in the body core. Whatever you do, keep in mind that the whole point is to release, and move in the direction of where suffering ends. The point is not to build up (and - hard work - maintain!) a mental encyclopedia or scientific compendium of bodily observations.

Interesting question to ask about bodily sensations: Is the bodily component of an emotion always a response to the mental component, or is the mental component sometimes a response to the bodily component? Is my chest tight because I’m afraid of something? Or do I think I’m afraid of something because I feel my chest tightening? Similar questions can be asked about other bodily phenomena.

Your body is your burden. Keeping your head erect and sitting on the top of your spine is hard work. Keeping the whole body erect and coordinated, with the torso and head balanced your hips as you walk is hard work and a miracle of mechanical engineering. The beating of the heart and pushing of blood through arteries and veins against atmospheric and bodily pressure is hard work. Protecting the beating heart from potential dangers is ongoing work that your body has been programmed to perform since the womb. Responding either impulsively, or with some intellectual assistance, to painful sensations as they arise is part of the burdensome bodily programming. Pay attention to the painful struggle of this burden, and search for the direction in which it is put down.

Meditation is physically relaxing, and relaxation is good and pleasant, and conducive to going further in your meditation. But it is easy to get hung up on the project of relaxing the various parts of your body itself as though that itself is the point of it all. There are some painful sensations that are just not going away as a result of relaxation. At that point, one must endeavor to attend to the feeling of these sensations as feelings, and the processes of desire/aversion, and I-making and my-making, that accompany the feelings (My neck hurts; I am a person whose neck hurts; I want a state of being that does not include my neck hurting, etc.)

See if you can attend to the larger experiential “space” in which all of those bodily sensations are taking place. Where is its boundary? Does it have a boundary? What feelings and sensations comprise that boundary? Can I “permeate” the entire sphere of my conscious awareness with a cool, peaceful kindness that does not differentiate inner and outer sides of the boundary?

Question: How does my aversion to painful sensations contribute to the creation of a strong sense of self? (Under “painful sensation”, I also include desire - which is the painful consciousness of the non-presence of some imagined pleasurable state.)

The whole point of the path is the understanding of, and release from,dukkha. When I’m stuck, I sometimes say to myself, “Find the dukkha.” The more kinds of dukkha you see, the better you get at letting go of their causes, even before they bear full fruit, and the more concentrated you get. The more concentrated you get, the more subtle and interesting are the forms of dukkha that can be seen as they are. Besides the hindrances, I often find myself identifying and examining such experiences as:

Guilt
Grief and loss
Anxious feelings of obligations or things left undone
Purposelessness or meaninglessness
Aesthetic feelings of distaste or revulsion related to things in one’s environment
Aesthetic feelings of distaste or revulsion related to one’s own body
Pride and feelings of superiority
Shame and feelings of inferiority
Fear of my own death
Fear of the death of others
Fear of future pain
Resentment of others over my attachments to them

Confronting dukkha is frightening and something to which we are strongly averse - like confronting a yakkha in a dark forest at night. But if you don’t confront sufferings and subdue them, they will always be there looking over your shoulder and tormenting you.

Avoid the urge to fully cognize, conceptualize and classify bodily sensations and mental phenomena. For example, when anger arises, its seeds blossom into anger, then the anger proliferates into other things. You might think as you observe it “Wow, I’m really angry.” But later, as you develop skill in letting go, you feel the first little seed of the anger process sprouting, and drop it quickly before it flowers in to anger. It is not necessary, or desirable, to stop and ask “What emotion was that that almost arose?”

Smile gently. Your mind responds to bodily actions by entering into states appropriate to those bodily responses.

The world is run by the armies of Mara. By seeking the place where suffering ends you are moving up and back against against the stream in which all life flows. The human social world doesn’t want you to stop suffering, since many of those sufferings are functional from the moral-teleological-social point of view. Even your evolutionary heritage as a human being is not entirely friendly to your awakening. “Nature” doesn’t want you to get enlightened. It wants you to eat, fear, run, fight, screw, reproduce and keep samsara going. It gave us some “reason” to help perform these tasks more efficiently and out-think some of our animal competitors. But evolutionary nature seems to have overlooked something and left us an escape hatch to thwart it’s imperious and ultimately futile animal drives.

