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I have noticed that sometimes, almost unconsciously, my body begins to sway forward and backward ever so slightly when I'm sitting in meditation (actually, kneeling - I sit zazen on a bench). It does not seem to be in phase with any of my rhythmic body functions (e.g. heartbeat, breathing).

There are times when I consciously cease the swaying, but other times when I allow it to continue. Or even help it a little bit. It seems to add somewhat to the depth of my meditative state and is mildly pleasant.

My question is thus: should I just let it be (after noting it)? Should I help it? Should I put a stop to it? I do not have enough familiarity with The Official Rules & Regulations Of Practicing Buddhists to know, and I do not have an instructor/advisor to pose this question to. Hence my post here.

I found this related question, but this person seems to be doing it intentionally and in response to physical pain. One of the answers here also notes that it may be in response to conditioning, but I don't feel that's the case here. A question about sitting, movement and mindfulness

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    I think you'll find that there really isn't one Official Rules & Regulations Of Practicing Buddhists... your answers will vary, but in my tradition (Theravada), this would be considered "rapture" and may be good or bad, depending on the type of meditation you are practicing. – yuttadhammo Mar 20 '15 at 16:16
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    I finally get why you said this, @yuttadhammo. According to this reference (dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/…) - "There are five kinds of rapture: (1) an unusual sense of heaviness or lightness in the body; (2) a sense of the body floating; (3) a sense of coolness or heat; (4) a sense of thrill passing over the surface of the body; (5) the body beginning to sway." – Jeff Wright Jul 2 '15 at 18:07
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Let me try to approach this from 2 different angles.

I'm a physiotherapist and first I would like to approach this from an anatomical and physiological standpoint.

It sounds to me like you might be lacking some core strength and that resulting in you swaying in your meditation. It could also be that you have some tight muscles around your pelvis and back which is creating muscular imbalances. The balances can cause pulling and tightening in different directions when standing, sitting or lying in certain postures. Muscular imbalances are quite common and not dangerous although if they are allowed to persist over long durations of time they can lead to more serious problems such as limited range of motion, body pain, mal-alignment which again can lead to other diagnoses. Let's not get into this here.

If it's relevant now or becomes relevant you are welcome to contact me on my mail: harshani85@gmail.com and I will take a look at you either via Skype or you can sent me a video. I will give further instructions about that if you need it.

For now I will give you some strengthening exercises for your lower back and core muscles + some stretching exercises for your hip flexors (m. iliopsoas) since they are often a problem because of too much sitting down. If they are or become tight they can limit range of motion in the spine and external rotation in the hip by creating an increased internal rotation in your upper legs which again will lead to mal-alighment in your spine which will affect your standing, sitting and lying posture.

As you might have heard before the core is our force-generating center. It is very important to have a strong core in almost all activities that one do in ones everyday. A strong core means that one is physically centered. The standing, sitting and lying postures will improve greatly as will many other activities in ones daily life.

The core consists of the following muscles; m. transversus abdominis, m. rectus abdominus, internal/external obliques, lumbal portion of m. erector spinae. Some people count also mm. gluteus, m. quadratus lumborum and m. iliopsas. I will not give exercises for these muscles but only the most important muscles which is m. erector spinae, m. transversus abdominis, m. rectus abdominus and mm. internal/external obliques.

I would like to give you these exercises. They can be a bit difficult to understand when only viewing a photo so I have found this video for you that goes through some of the exercises. I want you to try them all out and find the ones that work best for you. Try to pick 3-4 exercises.

I want you to do 1-3 sets with 10-15 repetitions in each exercise. 1-3 sets meaning that if you have a good day you can do 3 sets and if you are tired or not in the mood you can do 1-2 sets. That way you can regulate it yourself. You should train these exercises 3-4 times a week. Keep 1 day between sessions for rest.

That was the strengthening exercises now to the stretching exercise for the hip flexor muscles, m. iliopsoas. See this photo. If you cannot do that I want you to do like this instead. You should do 3 sets of 60 seconds on both legs. You can do longer and more sets if you like but this is minimum. This exercise you can do everyday.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me on my mail or write here and I will try to help out.

Now I would like to approach this from a theravada buddhist perspective with basis in vipassana meditation practice.

In vipassana practice we want things to come forth so we can study them. We do not want to interfere with them since that can create attachment or aversion towards the phenomena. By trying to help the swaying or stop the swaying you are really masking/camouflaging the impermanent, unsatisfactory, oppressive and insubstantial nature of the 1st aggregate, the form aggregate.

