Full Body Breath Sensations or Piti Pumping?

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    Aaron A

    I’ve been working through the TMI stages for a few months. I believe I am in stage 5, 6 or 7, but not certain and a have a few questions that might help me identify where I am, and what techniques I should focus on. But first a bit of a detour to give you some background… I come to this shamatha practice with many years of yoga and a few years of pranayama. A few years ago I began meditating following Yogani’s Advanced Yoga Practices system which is based on meditation using a simple mantra. I read 4 or 5 of his books and found his Spinal Breathing Pranayama technique quite effective. I could easily generate fairly intense energy sensations during each inhale, especially when combined with mulabandha (toning the perineum) and shambhavi mudra (lifting the internal gaze to the 3rd eye). While at first, these sensations seemed extraordinary, after awhile I was able to reproduce them so reliably and mechanically that I began to think of the technique as a “cheap party trick”… neat at first.. but once you know the trick it’s not that amazing. Eventually, I dropped the AYP mantra meditation and didn’t really practice for over a year.

    In January of 2017, I resolved to establish a dedicated meditation practice again and after a short time, landed at The Mind Illuminated. The techniques really resonated with me and I have been able to get much more concentrated and go deeper than I have before. My current practice includes 1 hour and 30 minutes of ashtanga yoga daily and 2 meditation sessions (TMI style) of 30-60 minutes each. As I mention above, I believe I am in stage 5, 6 or 7 but not quite sure. I can direct strong attention to the actual sensations of the breath using “close following” for several minutes at a time. While attention is strong and most thoughts and external sensory experience are easily ignored (or not present at all), I am fleetingly distracted every few minutes. These distractions are usually momentary and don’t last even a half of a breath cycle.

    When I get this concentrated, I use the body scanning technique looking for subtle breath sensations. As I move my attention around my body, I can feel several “levels” of sensation. First, I look for the actual physical sensations on the surface of my body, like the brush of the skin against clothes or air making contact with the edge of the nostrils. Then, I can usually pick up my heartbeat almost anywhere in the body as a faint surge or throb. If I get very still, I can also feel very subtle pressure sensations moving with the breath. This “pressure” is hard to describe, but it’s like a thick viscous wave in the background that starts in the core of the body and travels outward to the limbs during the inhale and reverses during the exhale (its very, very subtle). Within this wave I sometimes feel a faint tingling and if I bring my attention to that, it quickly escalates into what I think is grade 3 or 4 piti. It feels exactly like what I was cultivating using Spinal Breathing Pranayama, except that it arises when the breath is very faint and small. For the most part, this “piti” is completely in-phase with the breath.. surging on the inhale and fading on the exhale. It feels like the energy current inside might look like one of those novelty store plasma balls and it makes the hair on my body stand on end. My face and head feel like they are permeated with cool vapors like I ate a big menthol cough drop. If I choose to breath deeper or move my internal gaze to my third eye, I can intensify the feeling. I can also make it grow if I focus my attention in my chest and recite a few rounds of metta. I can look most places in my body (or my whole body at once) and force it to arise. I’ve spent the last few weeks, sort of playing with this and finding ways to “pump the piti”. It’s interesting, but like the pranayama technique its almost mechanical. It is also quite “active” and seems almost counter-meditative in that I am “doing” instead of “being” or “observing”.

    So.. are these sensations “Stage 6 experience the body with the breath”? Are they piti? Should I pursue them further? Should I move to the pleasure jhana practice and try to stabilize and grow the feelings? Or should I back up to stage 5 and try to stay concentrated even longer and eliminate even momentary (sub-second) lapses of attention every few minutes?


    Blake Barton

    Hi Aaron,

    When deciding where to go with your practice I recommend remembering the goals of this meditation system which are stabilized attention and mindfulness. These skills will then allow you to study your mind and ultimately awaken to the true nature of reality.

    I think you probably are experiencing piti, but pursuing piti alone is a dead end. Piti can come up earlier than expected especially if you have done things like the Advanced Yoga Practices. The book is a model, but it can vary from person to person.

    The full body and pleasure Jhana’s can be tools to help you develop the above skills, but I recommend honestly examining the stages and making sure that you have have mastered each skill before doing practices in the next stage.

    If you have a question about specific stage mastery please feel free to ask.

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher

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