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The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Simile)

Interesting essay:


The text looks at the Pali Cannon in order to argue the breath nimita is a specific tactile feeling that arises during breath meditation, and NOT, as claimed in some places, a visual image in the mind's eye.

RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/11/13 4:42 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
I dont necessarily agree with the nose thing. When the breath becomes fine enough, the flow of air drops beneath the threshold of turbulence, breath will not move a feather held immediately in front of the nose. When the turbulence from the feeling of air passing is gone, that necessarily quiets the neural input.

Keep your awareness at the lower dantien and drop the breath beneath the threshold of turbulence and you seriously feel like the little guy here

When the generative force congeals in this state of utter and complete stillness, its literal.

There have been plenty of times I've had the sphenoid sinus open a bit in deep meditation, but interestingly enough, that particular sinus is not innervated by the olfactory nerve, but by the trigeminal. It does not manifest unless the others have been sufficiently attenuated, though.

Anapanasati should continue even after the breath is not felt, and it winds up feeling more sati than anapana emoticon

There's many methods to still the breath...but focusing on the tip of the nose I feel is trying to get 2 birds with one stone, that of streamlining the breath and also that of focusing the spirit at the seat of awareness at the niwan. As progress is made, it becomes easier to hold the awareness well in more than one location at a time - i.e. connecting the two ends of the taiji pole, lower dantien and niwan. The effect is multiplicative, especially if one can move past the duality of conceptually thinking it is actually two locations ;)

But like he said...whatever works, haha emoticon

RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/12/13 3:34 AM as a reply to Dan Cooney.
Hey Dan,

You've mentioned this "turbulence of breath" practice several times now, and I thought I would give it a try, as my mind is persistently agitated and I could use some stillness.

But in order to do this, I need clear instructions, and clear indicators of progress. If you are willing to provide, I am willing to commit to doing the practice 1h a day every day for at least 10 days (I go on summer holiday after that, and things get complicated practice-wise, so if you think 10 days x 1 hour are not enough to convey the basics of the practice, it is better to postpone this for, say, september).

Specifically, I have the following questions:
- What is this "turbulence of breath"? How do I detect whether my breath is "turbulent"? How do I know whether it is "more turbulent" or "less turbulent"?

- What are the prerequisites, if any exist to engage in the "turbulence of breath practice" (ToB )?

- What are the concrete actions of ToB? Is there just one single set of instructions which one works on always, or are there several sets of instructions which should be applied either in order, or in different situations? What is a typical practice session like?

- According to the previous points, what are the recognizable signs of progress? Meaning, what ways do I have of knowing that the practice is working, rather than me just wasting time?

- Finally what is your experience with the practice? What is, experientially, a practice session for you?


RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/12/13 4:27 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Hey Bruno,'s a shot...for this post I will stick to the physical stuff, it seems like when I start including too much of the energetic component it isnt coherent enough for the reader. It is substantially easier to do this with natural abdominal breathing especially to start out.

Turbulence is simply something to eliminate. As air moves along a landscape, vortices form amongst the nooks and crannies. The idea is to streamline the mechanisms to the point at which the flow of air is so smooth that it doesnt even trigger a neural response, i.e. you cant feel the air moving.

The way I did this was basically:
-cease using the nose, sinuses, throat, bronchi, lungs to facilitate the movement of air
-harmonize and strip down to just the main physical components: diaphragm, psoas, perineum.

I dont include the front of the abdomen in this context because eventually it drops as "the breath externally disappears" and my own pursuits have revealed that when pursuing longevity breathing. I use this as part of a session most often, to open and close with. Plenty often I will include an active portion of the meditation where I'll do lower dantien breathing or something, but to wrap it up I always revert to this longevity breathing protocol.

Given that this practice tends to develop inertia over time, how much progress you make with it is really dependent on your current level of understanding and practice.

No prerequisites outside of learning to identify the physical structures. This is intended to be a foundational prerequisite for pretty much any energetic practice.