I believe it's best to just let the swaying be. Observe it. Note it. Observe that you have really no control over the body. The body is oppressive and ungovernable. It is not subject to ones will and by realizing that you can see both impermance, dukkha and not-self.

So in short. Don't interfere with the phenomena. Just observe them diligently and you will come to realize the 3 signs of existence.

As Mahasi Sayadaw has said; "the yogi (the meditator) will come to realize that there is just an object arising and mind arising to that object and no third besides. Third besides is here meaning a self".

Unfortunately I cannot remember where he says that so I cannot quote it.

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Well, here is a coincidence. I just happened to start reading Mahasi Sayadaw's "Practical Vipassana Exercises" and he explicitly mentions swaying:

Should you intend to sway the body, then knowingly note intending. While in the act of swaying, swaying. When contemplating you may actually discover the body swaying back and forth. Do not be alarmed; neither be pleased nor wish to continue the sway. The swaying will cease if you keep the knowing mind on the action of swaying and continue to note swaying until the action ceases. If swaying increases in spite of your making a mental note of it, then lean against a wall or post or lie down for a while. Thereafter proceed with contemplation.

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I think at some stage while meditating ,you reach a subconscious state in which you are nearing sleep (that may border unconsciouses,fainting etc ,some people sway back and forth before fainting while being seated somewhere). May be you are also experiencing the same.

It is also possible that while meditating blood pressure gets lowered and that can alter the posture subconsciously. The key thing is subconsciousness you are in a state between consciousness and unconsciousness ,so sometimes you feel the swaying ,some times you don't.

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This is the stage of Piti or less likely but another possibility is some past fabrication surfacing. Generally practitioners to not get Piti stage quickly, hence take this as a something positive, due to your past practice you have got this easily.

Having said this this is something like a double edge knife. If you get attached to it then you regress in your practice. (In your case it is something you are averse hence this is something you have to drop and accept it.)

Use this as a tool:

  • You can use Piti as a tool to eradicate or weaken your craving. General tendency is to get attached. Try to be equanimous. This is the feeling resulting from your past craving. (See: Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma for the technicalities)
  • When you have Piti you can practice concentration more easily as there are not pains in your body which might distract. Take this opportunity to do that.
  • Dividing and dissecting into progressively smaller areas look closely into this sensation being equanimous. After some practice this will pass and you will be left with a neutral feeling.
  • Using concentration as a vehicle also you can achieve the above (at higher Jhana)
  • Sensations is the mind conditioner. Use this to calm your mental activity. (See: Mindfulness With Breathing : A Manual for Serious Beginners)

Upanisa Sutta (read along with Transcendental Dependent Arising A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta by Bhikkhu Bodhi), The (eleven) “Without Need of Intention” Discourse - (Ekā,dasaka) Cetanā’karaṇīya Sutta, The (ten) “Without Need of Intention” Discourse - (Dasaka) Cetanā’karaṇīya Sutta and other Suttas covers the formula for liberation (nibiddā formula) which mentions who Piti as a "mile stone" in progress your practice until liberation.

  • Sumidha, thank you for the resources.I would be surprised if I had attained to anything resembling the Piti stage yet, given the still often-strong meandering of my mind and its tendency to follow after thought. I have been spending the past couple weeks doing concentration meditation (using a yellow-colored disc)...I think the furthest I may have gotten is the stage before that...vicara - although I still lose track often, so I am now content with just improving concentration. By the way, the rocking has seemed to have done away. – Jeff Wright May 12 '15 at 12:25
  • You know best but in the 1st Jhana or when you are near it Piti can arise. Especially since you are doing Kasina. It is advisable to have a teacher when doing Kasina through. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena May 12 '15 at 14:07
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You are realising traumatic energy from your nervous system. Your body is rocking because there actually is quiet much of it. Just watch it. This is what meditation is about.If you look at modern trauma science you will see close connection to meditation and kundalini.

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Sounds like you have not developed the physical self control necessary to meditate properly , you might want to consider practicing hatha yoga for a while with a good teacher.

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It is completely normal, it does happen to me as well.

What occurs to me is that it is actually my pulse and as such swaying back and forth is in the exact rhythm of it, as it follows the rhythm of the blood flow in the body (presumably heart or artery). It happens by itself even in state of higher concentration and calm in Samatha.

Note though that if it's indeed your blood flow (as with me), it might be due to a health condition background. Be cautious and examine it, for your body shouldn't be pacing at such calmness.

My solution is that I just notice it and let it happen, I cannot do anything about it really. Not immediately. Neither should you, so I advise the same.

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