Be aware, and attend to the fact, that you are afraid of your own potential nibbana. All of us unawakened people are afraid like that. The reason it is so difficult to achieve deeper levels of seclusion, concentration, absorption, etc. is because we often have a panic reaction to the experience of freedom and groundlessness. All of the deeper attainments other than nibbana itself involve re-establishing a ground, and abiding in and clinging to some deeper “base” as a standpoint from which to let go of some coarser base. Then we begin to work with that new ground and look for the path to letting go of it too, and going deeper. But the end of the process is supposed to involve the complete freedom of clinging nowhere, abiding nowhere. That’s scary, and like jumping out of a plane, is something you are at some level very resistant to doing. I think that’s why the Buddha gave so much attention to subduing fear and dread.

Speaking personally, I have found the various manuals of minimal guidance after the initial stages of meditation, and the suttas to be a much better guide. Ultimately, you have to wander alone in your own experiential forest and find paths than move toward peace and release. There is no step-by-step map or recipe book, but the suttas describe major landmarks.

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@raivo
I recall a talk by Venerable Analayo, where he said that in meditation (especially when you don’t know what you’re doing) it’s best not to mess with the heart or the brain.

As I remember this was stated by ven.Analayo in " mindfulness according to early Buddhist sources ". Bhikkhu analayo also stated that Dr.Premasiri ( current president of bps. ) rejected this practice of contemplating on the heart and the brain. Ven.Analayo also mentioned one of his monastic friends who had to face a lot of difficulty due to contemplating on the brain. It was said that he suffered from serious headaches during meditation. As I remember ven.Analayo did not mention a particular reason for this. But why is this not recommended? For an instance, contemplation on the blood circulatory system or the heart can be very helpful for the yogi to understand the nature of the body. ( that the body is functioning as long as the heart does ) thus, contemplation on the heart can be used to contemplation of death. But still the absence of this method in the suttas, later commentaries neither in the other sources , except some of the meditation masters(as far as I know ) and it’s rejection by modern scholars makes this practice to be a peculiar and mostly an unreliable method of meditation.

Btw, thanks a lot for posting this @Gabriel_L.

With Metta. :slight_smile:

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The question of paying attention to the heart pulsing came up while i was on retreat with Ajahn Brahm. He suggested to not hold on to it as an object because it part of physical sensation. Even the breath, he urged to experience in the mind rather than the body, so that the body can disappear as soon as possible. So I guess it’s how you experience this pulsing.

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I have been experiencing a similar situation with a slight difference though. Since about an year now, when I meditate sitting down cross legged, my head starts to move back and forth. It starts very slowly and then gradually gains momentum. At first I had difficulty dealing with it but now I have sort of got used to it.

My doctor sent me to a neurologist who took a CT scan of my head only to find everything all right. I have heard from some that it is a good thing specially if it happens when meditating. I have also heard something called “Kundalini” but have not bothered too much about it.

Just my thoughts please.

With Metta.

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In the Visudhimagga in Chapter 4, sections 93 to 99 present four types of piti (although it has been translated as happiness which I’m not happy with as they are physical not mental).

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I have this experience. I do not consider this as Pithi. For me, I felt it was very unpleasant. This happened at night when I was lying down in the bed. I thought this is a result of too much sugar in my body and I was active. I think we should train to concentrate on the breath, not on the heart beat.

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Thank you all for your attention and time.

As a follow up I am glad to share I found in the EBTs an answer to this practical issue I was facing myself.

More specifically, it was after careful appreciation of the anapanasati steps as found in the MN118 that I found a hint to what I was missing in my approach to stillness…

I see this old thread has been resurrected. I guess you could say circulation/cardiovascularity would fall under a meditation on the internal water element?

Well, what was it? Don’t leave us hanging! :monkey:

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