Coming Back to My Body in Meditation Is Uncomfortable


I meditated on and off, for 34 yrs. in past few years a lot of the time when coming back in my body I jolt or am unable to breathe, once I am in a deep state. I gasp to catch my breath or my head falls back also in a jolting manner. I haven’t been able to meditate comfortably for a few yrs. what advice might you offer. many thanx in love and light ~ Namaste, Caroline

—Caroline, Canada


Dear Caroline,

From your description and intuitively, I am not clear about the state you are describing. I say this because ordinarily the transition from breathlessness or at least a deeper state of meditation is smooth and seamless. But let me describe a few aspects that might apply and be helpful:

1. Paramhansa Yogananda warns meditators (as we do, therefore, in our classes) that the autonomic system of the brain and nervous system will sometimes provoke a kind of jolting, even panicked, response to the experience of when the breath stops (temporarily). This includes a quick intake of breath the moment the mind becomes conscious of the lapse in breathing. The brain/nervous system is designed by nature to keep us breathing (for obvious reasons!) and so it’s just “doing its job.” With consistent practice, however, we can retrain this response because in the quietness of meditation (and also in actual breathless states in meditation), the cells of the body do not decay as they are held in equilibrium (stasis). The yogis say that this is possible because in instead of retaining life by way of the “alternating current” of inhalation and exhalation, we can remain in the body by the “direct current” of life forcing entering the medulla oblongata and holding the cells in suspended animation.

2. Another point is that there are numerous levels of consciousness, including a trance-like states that are semi-subconscious or semi-superconscious states. Consider, e.g., staring out the window and zoning out. You awaken from this semi-trance state with no recollection of what you experienced in that state or went through. While meditating it is not uncommon for practiced meditators to begin to enter a sleep-like state that is short of actual sleep but a kind of mixture between trance and thought-transcendent states. These are more or less “semi” states of one flavor or another. A question to consider in exploring this goes like this: when you “return” do you remember anything? I sometimes say to meditation students in my classes, half-jokingly: “If you didn’t know where you went, you didn’t go ‘there’” (meaning into superconsciousness). Not all states are beneficial. Some can even be dangerous, psychically, or spiritually. It is essential, spiritually speaking, that one invokes the divine presence in the form of one’s sat guru or other preceptor, to guide one’s meditation especially into any realms that are unknown.

3. It is an axiom of higher states of consciousness that in such states one is “super” conscious. Even if one “leaves the body” one always is conscious: indeed, far MORE conscious that in ordinary day-to-day states. Thus it is that one hears reports of people “seeing” their physical body as if from above; seeing or passing through walls. Thus material realities do not necessarily disappear (at least at first) but their solidity begins to “liquify.” Only in the highest or higher stages do the material realities melt into their more subtle forms and then beyond all forms. Sometimes the distinction between imagination, subconscious projection and superconsciousness is unfamiliar enough to be unclear.

4. Meditators can have all sorts of temporary experiences and states that last but briefly. Until we achieve consistency in our meditative states of consciousness, it is not see easy to define or categorize the experience because, as yet, still so unfamiliar to us. It took centuries, indeed, millennia, for the yogis to codify or describe with reliability the higher states of consciousness (think: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras — centuries of yoga tradition descended from higher ages and distilled into written form).

The above is perhaps a bit long-winded and I am saying, therefore:

  1. Be careful. (employ safer and simpler meditation techniques)
  2. Go slowly (shorter meditations, e.g.)
  3. Pray for guidance (including using chanting, e.g. — see above)
  4. Seek an experienced meditation teacher or meditator (to act as a mirror and confidante)
  5. Make sure your physical body is fit, non-toxic, oxygenated, relaxed… use a hatha yoga routine before meditation; have a vegetarian diet, if possible (don’t meditate after a heavy meal, e.g.)
  6. Don’t meditate in the dark; have at least candle light
  7. Meditate, when you can, with others; at least make sure someone is around if at home meditating.
  8. Examine medicines that you are taking for any possible neurological (etc.) side effects.
  9. If you are being treated for any mental imbalances, or have in the past, seek medical treatment or counsel in regarding the practice of meditation.

Well, this is probably more than you expected to read. We’ll be happy to talk further if you think it helpful.

Blessings to you!

Nayaswami Hriman