Ok - so as you first begin working with the idea of not using the sinuses or anything to facilitate breath, the idea with that is to attenuate signals, and the 40 cycle/sec resonance of the olfactory nerve that is produced by normal breathing is a good place to start. The longer term intent is to be able to well attenuate all of the cranial nerves that make up the myriad sensory input we are constantly bombarded with.

Put the energy of your awareness into the timing of the breath mechanisms.

To begin an inhale, descend the diaphragm from its bottom rear attachment point along the anterior spine. The diaphragm actually merges into the anterior longitudinal ligament that runs the length of the spine - the psoas does too. Since the diaphragm physically does not "extend all the way down to the dantien" that is partly why there is that focus on the psoas, since it is joined so long as you keep that intent to keep gently descending for the duration of the inhale, that serves the purpose.

The perineum has a relatively short distance to travel; be gentle, let it softly expand on the inhale and gently lift on the exhale.

If you consider the energy generated by the movement, there is a sort of energetic culmination towards the end of the motion - if you've ever seen a dyno readout from a car's engine you can see the power generated follow a slope upwards and then peak a bit before red line. Same concept here - each physical component can be treated as having its own slope, and working on the timing of breath we want the energetic maxima to be concurrent. (So in doing all of this calmly, you are looking for an energetic maxima amidst a consumption minima.)

In the beginning stages of this, the stomach relaxes on the inhale and gently firms on the exhale, providing some subtle support. As progress is made, the need for that support diminishes and disappears.

Lengthening of the breath, take baby steps. If you try to make too much progress too quickly then the body's failsafe mechanisms feed back and you get increased heart rate, the urge to breathe, etc.

Plenty often I have spoken of ingraining a breath protocol onto the subconscious - you already have one, but what this does is reprogram it to be more efficient. The subconscious processes can be trained, this is a start at it. So once habit-energy is established, the effects carry over to non mindful states, sitting at a desk working...sleeping - my wife told me she can tell when I am in good practice not by how long I am sitting there meditating, but by how my breath is when I sleep!

Another key is to work on smoothing out the transitions between inhales and exhales - that's actually where I came up with the how to begin a breath in the first place...I had slowed everything down to the point that my diaphragm would hiccup because the mechanics were not proper enough...but that really only comes about when you've put the onus of breath on the diaphragm-psoas-perineum dynamic and have let go of the sinuses.

This helps with the issue of awareness gapping - so when you find yourself not paying attention to the breath process, return to it. As often as necessary. Dont fret over it, think about how long you werent paying attention, or anything like that. Just return to the breath. Doing these simple things cultivates a habit energy that carries forth into your subconscious processes.

I will return to effects etc tomorrow, running out of time this evenin...if there is anything you would like me to clarify I can do so then also emoticon If this sounds a bit tedious...well, it is, in a way. It is a very rote method, and the downstream effects are a habit energy that carries forth into daily life, sleep, everything...if one is to "awaken" and find superlative awareness carrying forth into all aspects of one's life, I feel this cultivated habit-energy is a very powerful tool towards that.

RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/13/13 4:19 AM as a reply to Dan Cooney.
Not tedious at all, quite on the contrary I have been interested and amazed by changes in the breath every since starting practice. I have had two major changes in breath behavior so far. After my first retreat, my breath became predominantly abdominal from being predominantly chest-powered; in fact it happened during a specific event on a specific meditation session, and it was very surprising for me how such a significant change can happen in a matter of minutes. The second change is a general "less need to control" that happened after my second retreat, which doesn't apply just to the breath, but it was very noticeable there since before then I could not observe the breath without interfering significantly.

I will give your instructions a try, and let you know if I have any questions.

RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/13/13 6:52 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Tank you Bruno for elucidation. Henepola Gunaratana and Alan Wallace have both counterpart nimitta as "bunch of perls or gems", "cobweb", "mist", "sun", "moon" etc. in their publications. Now I see that they both just copied it word after word from Visudhimagga. I have been concentrating on the feeling of breath in the nostrils for some time but I never experienced anything like this. Now everything seems clearer to me.

RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/13/13 9:55 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Bruno Loff:
Not tedious at all, quite on the contrary I have been interested and amazed by changes in the breath every since starting practice. I have had two major changes in breath behavior so far. After my first retreat, my breath became predominantly abdominal from being predominantly chest-powered; in fact it happened during a specific event on a specific meditation session, and it was very surprising for me how such a significant change can happen in a matter of minutes. The second change is a general "less need to control" that happened after my second retreat, which doesn't apply just to the breath, but it was very noticeable there since before then I could not observe the breath without interfering significantly.

I will give your instructions a try, and let you know if I have any questions.
Hopefully this isnt too much of a thread-jacking here emoticon If it is we can always move the data to another thread so that the discussion of your original link can proceed.

Good that you have experienced those shifts in...perception and process...

Wrt/ need to control, conceptual thing I find important is that the things that are happening are direct expressions, and the exerting of mindful control leads the practitioner towards this perception/feeling of being the expression as opposed to "try to breathe in a certain manner or timing."

Having the concepts stripped back a bunch and this is really nothing more than anapanasati through a western anatomical lens, with a bit of emphasis on process enhancement.

Part of the concept is that as one streamlines processes, the processes that are attenuated give up that energy they were utilizing, and as progress is made, one notices the additional energy sometimes as smoothings of physical mechanics, others as having the energy directly fuel the awareness. The flow of air feels to become superfluid and more nourishing, the sense that oxygen uptake has been enhanced even though the ongoing volume of air breathed becomes substantially less than ordinary breathing. I've immersed myself in the practice enough times that I have recognized certain things that seem to happen as the habit-energy gains momentum. The metabolism is enhanced almost similarly (even counterintuitively) to having established a good workout routine - tons of additional energy, a threshold where I get much more hungry for a block of time and my body wants another 800 calories a day...that has happened at 40-50 second breaths for me. When a minute, minute fifteen is reached, the meditative state starts really becoming more ongoing and permeating daily life, meditation becomes just sitting comfortably, shining for a my best points of practice in the past at that point I start not being able to tell how long I'm even sitting because fixing the awareness seems to place one outside of time and space, 20 minutes or two hours doesnt really feel any different. But of course dont be fooled by that, the durations are absolutely relevant - so think of turning a prayer wheel - when you ingrain these concepts and program the protocol into the subconscious to a significant degree, its almost like you've added a ball bearing assembly for the prayer wheel to turn upon...friction reduced, the wheel turns smoothly and contains a very significant inertia.

This ties in to the turbulence I mentioned - there's a stupendous amount of energy locked up in the turbulent vortices manifested by rough, uneven breath. Think of adding large stones to a river, boulders you watch the river flow on by, you can clearly see the drag exerted on the flow of the river by all of the objects in it. Now imagine removing the boulders...remove the smaller stones...smooth out the river bottom - what would that do to the flow of the river? Little twist on "stream entry" hehehe.

One prescient point I also wanted to add is that from my studies and experience, the jing-qi-shen paradigm is most efficiently supported in a condition of utter and complete stillness. By mindfully expressing a superlatively efficient breathing pattern, it allows the body to better perform its function while the awareness is held on to and allows for expanded focus.

A powerful addition to this that has resulted in my subsequent immersions in good practice depth coming along more and more quickly each time I have gone back into it (I'm talking from an overall practice standpoint...falling back to worldliness is easy to do - so like the first time I trashed my progress it was simply a fourth of july party weekend where I drank too much a couple days in a row...) is the ability to focus the awareness at the niwan. I would gander that you are familiar with it a bit from other things you have written, it is a tough thing to explain since it is starting to get into the range where words begin to fail. Simply put, one pointed concentration - but a key to that is it must be gently done...if one is forcing it or trying to grasp at the concept, its more just a recipe for a headache instead of a useful meditative tool.

The combination of these two concepts has proven indispensable - it is important to do the work on breath mechanics and timing...of course one may do one without the other, and in either order - but I feel that by doing the work on the rote method of ingraining an enhanced breathing protocol onto the subconscious first and then adding in the focusing of the spirit at the seat of awareness (niwan) it is setting the stage just a bit more robustly since there is the breath's habit energy that is leveraged into awareness-potential. It allows certain signals to more clearly be isolated and recognized - and leveraged more efficiently.

