Deepak Chopra explains the different thoughts and sensations that happen during meditation

Is It Natural to Experience Sensations During Meditation?

We, as humans, are thinking, feeling beings. Feeling sensations and having thoughts during meditation is perfectly natural and to be expected. Through the stillness of meditation, we begin to witness how we are responding to life with our thoughts and feeling responses. As me meditate, with the mere action of spending time in quiet, we begin to access our natural state of peace and joyful wellbeing. This access comes by witnessing what is as we begin to cultivate our natural potential. If we fight the sensations, we are “doing,” when in fact our real “work” during meditation is to just “be” with our experience, which may include everything from tingling feelings in the body, sleepiness, physical aches, thoughts, and even tears.

Each moment in meditation is always healing. Your body, mind, and spirit take exactly what it needs from your practice. When you notice that your attention has drifted from your mantra to a thought in your mind or to a sensation in your body, gently return your attention to the repetition of the daily mantra. If you fall asleep, it’s because you are tired and need to rest. If it happens a lot, you’re probably overtired and need to get more sleep at night. Your experience during meditation is perfect; there is no “right” way or destination. As you spend time in the stillness each day, your life will begin to change in beautiful healing ways.

What Happens While We Meditate

Although there are a variety of sensations that you can experience during meditation, in reality, only four things can happen during meditation:

  • You have awareness of your mantra or the focus of your meditation

  • You experience thoughts or sensations

  • You fall asleep

  • You enter the stillness between thoughts, commonly referred to as “the gap.”

When you enter into the silence between thoughts, you won’t actually realise it until after you have drifted back out of the gap. There are no thoughts in the gap – just pure consciousness or restful awareness. This gentle drifting between thought and silence is a natural part of the meditation process. We don’t try to get rid of thoughts or do anything with them, for that only creates more mental turbulence. Instead, just keep returning your attention to the mantra. As you meditate on a regular basis, cultivating inner quiet, the time you spend in the gap during meditation will increase.

Tears and Crying During Meditation

Crying during meditation indicates that within your body, mind, or spirit lives unresolved sadness and loss waiting for an opportunity to be released. Meditation may provide the space and opportunity for that release.

The first thing to realise is that this is old stuff and it just needs a way out. You don’t have to spend a single moment trying to figure out what is causing this or what connection it has with your present life, because most likely it has no connection whatsoever. This means that you can, in a certain sense, let the crying come and go and then get back to your life, the way a coughing spell comes and goes when you are getting over a chest cold. Once you know that the crying is not anything you need to worry about, you can accommodate it and then let it go.

You may find that as you travel through your day you may continue to have emotions and sometimes even tears once the release has been initiated. This is very healing for your physical body, mind and spirit. Be very gentle with yourself and know that you are actually detoxifying through this process.

Difficulty Staying Awake

Go ahead and let yourself sleep if you feel a strong urge to nod off during meditation. It’s not a good idea for force yourself to stay alert. Even if you don’t have a sleep deficit from the night, sometimes you can go through a period of meditation where your body requires an experience of sleep in order to release a particular quality of conditioning. Don’t worry about it; just let the body shift into the state it needs, and when that conditioning or stress has been cleared, then your meditations will resume their usual character.

Ticklish Sensations

One can have almost any type of physical sensation during meditation in any area of the body. Because the mind and body are so closely connected, when the mind experiences more expansion in meditation, the body gains a deep enough state of rest to normalise any imbalances that may be stored in the body. Experiencing a ticklish sensation in your heart just means that some normalisation is occurring there, allowing for a more full expression of your emotions. The sense of anxiety or fear is a by-product of that clearing process. Don’t give these sensations and feelings too much importance. It is a valuable process, but don’t focus on it; simply return to the meditation process.

