Unusual Bodily Experiences

From: http://watarts.uwaterloo.ca/~acheyne/ube.html


In apparent contrast to the feelings of pressure pushing down on the body, a feeling of floating or flying is often experienced, often by the same people and at the same time. These floating experiences range from relatively tranquil experiences, during which one respondent reported, "I feel sort 'wrapped in cloud'," to (somewhat rarer) violent experiences in which one can "even feel the blow of wind across me as if travelling in air at high speed. Horrible sensations of falling or rising at high speed. Like a lift or driving down a hill. G- acceleration and deceleration. Almost makes you want to throw up." The floating is usually described as less violent than this, however. It is often more like "being lifted, by beings surrounding one time. One time, looking and seeing the ceiling in front of my face." The floating experiences are perhaps the most dream-like of the HHEs. 

    I closed my eyes and felt as though gravity had been reduced and I bounced to the ceiling. 
    At times, if I do not wake up I will feel like I am floating up. I cannot see around me (usually) but at times I float right through the ceiling! 
    Several times I felt myself floating over my bed and around my room, usually I don't have control.

Only very occasionally is the floating sensation localized to a particular part of the body as was typical for the experience of pressure. "My feet are the ones that get to float. It is an awkward sensation, like my head is too heavy to let the body float completely. So I often lay diagonal, my feet floating up and my head resting on the pillow..." The sensation is probably best described as floating since that captures the rather passive nature of the experience. The lack of voluntary movement during the floating is, of course, consistent with the associated paralysis. 

    I felt I was floating just above my body, but couldn't move at will. 
    It felt more as though I was locked out of my body and I no longer had the ability to control its function. Another time when I fell asleep on a couch by a window in our house which looks way out over the sea I felt myself floating out the window and across the sea at a tremendous speed. It was the same thing as I could not move my body and I felt locked out. There was no bad presence this time but I was very alarmed nonetheless.

Floating is the one sensory experience that is sometimes associated with the relatively rare experience of enjoyment or bliss. 

    If I get to the floating stage, I usually perceive the experience as enjoyable (beats the movies and it's free!) 
    I am more likely to feel weightless Like I do not own a body. I was getting terrified, the room became pitch I felt like I was going up an escalator then images of hands started grabbing for me I prayed to god and heard a voice " LOVE, HONOR, and OBEY and He will come into your heart to stay." I looked at my feet then it felt like going down an elevator really fast where your stomach ends up in your throat and I was back. 
    I often feel, especially intensely toward the beginning of these episodes a sensation that I am being flown around in a circle at intense speed. It feels like the sensation that I feel when I ride fast carnival rides that have an intense pull to them. Often after the initial phases of these episodes I have visual and tactile sensations that I am flying but the force pulling on me that I described above is usually still present during this. 
    It always seems that the [reason] I can't move is because I am floating or vibrating away (only slightly) from my body.

Sometimes the floating sensation is accompanied by the sensed presence. " On two occasions have I ever felt a sensation of levitating. One time I felt as if I was levitated above my bed. The other included the feeling of a presence in my room, which appeared over my feet and the feeling of my whole bed being levitated and spinning. I also saw objects being thrown around my room." The evil qualities of the presence may persist generating images of being abducted by demons or witches. 

    A few times, I felt like I was with the devil (I always think it is the devil). He is usually behind me and I feel like we are flying through the air at warp speed and I actually see the view of the room as I am moving and passing by everything.

Out-of-Body Experiences 

The floating is sometimes associated with out-of-body experiences (OBE) although many of the respondents are somewhat uncertain what an out-of-body experience really means. 

    I thought that I was floating above my bed...like an out of body experience. A common report suggesting an out-of-body experience is that of autoscopy associated with separation from one's body. " I've actually been floating above myself, and seeing myself in the bed... it was quite disturbing." Even here the sensation of floating seems very common. 
    One time, I had the experience of watching my SP "from above" my body...as a witness. 
    In one experience I felt like I left my body. I was hovering right above my sleeping form. 
      . . .  but have had the sense that I was viewing things from a perspective that would've been impossible lying down.

