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I am undergoing a strange period during vipassana meditation (sn goenka guruji tradition). When I am scanning my body there is an extreme stiffness that travels almost throughout the body as my attention shifts and stays in that body part till my attention stays. My body part visibly gets tensed while this happens. e.g. foot and toes are all visibly tense and toes are bent.

In the core of the body I have slightly different stiffness experience. I feel like stiffness wants to rise through the spine and gets stuck in multiple spots and puts lot of pressure on that part as if trying to break away. But then I realize I am not breathing as core moves if i breathe and i am stuck focusing on this rising stiffness. If I breathe at this stage, I get out of this and then stiffness goes away and I stop feeling this and other sensations in my body for sometime. Then as I start scanning again the same stiffness comes back. If I don't breathe this goes till neck and throat region gets stuck in neck and leaves me in pain afterwards.

I am assuming this is usual sankhara coming and trying to observe with equanimity but unlike other sensations that come and go after observation, this one is increasingly capturing my entire body part by part. This has been happening for last one week. Not sure if I am doing something wrong.

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  • Are you controlling your breath as you scan you body? I think when you breathe again the stiffness goes away indicate a sign of stuck breath energy. The body cannot do without the energy generated by our breath. Can you try something, the next time you fell stiffness in any part of the body, imagine energy flowing up or in through that body part as you breath in and energy flowing down or out through as you breath out. Just see the energy as a warm sensation. Once the stiffness disappears continue your practice and repeat the same breath energy technique if it appears.
    – Desmon
    Aug 26, 2023 at 12:15
  • Thanks for your response. I am breathing most of the time. It's only when core (chest and stomach) becomes too stiff and I focus on it and breath gets forgotten for a while as core needs to move a bit during breath. In this situation when I forcefully breathe the stiffness goes away with that breath.
    – Apoorve
    Aug 27, 2023 at 1:15
  • Can I suggest that instead of just focusing on the stiff bodily part, try using your breath to “breathe” through those parts like I mentioned above. BTW, if it is not too intrusive, may I ask if you are suffering from any constant physical ailments?
    – Desmon
    Aug 27, 2023 at 9:17
  • Thanks fir your response. Understood on breath thing. Will try this. I do have some unexplained pain and numbness in feet and hands. Some of it came up during the practice. Some of it was present fro earlier. But all that is gradually reducing with my vipassana practice.
    – Apoorve
    Aug 27, 2023 at 14:26

2 Answers 2

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In view of the symptoms described, I am sharing a technique in breath meditation that might be helpful. Please use the comment section if you have any queries.

After you are positioned comfortably (cross legged, lotus position or whatever as long as you are comfortable), do three slow and deep breaths through the nostrils. With the inhalation, feel the breath going all the way down and your abdominal expanding before exhaling completely. After the initial 3 breaths, just breathe normally (no need to force the air down or till your abdominal expand) but try to follow the in-and-out breath closely. Adjust your breath to make it soft and comfortable. Feel yourself refreshed as you inhale and all your body muscles relaxing as you exhale. For the next 5 to 10 minutes, keep doing this. I usually do a mental “Oooo…..” as I inhale softly to be in tune with the refreshing sensation and a mental “Yeaahhh…” as I exhale to feel my body relaxing totally. Once, in tune you can drop this mental noting and just focus on the soft in-breath and out-breath.

If you do it correctly, you should feel an increased saliva secretion in your mouth and a continuous sense of physical ease in your body. There are days when done well and proper, every in and out breath will be “delicious”. Again, if you feel any discomfort (like stiffness or pain) in any part of your body, softly and gently breath through those parts. Mentally, you are directing your breath energy to flow in and out through those parts as you breathe. Physically, it is relaxing the tensed-up muscles and improving the blood circulation in those parts. As you do so, the discomfort will gradually fade into the background (it may not disappear totally, just not enough to be distracting anymore). At any time, if you are not noticing an increased in saliva secretion or general physical ease, then it is not done properly, just keep adjusting till you are in-tune.

This is a really simple technique aimed at sensitizing ourselves to the breath and body with the side effect of being more aware of the mind. With Metta.

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I cannot give any direct advice here because the Buddha or the Buddhist scriptures never teach what Goenka teaches.

I guess if one practices what Goenka instructs, the mind will become very stiff because the mind is always doing the same thing of directing its intent & energy 'downwards'; possibly suppressing the sankharas; causing the sankharas to get stuck in the body; rather than allowing the sankharas to loosen up, rise up & dissolve or depart. This would also make the body very stiff. Its like trying to pacify a bird in a cage; compared simply opening the door of the cage & letting the bird go to fly away.

The Buddha taught letting go of 'doing' in meditation. The Buddha taught (in SN 48.9; at the end of MN 118) that meditation depends on 'letting go' (vossagga). When the mind 'lets go', the mind becomes very flexible (mudubhūta) & flowing (kammaniya).

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    Thanks for your response. I have only learnt from Goenka guruji. Never read any buddhist teachings. Goenka ji taught to scan body head to feet and then feet to head in a loop . So I didn't understand what you mean by downward. Sorry about my ignorance though. Also he taught to observe sankhara as they come up with equanimity so the way I understood it it was not essentially suppressing but letting them do what they want without reacting. I will go through the links you shared to understand your point more. Thanks a lot.
    – Apoorve
    Aug 27, 2023 at 1:22
  • your answer is definitely wrong. goenkas technique may or may not be in align with buddha. but it works like magic. people get rid of their habits like anger, addiction etc. many health problems goes away. health improves. they need not to understand buddha dhamma to depth. they dont know how it works but it works. So please do not discard his teaching. its a boon to mankind.
    – enRaiser
    Aug 31, 2023 at 5:39

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