Each meditation experience is unique and extremely personal. While you should practice without judging what you feel during meditation, it can be beneficial to share your experience. When it comes down to rapid eye movement episodes, it is essential to know that this is common, especially among beginner meditators.
Your eyes move when you meditate because you might be achieving a trance, a deeper level of relaxation, or awakening your inner energy. Eye movements might also be related to tension in the eyes. Studies have confirmed that eye movements are related to mind-wandering episodes.
While eye movements are not dangerous, they can interfere with your concentration. Find out why this happens and how to prevent it below.
What Is Rapid Eye Movement?
The eye movement you experience during meditation is usually referred to as rapid eye movement (REM). You might also experience rapid eye movement as one of the five phases of your sleep cycle. Oppositely, the other stages of your sleep cycle are non-rem or NREM.
During the REM phase, our brain is almost as active as when we are awake, and this is when most of the dreaming and processing happens. The REM phase of our sleep cycle has been seen to be of particular importance for functions such as mood, memory, and learning. And it has always been associated with cognitive capabilities.
When your body enters REM, your body goes through some significant changes, including faster breathing, increased heart rate, and higher blood pressure. In terms of brain activity, that is similar to when we are awake, and you are most likely to experience vivid dreams during this phase.
REM sleep is essential for our wellbeing, and a lack of it has been associated with decreased cognitive functions, memory problems, and irritability.
Rapid eye movement can also happen during meditation, which can hint that you might have achieved a more profound physical relaxation, but your mind is still extremely active or wandering.
When Does Rapid Eye Movement Happen?
In our sleep, the REM phase naturally happens about 90 minutes after we fall asleep and can last for 10 minutes or more. During our sleep cycle, we enter the REM phase several times.
However, during meditation, rapid eye movements do not follow a similar pattern. Usually, they can be seen in meditators who are still beginners but looking to increase their meditation length beyond 5 or 10 minutes.
A 2019 study shows that less experienced meditators move their eyes more than experienced ones. So, with practice, you will be able to see these effects fade.
What Does Rapid Eye Movement in Meditation Mean?
We know that rapid eye movement during meditation might be associated with experience level and meditation skills. However, understanding why these movements happen is essential to consider both a scientific perspective and the belief systems behind mindfulness meditation.
According to various viewpoints, several reasons might cause you to experience rapid eye movement during your meditation session.
You Might Be on the Verge of a Trance
For some meditators, eye movements during meditation indicate that you might be entering a trance or subconsciousness. However, meditation aims to remain focused and aware of the present moment. A trance can get in the way if you are trying to achieve a deeper level of focus.
Therefore, some meditators might use their awareness to bring their attention to this movement and stop it during meditation to return to their concentration level.
Rapid eye movement might also be associated with deep physical relaxation while your mind is still awake and active – a little like what happens during the REM phase of your sleep cycle.
While relaxing the body while keeping the mind active might help you reap the benefits of mindfulness, rapid eye movement can also represent distractions and mind-wandering activities, which might be counterproductive.
It Might Mean an Awakening of Inner Energy
This energy might be purposeful when appropriately harnessed and prevented from becoming a distraction to your meditative practice. This inner energy that you can awake through meditation might be responsible for feelings of light and joy.
However, in this view, eye movements manifest that energy, which might also mean that you are actively wasting that precious energy. Therefore, you should attempt to calm your eyes and release as much tension as possible, so you can make the most of the energy you are awakening.
Might Be Linked to a Mind-Wandering Episode
A review of a 2019 study by John M. de Castro, Ph.D., allows us to understand better what is the science behind eye movements during mindfulness meditation.
The 2019 study seen above took into consideration two groups of individuals. The first group underwent seven minutes of mind-wandering exercises such as imagination. The second group practiced seven minutes of mindfulness meditation.
The researchers used devices to detect brain activity and its correlation with rapid eye movements during the study. The study found that mind-wandering produces much higher levels of eye movements compared to meditative practices.
These findings are coupled with the fact that more experienced meditators will experience fewer eye movements during their practice. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that rapid eye movement during meditation might be associated with mind-wandering episodes.
So, if you experience these movements, that might be because your mind is wandering, and you should attempt to return to your breath to regain a deeper level of concentration.
You Might Be Holding Tension in the Eyes
According to Raja Yoga Teacher and former co-director of the Ananda Meditation Teacher Training program Nayaswami Savitri, eye movement during meditation can be disrupting and prevent you from achieving your desired level of focus.
However, this experience might be linked to excessive tension in the eyes and can be easily solved by practicing relaxation exercises. For example, you might try to shut your eyes tightly and then open them wide, repeating this movement several times.
You should also attempt not to point your eyes downwards, as this might mean that you are slipping into a trance or sleep. Oppositely, you should relax and calm your eyes with your mind, encouraging an upward movement.
Should You Stop Your Eyes From Moving During Meditation?
Each meditation experience is unique to the meditator, and it is up to you whether you wish to stop your eyes from moving. If your eyes’ movements disturb you or get in the way of your experience, you should consider trying the methods above to reduce this effect.
However, if this movement does get in the way of your meditation, it might just be a normal reaction to your current relaxation level.
Additionally, eyes’ movements are one of several types of rhythmic and involuntary movements that might happen when you reach more profound meditative practices.
You can find more information about these experiences in the video below.
Why your eyes move when you meditate: Conclusion
Eye movements during meditation are shared experiences that are likely to happen to beginner meditators. According to the belief system behind meditation and mindfulness practice, these movements might be related to the awakening of inner energy or a trance’s approach.
Other theories suggest that your eyes might be tired or holding tension, which you can release by squeezing and releasing your eyes shut and open repeatedly. Lastly, studies have found that eye movements during meditation might indicate mind-wandering episodes.
If these eye movements get in the way of your meditative proactive, you should consider stopping them through relaxation.