In the following case we see something quite different from autoscopy. 

    Once was sleeping in bottom bunk of bunk bead.  Floated out of body, hit top bunk, bounced back in. Also once while floating around near the ceiling, hit head on dining room door frame & had to check in mirror when I got up to see if I really hit my head. Also, once floated out of body, looked back to see myself like you're supposed to, and the bed was empty! 
    These out-of-body experiences are also somewhat more likely to be associated with positive emotions: "My OBE was very pleasurable although very strange." Nonetheless, they may also be very frightening on occasion. 
    A couple times only, as I felt I was dying (suffocating) I felt myself 'leaving my body ' and then it ended. 
    I feel rather that my whole self is being removed from my body against my will, as if my soul is being trapped. 
    It always feels like I'm out of my body...usually I am so afraid and so busy trying to get back that I don't explore this avenue at all especially if I feel there is something bad near me. 
    I feel like I am leaving my body through my forehead or top of my head...  I feel that if I let this happen, my body will die and I will be seeing things that will scare me.  So I have not let this happen.

Moreover, the more positive and exhilarating experiences may sometimes turn sour. 

    I experienced one 'out of body' episode where I floated around my bedroom and could clearly see myself sleeping.  When I went back into my body, I felt like I was drifting down on a parachute-it was slow and pleasant. I re-entered my body abruptly and couldn't move for several seconds.  On a couple of occasions I've felt that I was being sucked out of my body by my feet and struggled to resist it. I always try to wake up before it happens to me again.

The various HHEs associated with SP may be categorized into two or three broad classes of experience. A major set of experiences consists of a sensed presence closely associated with fear and visual and auditory hallucinations. This is a very reliable cluster of experiences, relating to events perceived as external environmental events, that has been consistently found in several independent samples. A second set of experiences are bodily sensations involving perceived pressure typically on the torso, most often on the chest, associated with feelings of suffocation, pain, and fear of dying. A third set of experiences involves feelings of floating, out-of-body experiences, feelings of tingling or numbness, and, occasionally, feelings of bliss or joy. 

Unusual Bodily Experiences and REM 

In the waking state, medial and superior vestibular nuclei contribute, along with cortical, thalamic, and cerebellar centers, to coordination of head and eye movements. During REM sleep there are neither head movements nor retinal images when cells in the pontine tegmentum activate vestibular neurons (Peterson, Franck, Pitts, & Daunton, 1976; Pompeiano, 1970, 1980). Thus, according to the activation-synthesis theory, in the absence of correlative motor pattern generation with corollary discharge or appropriate proprioceptive feedback, vestibular activation is interpreted as floating or flying. Such experiences are consistent with sensations of angular and linear acceleration associated with the vestibular organs (Howard, 1986). Cortical interpretation of bursts of activation similar to those of REM dreams will be further complicated during SP if the person opens his/her eyes and receives contradictory input. We hypothesize that this impossible conflict between movement and non-movement, between simultaneously floating above, and lying on, one's bed, is resolved by a splitting of the phenomenal self and the physical body, sometimes referred to as an out-of-body experience. There is some evidence that out-of-body experiences in other contexts are sometimes preceded by, or associated with, feelings of floating (Devinsky, Feldman, Burrowes, & Bromfield, 1989) and flying (Blackmore, 1988). Out-of-body experiences have also been indirectly associated with REM states in the context of lucid dreaming (Irwin, 1988). 

In contrast to the experiences centered on sensed presence or pressure, the unusual bodily sensations do not necessarily imply threatening external agency. Although out-of-body experiences, when accompanying trauma and/or seizures, can be associated with fear (Devinsky, Feldman, Burrowes, & Bromfield, 1989), broader surveys have reported strong associations with feelings of calm, peace, and joy (Twemlow, Gabbard, & Jones, 1982).