Setting the stage for the real work, as it were, hehe.

RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/14/13 7:55 AM as a reply to Dan Cooney.

Tried this practice... little report.

Breathingwith the nose, I realized that there were tensions in the area ofthe sinuses, so I begun to relax it.

Eventually, this lead me to realize the existence of a fairly comoplex of muscolar tensions spreading from the sinuses that goes something like this
-root of the nasalcavity, just under the third eye/
third eye/upper cheekbones
third eye--->eyes
third eye/ forefront/crown-->laterally just over the 2 hears
crown--->down to the coccyx
Also, the root of the nasal cavity seemed to have a strong connection with the point the hard palate meet the central teets, tension there as well, and tensions over the palate, in particoular one point in the top of the hard palate, and also spreading throught the palate to the teets; from there, down into the troath, effecting the jaw in the process
Also, there was tensions in the lateral extremes ofthe nose, spreading to the muscles of the upper lip area, and lower cheekbones.

I relaxed some of it, then I stopped.

Seems to be interesting practice, now my nose is definitely more free than before...


RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/14/13 8:04 AM as a reply to Dan Cooney.
Hi Dan,

first of all, thanks for sharing your experiences with us. If you don't mind, I would like to chime in with a few more practical questions on this interesting topic.

1. When you do this practice, have you found that a certain posture (i.e. full lotus, lying down etc.) is especially helpful and beneficial, or is that something that doesn't really matter?

2. Do you completely close your mouth while doing this, so air exclusively goes through the nostrils, or can the mouth be opened slightly?

3. At the point where the turbulences/breath disappears, does that only mean that you don't feel the touch of air anymore on the nostrils, or does the movement of the belly disappear too at the same time?

4. From the time you sit down to do this until the breath cannot be felt anymore, how much time passes on average? (just the order of magnitude: Is it more like 2 mins or 20mins?)

Thanks a lot,


Now everytime I breathe I feel the tension at the root of the nose; this spreads out contractig cheekbones, jaw, and allthe facein general. Also, it goes down to the belly creating a strong sense of hunger, annoying as well.

I'll let you know how long this lasts.

Just to report I have started this practice and, like mario, have noticed unexpected tension.

It is the case that the sinuses and the throat ("ST") are working really hard during respiration.

I have tried to get them to work less by focusing on the diaphragm, psoas & perineum ("DPP").

I have observed the following:
  1. It is quite non-trivial to get the ST not to do anything while at the same time breathing in with the DPP, probably due to habit. It feels a bit like the way I can't move each individual small toe separately from the other toes (I can move the big toe separetely, but the other four stay together).
  2. With sufficient intent, I can get ST to "stop" or at least reduce activity while breathing in with DPP. This does make the flow of air through the nose less noticeable. However, it feels strained, and I start to feel out of breath within a little while of doing this. Also, it isn't clear if the flow of air is less noticeable because of any feature of the airflow or rather simply because I need to be super focused in the instructions.
  3. Otherwise, interesting phenomena happen as the DPP get activated. But without repeatability I won't expand on that.

RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/14/13 5:02 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
The most noticeable thing I find when breathing through the DPP is that the ST expands instead of contracting. In some way, it's still tension, but an expanding (and mild) tension.

There's also some tension in the back expanding up to the crown, more physical than energetic as for now. Also, in one of his first posts, I think Dan mentioned that the throat should be fully opened. That lessens tensions too. In Pranayama they teach to close 2/3 of the throat at the outbreath in order to stretch the breath cycle. But that seems to build up some tension. Maybe there's a trade-off to deal with, doing both practices separately and eventually dropping the pranayama one.

One thing I'm working on is 5 minutes of "forceful" diaphragmatic breathing at the beginning of the session. Once you stop, the body doesn't need to breath for around 90 seconds. If you try to force it into 2 minutes, that leads to a tummo-like symptoms. If you start really tinny breaths at around 40-60 seconds, you'll notice they are tension-less (for not more than 30-45 seconds in my current state) and that they start from the diaphragm. With this practice you'll also notice in the next 1-5 minutes a soft whole-body vibration. I just watch and sit. But perhaps you or other more advanced yogis could notice little fluctuations connecting the vibration with the tinny breaths.

