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Meditation as a trigger?

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Toronto82, Sep 18, 2017.

  1. Toronto82

    Toronto82 New Member


    I have not posted in a few months. I found out about Dr. Sarno and TMS in May and used his books/the structured educational program to help resolve some bad shoulder/neck tension. It was a life-saver and only took about 2 weeks to get back to almost normal. Since then I've been generally living more healthy, including diet, exercise and meditation.

    Something that I have been noticing, my TMS pain flares up before and during meditation classes. I am trying to figure out why. It re-emerged in mid-August around half-way through my 8-week meditation class. It was only really bad in the hours before a class and the first half of the class. That’s when I began TMS journaling again. This helped overall but the flare-ups before class persisted (I would also notice an embarrassing onset of gas before/during class some days). I found meditation challenging but generally enjoyed the 2.5 hour class, so I was not sure why TMS was flaring up. I also found that when we reached the discussion section of the class I would share my experiences and the pain/tension would be relieved greatly. Finally, meditation when I am alone does not seem to trigger pain or tension in nearly the same way.

    With journaling and the end of the meditation course I had almost no TMS pain, but this weekend I signed up for a 6 hours Sunday mindfulness retreat. I noticed an onset of mild tension and pain the evening before. Nothing bad. On the day of, I was pretty good for the first couple of hours but then the tension and pain really settled in my neck and shoulders and it got quite bad. Over lunch it receded but came back in the afternoon. It’s especially bad when I am seated upright and not moving – a seated meditation. It was very frustrating because it makes focusing on the breath or whatever visualization difficult and by the end I was spending time on my back mostly. The day wasn’t a bust, I still got a lot from it, but there was frustration that TMS pain is emerging at that time when I want to be relaxed and comfortable and aware. I also feel like meditation should be good for TMS, so that adds to my frustration.

    I am going through the possible triggers in my life outside of my meditation practice – and there’s probably something – but I wonder if there’s also something about practicing meditation in a group or class setting that triggers it? This sense that this is a time that I must be aware, present, relaxed etc. that can cause tension? Am I putting too much on myself to be those things? I find it challenging so maybe my perfectionist side is causing me to have anger for not being “better” a meditation? Basically, is meditation – especially in groups – a trigger for me?
  2. JoeHealingTms

    JoeHealingTms Peer Supporter

    How do you feel about people being around you and watching every move or gesture you make for 2.5 hours? Does the thought of that give you any fear, shame or anger? When you meditate, do you go to some place in your mind of anger or fear? Do you recall any childhood problems? Why you sense you must be aware and present? When I meditate I get lost within myself. The more I get to not be aware of my surroundings the better meditation and more relaxation I get. You actually have identified that it happens when there is people around you.
  3. Gigalos

    Gigalos Beloved Grand Eagle

    Great discussion!
    Sometimes we think that we are okay with a situation, but deep down we may experience fear or the situation.
    Some time ago I started to follow self-defense lessons in a small class of 10 people, all fine and well, but when I started the intermediate lessons I suddenly felt a lot of resistance. These classes were much larger, 25 smelly people I did not know and we had to do a lot of exercises that I had no interest in. It caused all kinds of reactions in my knee that kept me from going. At a certain point I felt it wasn't worth it as I have enough other small battles to fight and decided to quit, which felt like a relief. Of course fear was the real reason behind my symptoms playing up. I simply hate large groups of people, you won't run into me at a concert or at IKEA :) .
    There might be other reasons why meditation triggers symptoms, for example your brain might connect the prospect of meditation and having to face emotions with other people around. Therefore the brain creates symptoms to prevent that. This threat is not existing when you do it alone.
    plum likes this.
  4. hodini

    hodini Peer Supporter

    Hi Toronto,

    Your experience raises some interesting questions. When meditating, one goes into an altered state of awareness (though some consider it the other way around that we are always in an altered state of awareness and meditation provides an unaltered one). Many neurotransmitters are released during this period some of which can be pain relieving. There has been speculation that a type of dependance on ones meditation practices due to the production of these transmitters can cause withdrawal symptoms in some.

    Another possibility, or something that may be playing a part in it since you mentioned that it does not occur in the same way when you are alone is the group dynamic which creates a environment to conform. Whether you realize it consciously or not, there is a comparison process going on so that you can sort out if you "fit in" or not. This can create some anxiety which of course one represses so that they do not appear to not "fit in".

