Electricity down my back: "Is this entirely mental"
February 8, 2005 8:29 AM   Subscribe

When I'm lying in bed sometimes I can concentrate and send what feels like a charge of electricity down my spine. Am I actually doing anything or is this entirely mental? My back will physically move a bit as I do it and it feels quite nice, but is it just some sort of illusion?
posted by jheiz to Health & Fitness (25 answers total)
What do you mean by "mental" or "illusion"? All mental phenomena are caused by your real, physical nervous system.
If it helps, I try all the time to
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:45 AM on February 8, 2005

d'oh, I try to cause my brain to do weird things. For instance.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:47 AM on February 8, 2005

Sounds like you can induce a myoclonic jerk somehow. Does it help to be somewhat sleepy when you're trying to do it?
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:55 AM on February 8, 2005

... or jacking off, perhaps?
posted by mischief at 9:02 AM on February 8, 2005

Oh my god. I thought I was the only one who did this. I have no idea what it is either--maybe a very tiny shiver?
posted by scratch at 9:09 AM on February 8, 2005

sonofsamiam - I guess what I meant by "real" was whether something physical was happening or if I only thought it was.

ikkyu2 - good idea, but it's not much like a myoclonic jerk. mischief is actually closer- though I'm not doing anything but thinking about the feeling at the back of my neck, it feels closer to a mild version of what happens during orgasm.

There's probably not an answer for this I guess, but it's something I've done for years and I wondered if anyone else did it. Google searches suggested I get in touch with my chakras but that wasn't quite what I was looking for.
posted by jheiz at 9:11 AM on February 8, 2005

scratch - yeah it might be, but aren't shivers involuntary?
posted by jheiz at 9:15 AM on February 8, 2005

Some people get a shock of electric feeling zapping down their back when they flex their neck. This is called L'hermitte's sign, and is generally indicative of structural damage to the material of the spinal cord, commonly seen in MS, for instance, but also in severe cases of neck arthritis, syringomyelia, etc.

Are you old and stricken by arthritis; or do you have unexplained numbness of the fingers and arms? But, since you're not moving your neck to cause the feeling, this seems less likely.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:20 AM on February 8, 2005

Whoa, ikkyu2 totally ruined the party.
posted by xmutex at 9:22 AM on February 8, 2005

Try looking into cranial-sacral info. It deals with the movement of energy through the membranes and fluid that surrounds the spine and bones and muscles. And it's not hippy-dippy. Once you recognize the energy of the body, you can move it around at will.
posted by gingembre at 9:31 AM on February 8, 2005

I'm 23, and not arthritis-stricken. It's possible that I'm slightly flexing my neck without realizing it. On brief googling, L'hermitte's sign seems to involve pain, which I don't experience.
Worth looking into, though..
posted by jheiz at 9:33 AM on February 8, 2005

I know what you're talking about, but I never wondered about it how it works. Just seems to be one of those things your brain can do. To me, it seems like just heightened attention to the skin on that one area of the body somehow induces a rush of suddenly noticed sensation. Incidentally, it can be created in other parts of the body, too. It's reminiscent of the chill/hair-standing-on-end sensation of being scared.
posted by Miko at 10:02 AM on February 8, 2005

I can sometimes trigger this by thinking of biting into a crisp, sour apple.
posted by carter at 10:59 AM on February 8, 2005

I know exactly what you're talking about, and I have no idea at all what it is. I guess it feels a bit like an orgasm, but I can keep it up for much longer and I literally feel it everywhere. I can do it any time, but I think it's a lot more intense when I'm drifting off to sleep.
posted by borkingchikapa at 11:33 AM on February 8, 2005

I had a teacher once who explained this to us as part of the process of falling asleep, and that these jolts are visible on an EEG, and are called Sleep Spindles.

He explained this as being part of the disassociative process required to keep our brains from moving our bodies around as we dream, and that sleep spindles look different in sleepwalkers. Bear in mind, this was in high school, not medical school, so it's probably oversimplified.

I think his name was Mr. Granger. Thanks, Mr. Granger!
posted by ulotrichous at 12:42 PM on February 8, 2005

This sensation, if it's the same one I'm thinking of, is not the same one as sleep spindles, nor is it the same as the limb-jerking motions that your body sometimes does when falling asleep. These can be induced at any time -- when I replied before, I tried one here at my desk just to test and observe -- and they don't include any actual motion.
posted by Miko at 1:35 PM on February 8, 2005

Also, everything I'm reading about sleep spindles says that they're part of REM, and nothing indicates that they can be felt.
posted by Miko at 2:15 PM on February 8, 2005

This feeling sounds like what I always thought of as the ability to produce goosebumps--considering if you do it wreally well you'll SEE them on your skin. I can do it too. I have to swallow and turn my head and I get that "feeling" down my spine. I don't think its anything bad, I've been able to do it sinec I was a kid.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 3:00 PM on February 8, 2005

I can do it, too - if I really concentrate on it, I can get the feeling to spread down my arms and back, and sometimes into the rest of my body. I think it's very useful as a focus exercise.
posted by vorfeed at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2005

I've got an experiment for you and a "special other" to enjoy.

The next time you and yours are enjoying a happyfuntouchparty, send that electricity thru your fingertips while oh so lightly caressing their skin. (Barely even touching!) Send it literally from your spine/innards thru your relaxed shoulders and arms, into your fingertips.

Focus your intent, will and electricity on the subject's skin and pleasure. "Effort" or "trying" is not needed here.

Fiddle around with that electricity and enjoy. Then, start to wonder if THAT'S an illusion.

It is/isn't.
posted by Moistener at 3:47 PM on February 8, 2005

I'll tell you this: there are all kinds of body sensations you can get, of energy or electricity moving through your body, especially when you're difting off to sleep. They often do center at your spine (running up or down it etc.), which I'm sure is part of the reason for the theory of energy with chakras in the east.

I for one get a mild tingly senstation in my forehead that can spread to around my shoulders. I also get some tingly sort of warm sensation at the base of my spine that builds up to a certain point then I get a mild jerk from that muscle and it starts building up again, until I consciously try to stop it, which isn't hard.

The New Agey explanation is that it's energy, of course, but ignore that. It's basically just your various reactions to the way your nervous system is altered as you fall asleep (er, I hope that wasn't too pseudoscientific, ikkyu).
posted by abcde at 4:46 PM on February 8, 2005

abcde: Not at all - I don't insist that you leave pseudoscience to us perfessional pseudoscientists.

These funny little discharges or whatever they are have always interested me. Perhaps jheiz would care to come over to my place and submit to a little hot recording-electrode action?
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:17 PM on February 8, 2005

I get something like this but generally only while i'm laying on my back and can only rarely initiate it though i can extend the sensation for awhile. Seems focused on my upper back. Very pleasurable.
posted by billsaysthis at 10:19 PM on February 8, 2005

Try looking up kegel exercises, then doing the flutter one where you squeeze your perineal muscle until it twitches. Sounds like what you're talking about...
posted by lunkfish at 3:56 AM on February 9, 2005

I can do this too, but oddly not while remaining entirely still. I just did it while reading this, and found that I have to wiggle my shoulders/upper arms about a bit, or it won't happen. It also doesn't last very long, and after a few times 'the battery runs out', and you can't do it anymore for a while.

To me it is the exact same feeling as the involuntary 'The Shivers ©'. but voluntary. Hence, I believe I can do it more easily when I'm scared (or perhaps otherwise emotionally excited) or cold.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:56 AM on February 9, 2005

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