The issue is that normally the sinuses and air passageways serve as a pressure buffer and takes a measure of onus off of the diaphragm when breathing. Your sinuses are expecting to perform action. This stuff is programmed into the medulla, so subconscious habit refracts forth into the conscious processes.

How's about this...when I discovered this stuff I wound up devising an identification exercise. Not to be done very much or overly forcefully.

-first pull some air from the nostril flaps..
-move up toward the crown of the nose. pull air a little sharply from there. note how muscular action there causes changes in the local air pressure.
-explore each of the sinuses in the same regard, but be gentle.
the maxillary surround the nasal cavity, frontal above the eyes, ethmoid between the eyes, and behind the ethmoids, deep center is the sphenoid sinus. be most gentle with the sphenoid, it will give you a headache if you are too forceful.

-do the same with the back of the throat
-larynx area

Like any hose or membrane, the higher the air pressure, the more the walls must stiffen in order to accommodate for the additional pressure.

Now from a position of action, derive inaction for all of this mentioned above. Let go of ALL of it. It will feel a little strange at first, but if you have an issue with tension in a particular area, activate it and explore how the muscular interaction changes the local air pressure there. Again, derive inaction.

This pretty much goes hand in hand with slowing down and conditioning the gut...or the DPP mechanism I referred to.

You can move those and well internalize the movements and at the same time completely not use the air passageways to facilitate breath. Once you get it down, all that is left is the gut motion.

I would advise the sinuses/air passages not be "held open" - let them slack as much as possible! To use another car analogy, what would happen if the cylinder walls changed shape as the piston moved through them?? How much more complex does that make the equation!? Diaphragm and perineum are pistons...and by changing the shape of the walls (air passageways) you are making the equation needlessly complex.

Without the air pressure buffering mechanism taking place, the entirety of the breath must come from the diaphragm-psoas-perineum. I include those other two structures because they become relevant as the breath slows down. Including the psoas helps "breathe all the way down to the dantien" and the perineum (huiyin) was a closely guarded martial arts secret for umpteen generations, it helps focus the flow of qi.

It will definitely be strange not having the buffer. But practice past it and the results will be marvelous!!! You cannot keep tension in the gut in breathing like this - the buffer provided by the air passageways pretty much helps enable tension to be kept! So it will not feel right until you have let go of gut tension, let go of air passage tension. It may help using the front of the abdomen to help balance the pressures until the breath is slow enough and the mechanics harmonized well enough to the point where one can rely just on that DPP mechanism to drive respiration.

Extrapolate out enough and that little gut motion is among the last things anapana observes emoticon

RE: The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta (Or: The Case of the Missing Sim
7/15/13 5:43 PM as a reply to Dan Cooney.
One quick note - if anyone is familiar with embryonic breathing - the front of the abdomen is definitely a significant component and it really only drops off once the mechanism has become well ingrained and internalized. There is a good energetic component to it and at many levels, beginning to advanced, it is definitely a way to add some energetic power to the breath. The context where I refer to not even using that is for longevity breathing.

In my experience, longevity breathing pretty much requires some measure of enhanced qi potential, energetic reserves. I've found that the lengths of breath able to be performed directly correlates to the energy reserves. So for beginning and working towards being able to have the breathless respiration of longevity breathing, using the front of the abdomen and doing things like lower dantien breathing absolutely help. Including the front of the abdomen will help let go of the air passageways. Sometimes I forget to include it when trying to streamline and strip things down too much. Practice, practice, develop muscle memory, habit energy, and eventually that leverages forth into things like enhanced skin respiration, veritable 'breathless' respiration from a sense perspective, calming and attenuating the cranial nerves to a very significant degree, leading to a very calm, clear mind as part of the habit-energy arresting the energy potential instead of the senses grabbing it and playing with it...hello ongoing sustainable jhanas emoticon