    "mindfulness" has become quite an economic industry just have a look at the google trend over the last 15 years; https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=mindfulness (Google Trends) . This is one of the reasons it has been put in so many book titles.

    I am not surprised that you would feel uncomfortable with a six hour meditation session, the majority of research on meditation suggests that a
    15-30 min period provides peak benefits, beyond that various problems may arise. In addition, I am not sure if your 2-1/2 hour classes were introductory and then you moved on to the 6 hour classes. Also be aware that many groups use meditation classes as a recruitment process.
    Meaning they will not use the name of their group at the onset, only later in the process one gets introduced to the groups belief system and doctrine.

    Another thing you should be aware of in meditating is that for approximately 1/2-1 hour after meditating you will be in a highly suggestible state. It may be that when you meditate alone you are more in control of your environment. If there are lectures after you meditate, that would be a red flag for me and that could also be producing some anxiety which surfaces later. If you would like to share what is the program you are participating in I would be interested in hearing more about it.
    Lily Rose and plum like this.
  5. Toronto82

    Toronto82 New Member

    Thanks for the responses. They are giving me a lot to consider.

    The group aspect to it would definitely play into my fear/anxiety associated with social situations especially when it is kind of “performative.” The funny thing is that silent meditation with your eyes closed so it’s not really like anyone is watching, but yeah I do still find it difficult at times to not be aware of other people. I can’t be fully comfortable in my body even if rationally I know the other people don’t care what I am doing.

    I also don’t feel like I don’t go any especially difficult places when meditating - rarely things that bring up fear or anger for example - but I sometimes feel anxiety about meditating. It’s hard to explain. Just the idea of sitting still, alone with myself and my thoughts could be scary. This has not been a problem lately, but maybe the prospect of a 6 hour retreat with people really stirred it up.

    I am still relatively new to the practice of mindfulness so I struggle sometimes bringing awareness back to my body and breath and disengage from the world or persistent thoughts etc. I think that’s what I meant by wanting to be aware. I am definitely trying to get to that state of being more relaxed and unaware of my surroundings that you talk about Joe.

    On a related note, are there any good books/reading about TMS work and how it relates meditation (or vis-versa)? It feels like these things should complement each other well but my reading on TMS has not mentioned meditation too much.

    Thanks again!
  6. Toronto82

    Toronto82 New Member

    Hodini - Thanks for the response. Your "not fitting in" point definitely resonates. I guess it's hard to acknowledge because it seems kind of silly, but it's true.

    In terms of the program, I am not worried about it being cultish or otherwise nefarious. It's based on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and very secular. They actually say something like "this mindfulness and meditation stripped of any spiritual or religious elements" at the start of the course. The silent retreat was the end of a course and not even mandatory, less than half the class attended.

    I get the concern about how meditation is used or misused but I feel pretty safe and comfortable that I was not being taken advantage of in any way. I don't have any immediate plans to any more courses from the centre I went to and they weren't really pressuring me to either. I am interested in more course work in the future though. Are there any places I should avoid?
  7. hodini

    hodini Peer Supporter


    Glad to hear you have an awareness of some of the pitfalls with respect to meditation groups. I am often asked questions like you posed at the end.
    While I certainly am aware of groups with questionable practices to say the least. I refrain from giving out lists of them as some anti-cult organizations may for some of the following reasons:

    1) I most certainly am not aware of all of them, so giving a list to someone may give them an impression that they are now protected list in hand.
    2) It can create unnecessary conflict and debate.
    3) Group dynamics can change over time, so some groups can be benign now but in 5 years destructive or visa-versa.
    4) Finally, the potential legal ramifications, most of these destructive groups have large budgets for legal actions and are not afraid to use them against people who take a stance against them or their practices. I chose my enemies wisely.

    There is no way to inoculate oneself 100% from falling into a destructive group or organization, one of the reasons for this is because the majority of these organizations were not conceived to abuse, take advantage of, or had an environment of information control at their inception, they become that way due to varying reasons. Only a few have begun with the clear intention of conning others. That said, virtually all will often be full of well meaning , sincere individuals.