Spontaneous Movement or Twitching

As the mind settles down in meditation, the body follows it in terms of getting deeper rest, softer breathing, and lower metabolic rate. And whenever the body gets an opportunity for profound rest, it takes that opportunity to clear away whatever old tensions and traumas there may be stored away from the past. Typically, these stresses are physically released during meditation with little perceptible movement, but sometimes, when the conditioning or stress is imprinted more deeply, then you may experience periods of more pronounced or exaggerated physical movement in meditation while the body is being healed.

Twitching or other physical movements during meditation are commonplace and nothing to worry about. The important thing is to just “be” with the process. It is better that you are clearing the accumulated stress, and not storing it. Regardless of the source of the twitching during meditation, whatever you can do to relax will facilitate the release process. Long walks, deep breathing, talking with friends, yoga, watching funny movies, and warm baths are just a few of the practices that people have found to be helpful. Do the things that help you unwind and relax, and that will smooth out your meditation.

Waves of Energy, Pain, and Headaches

Some may feel waves of energy pass through during meditation, as if something is moving and releasing. This movement may be the start of a letting-go process. Spending time in the stillness of meditation is a tool to move back to our natural state of peace, joy, and wellbeing – which can mean letting go of thoughts, beliefs, or ways of being that have kept us from that state. These moments when our spirits let go of deep-seated stress or conditioning may start during meditation. Sometimes it can take a few days or even a couple of weeks for some deeply etched patterns to fully heal, and during that time it’s possible for there to be some discomfort in the body as the physical structure lets go of it. During this time, get extra sleep at night, drink extra water, and do those things that bring you peace, such as gentle walks, yoga, watching the sunset. As your body relaxes into its natural state, the headaches and pain will begin to dissipate. If you feel what you are experiencing is a medical condition, do not hesitate to visit a medical professional for support. Taking care of you is the most important step toward living in peace and wellbeing.

Dizziness and Disorientation

It’s always a good idea to get a thorough physical exam if you continue to experience a whirling or dizzy sensation while sitting. Once you have ruled out any organic physical problem, then know that such temporary feelings of displacement or disorientation are not uncommon as the body heals various traumas in the senses. Usually it doesn’t last for more than a moment or so. If it persists and is uncomfortable, then stop repeating your mantra and open your eyes. After you have regained equilibrium, you can restart the mantra. Once the underlying stress has been released, your normal sense of balance and ease will return.

Feelings of Nausea and Heat

When a sensation is so strong that it becomes difficult to continue meditating easily, then coming out to attend to the sensation until it subsides is appropriate. When the feelings are not so strong, then you can treat them like any other thought that comes up in meditation and easily go back to the mantra. Gently observe your experience; do not try to force your mind to go back to the mantra when it is so completely caught up in that physical release process. If this is your experience, take a moment to stop repeating the mantra, breath all the way into the sensation, and just be with it until it passes.

Joint and Muscular Pain

During meditation position yourself in ways that meet the needs of your unique body. If you have an injury or condition, modify your body position during meditation to accommodate your body. If you are sitting in an appropriate and comfortable position and you still feel pain, it is not uncommon for some to experience joint and muscular pain in meditation as past trauma stored within is being released. This does not mean you are meditating incorrectly. On the contrary, it means that your practice is effective and correct because you are healing the old conditioning very quickly.

Just continue meditating effortlessly, not minding the physical release process too much. It will end when the stored stresses have been cleared away. Gentle movement, such as walking and yoga, before and after meditation will assist the body as it lets go of the old pain. Additionally, massage, soaking in a bath with Epsom salts, and other nourishing activities will support your body until the discomfort diminishes significantly. If the pain persists, visit your medical practitioner to determine if the physical pain is organic and requires medical attention.

Feelings of Expansion

These feelings of expansion are quite common in meditators. As awareness becomes more refined and abstract, it is as if the spatial boundaries and orientation of the body can feel distended or distorted. So we might feel very tall or massive or tilted or turned. Sometimes people report that their body feels incredibly dense and foreign to them. These are all normal meditation sensations as a consequence of the mind experiencing more subtle realms of thought.