A nasal experiment

river

(best performed while alone)

This might sound weird, but have you ever checked to see just how sensitive the rims of your nostrils are? Well, I didn’t expect you were going to admit it!

Try touching the inner rims of your nostrils as gently as you can (check no-one is watching first!). Use the very tip of your finger, and try to find the lightest touch that you can still feel. You should find that you’re able to feel your fingertip almost before it makes physical contact. The rims of your nostrils are covered with tiny little hairs, just a fraction of a millimeter long. Each hair has a very sensitive nerve at the root, and every time your breath passes through your nostrils, these nerves are triggered.

Of course we don’t usually notice those sensations, but it’s an excellent exercise to try to be aware of the breath passing over your nostrils. Having to pay attention to such a refined sensation encourages your mind to move onto a more subtle level of perception.

And since it’s not possible to remain aware of such a subtle sensation unless your mind is very still, the fourth stage encourages deeper levels of mental and emotional stillness.

5 Comments. Leave new

thanking you very much for helping me to be freed from my self

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I am trying to do mindfulness meditation using the breath. Many instructions say to focus on the region between the nostrils and the upper lip to find the breath. I can feel the breath mostly inside the nostrils, and also more higher up in the nose root area. I tried along time to get more sensitive and feel it lower (upper lip, below nostril) but did never succeed. The description of the point of exact location, and various locations in nose area is a great weakness in all meditation tutorials (and teachers), could you elaborate more precisely about that??

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Hi, Ben.

Since I wrote this I’ve radically changed my view of this practice. I now see it as starting with an awareness of the breathing rather than the breath, the breathing being any and all sensations connected, however indirectly, with the process of inhaling and exhaling.

I suggest starting there because that practice has the effect of radically calming the mind. Only then do I recommend trying to narrow the field of our awareness, and when we do I’d suggest gradually moving towards the rims of the nostrils, or anywhere close to that where you can feel relatively sharp and clear sensations. There’s nothing magical about the exact location you focus on. It’s not a question of finding the “right” place, but of maintaining a sense of curiosity and openness.

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So my personal “spot”, awareness of breath related sensations, higher up in the nasal cavity would be ok for long time practice, to get the chance of reaching higher states like jhanas?
By the way, thx for really quick answer, you definitly care for your community, thats absolutely great and amazing!

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Well, in terms of getting to jhana, I’d definitely recommend starting with an awareness of the breathing in the full body — as full as you possibly can, allowing the whole body into awareness. This is a process of exploration and receptivity, and takes some practice. This does two things: it calms the mind quite quickly, and it also sensitizes us to the body so that we can experience it in terms of piti. As calmness (with vitakka-vicara) and piti are arising, or after they’ve arisen, bring some metta and appreciation into the mix. And only then start to look for a vivid focus around the nostrils, which helps bring in a degree of clarity that allows you to settle into an experience of jhana.

I wrote about this a few years ago, and while that basic framework is still valid and still what I teach, I’ve refined the way I approach each of the factors. I intend to produce a new version of this article when I have the time. Unfortunately I have a lot of commitments at the moment.

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