    The fact that an organization says they have "stripped of any spiritual or religious elements" only indicates to me that they do not want to appear to look cultish. I would also see that statement in regard to Mindfulness to be somewhat disingenuous considering its relationship with Buddhist practice.

    It doesn't matter who one prays to, prayer is integral to the majority of religious practices and Mindfulness is integral to Buddhist practice even though the western versions can be far removed. To try and remove the term from its origins is like re inventing history. My statements are not meant to denigrate religion or Buddhism.

    If you are looking to explore options more safely I can offer some advice on that:

    One of the first things is to ask yourself how much time are you willing to devote to the group, practice, etc prior to beginning. i.e., 1 hour a week, 5 hrs, whatever. By doing this, you will have a gauge to later see if you have kept your original goals or are perhaps being led to further commitments by the group dynamic.

    Do some studying on group dynamics, you will probably find it an interesting topic and it can help you asses the effects they may have on yourself.

    If something costs money, define in advance how much you can truly afford. Give yourself a reality check when you hit that number.

    Because in this instance you are allowing someone access to the process of your mind, check the backgrounds of those running the programs you may be interested in.

    Find out the origins of their interests, what is the philosophy of the program, ask for the programs record of success as well as how they determined it. In other words, is their success rate simply anecdotal or substantiated by some other methods.

    Find out who they consider their peers to be, ask if they are considered controversial in any way and why. Ask if there is any kind of accreditation needed to teach what they do.

    The purpose in asking these types of questions is simply to gather information from which to make a more informed decision about what may become a life changing choice you are about to make. If someone has accreditation, at least if there is a body that governs behavior of participants you may have some recourse should you feel you have been not fairly treated at some point.

    Do you have to sign any sort of non disclosure or release of liability form in order to participate?

    What is the maximum amount of money if you took all the groups courses ? (this is a good one) I have asked this in introductory events that are free or cost $50, in my experience when this question is either not known or if the amount has to be pulled like teeth, watch out! I have gotten final answers from $5,000 to$50,000 and then of course "If this course were able to change your life, what would you be willing to pay for it?" The old answering the question with a question routine.

    Check the internet (though not a final arbiter), put in the groups name and the keywords, controversy, fraud, criminal, lawsuit.

    Does the group use words and language that if used outside of the group would people look at you like "what did you just say?"

    There are tons more which I am sure you can think of following this logic.

    Sure it would be easier if I gave you a list, but then it would fall on me. When you are speaking of your mind, mindfulness can also mean you have to do the legwork in your own interest.

    This is more like the parable, "if you feed a man a fish, you have fed him for a day, if you teach a man to fish, you have fed him for a lifetime"
    Lily Rose and plum like this.
  8. Lily Rose

    Lily Rose Beloved Grand Eagle

    There are many insightful and thoughtful responses to the original question. Meditation is a melodic word, but the intricacies are quite deep.

    Many people with TMS are highly sensitive in all senses, including the unseen (energy). Meditation is an opening of the self. Other energies (people) can seep in and provoke a pain response in defense.

    In my belief, those who are highly sensitive, meditating in a safe and sacred and private space is essential.

    I also saw mention of prayer. I practice both. To pray is to speak/ask. To meditate is to listen/receive.

    .... always with Love and Gratitude ^_^
    plum and Toronto82 like this.
  9. JoeHealingTms

    JoeHealingTms Peer Supporter

    I can recommend a book called" the genie within" , it have specific exercises to get in touch with your subconscious and getting into alpha state, also includes relaxation techniques.

    https://thegeniewithin.com/ (The Genie Within – by Harry Carpenter)

    This author gathered his information from a lot of sources and that is what makes it so useful to me. If I were to do the same it will take me buying a lot of different books, but here the work is already done.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2017
    Toronto82 likes this.
  10. balto

    balto Beloved Grand Eagle

  11. AC45

    AC45 Well known member

    Hello - In my opinion, MBSR is safe and proven. MBSR classes are taught in 100s of hospitals all over the country. I am reading Jon Kabat-Zin's book "Full Catastrophe Living" (this is the course in a book) and it is extremely helpful. My response it to address the issues mentioned above (about groups who suck you in). MBSR courses are not one of them.
    Toronto82 likes this.

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