Anapanasati with deviated septum?

Robert McLune, modified 8 Years ago at 9/27/13 5:00 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/27/13 5:00 PM

Anapanasati with deviated septum?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
I've found Tina Rasmussen and Steven Snyder's book "Practicing the Jhanas: Traditional Concentration Meditation as Presented by the Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw" extremely useful and clear, and I'm planning to move to that approach.

However, they are very precise in their description of how to do anapanasati, and it seems to pretty much require you are able to breathe through your nose. Unfortunately, I can't always do that. I have a mildly deviated septum, and sometimes I have to breathe through my mouth.

Does anyone who really knows this anapanasati stuff[1] have any advice?

thanks!

[1] That's very important. There's plenty of fairly superficial advice out there via Google, but I already have access to that. For example, on one forum I saw neti pots (nasal irrigation devices) suggested. That's not a useful answer in my case because my problem isn't congestion but nasal structure. I'm not looking for suggestions on how to fix my nose, but rather on how to follow the Pa Auk Sayadaw approach *without* fixing my nose.
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago at 9/27/13 7:11 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/27/13 7:11 PM

RE: Anapanasati with deviated septum?

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You'll just have to pick a different object to focus upon. Or use the one you have and make subtle adjustments to help you discover sensations that will help you develop absorption.

Some people have had success working with the rise and fall of the abdomen. Others have had success focusing on a full body observation. You'll just have to experiment to find out what works for you.

I'm not familiar with Pa Auk's methodology and what Snyder and Rasmussen are suggesting in their version of this practice. If you could explain it briefly, I might be able to make some other more helpful suggestions.
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Dan Cooney, modified 8 Years ago at 9/28/13 3:41 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/28/13 3:41 PM

RE: Anapanasati with deviated septum?

Posts: 60 Join Date: 10/22/12 Recent Posts
Forget about the nose. Leave it as the route air will travel, but part of how a deviated septum affects "normal breathing" is that the nose itself, the sinuses, and the air passageways are inadvertently used to facilitate the movement of air, and the deviation just exacerbates the turbulence created by the forceful movement of air. As the diaphragm descends, the nose and sinuses are also expanding to bring in air. Drop that concept. It may take a little practice, but work at it enough and you can get to a point where there is no muscular input whatsoever on the nose, sinuses, and air passageways while doing meditative breathing. What this does is put the onus of air-moving on the diaphragm and attendant structures, psoas, perineum, and the front of the abdomen. Begin the inhale from the bottom rear of the diaphragm where it attaches to the spine, facilitate that movement deep into the dantien via the psoas muscle involvement, and time in the perineum and front of abdomen appropriately for the breath strategy (natural ab breath, reverse, they act a little differently.)

All of the nooks & crannies in the sinuses and air passageways ROB energy from the breath, big time...but you need to streamline it all and calm the heartmind significantly enough to get to a point where you can notice it and keep it ongoing without hypoxia creeping in. By not using the air passageways to facilitate the movement of air, you necessarily decrease the # of muscular inputs to the breath; energy is conserved. It all adds up if you keep at it.
Robert McLune, modified 8 Years ago at 9/30/13 5:55 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/30/13 5:55 PM

RE: Anapanasati with deviated septum?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
Thanks Ian.
Ian And:
I'm not familiar with Pa Auk's methodology and what Snyder and Rasmussen are suggesting in their version of this practice. If you could explain it briefly, I might be able to make some other more helpful suggestions.

I think it's fairly standard anapanasati -- focus on the breath as it crosses the "anapana spot" just below the nostrils. And so you said:
Ian And:
You'll just have to pick a different object to focus upon. Or use the one you have and make subtle adjustments to help you discover sensations that will help you develop absorption.

That makes complete sense. But I'm not sure how to pick a different object. The problem is, the choice of object, and what one does with it, seems to depend on exactly what kind of practice one is doing. But exactly what is important in choosing, and what by contrast is just personal preference and not significant, is not clear.

For example. Based on some video teaching by Noah Yuttadhammo, a Canadaian Theravadan monk, two important aspects of the abdomen rising and falling in Mahasi-style noting are:
  • The abdomen is "real" -- i.e. it is not a "concept"
  • It is changing -- which is important when investigating anicca, one of the three characteristics

I now understand that those two aspects are important in Mahasi noting because that is an insight practice (although I believe it also can bring concentration/tranquility). According to (my understanding of) Yuttadhammo, you cannot do insight practice on concepts because insight is all about seeing the true nature of reality, so you need to investigate reality for that to arise. But I had no idea about that distinction when I first began exploring this stuff.

Another example. At several points in their book, Rasmussen/Snyder make a clear distinction between their (Pau Auk) approach and the Mahasi approach. For example, in their approach, if pain arises while sitting one is supposed to get the mind back to the breath as soon as one notices it has shifted, whereas in Mahasi noting -- as they describe it -- one can temporarily make the pain itself become the meditation object for a while. They're not criticizing Mahasi noting, merely pointing out the difference. They're clear they are teaching concentration/tranquility whereas Mahasi noting is first and foremost an insight practice. Both are valid, but crucially to my question, they are different.

OK, my point isn't the pros and cons, whys and wherefores of Mahasi-style noting vs Pau Auk anapanasati. My point is, details matter.

So, to the nasal blockage. Rasmussen/Snyder go into some detail about the use of the anapana spot as the meditation object. As one advances, it's not just the spot in general one focuses on, but a specific tiny point within the spot. Eventually the practice leads to the merging of something called nimitta with the anapana spot. They're going to a lot of effort to provide the reader with precision in their instruction, and I'm not knowledgeable enough to know which aspects of their instructions are important, and which are just optional aspects. I doubt very much that there's anything significant in that specific spot below my nose, and Rasmussen/Snyder don't suggest there is. But as a non-expert, I can't tell what if anything *is* significant. *Some* of it must be (otherwise there would be no scope for the clear comparison with Mahasi noting).

I wish they'd pre-empted this question in their book, because lots of people have problems breathing through their nose, so I can't be the first to wonder. But they don't mention it. Hence me asking here.
Robert McLune, modified 8 Years ago at 9/30/13 7:40 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/30/13 7:40 PM

RE: Anapanasati with deviated septum?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
Thanks Dan. Sounds like you're somewhat of an expert on the nose! :-)

Dan Cooney:
Forget about the nose....

But the problem with that is, it presupposes that the nose is unimportant. However, the way Rasmussen/Snyder describe things, it's far from clear that that's the case. Now you may have sufficient depth of understanding of the core mechanisms at play to be able to say that whatever things are important in anapanasati, the nose and the anapana spot are not among them. But I don't.

It's completely plausible that in their descriptions, the nasal aspect are merely incidental, but I can't tell that. What I'm looking for is someone with something akin to their level of expertise and accomplishment who can advise on what the incidentals are, and what, by contrast, are essential.

Perhaps it would be useful if you could describe your own level of experience and attainment?
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago at 10/1/13 2:11 AM
Created 8 Years ago at 10/1/13 1:31 AM

RE: Anapanasati with deviated septum?

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Okay, Robert. You have several comments and questions here whose answers are related to one another. To understand what is being communicated in the material that you have read requires being able to recognize various arising phenomena (sensations, dhyana factors et cetera) which will help you put the pieces of the experience together into a recognizable whole communication of which you can make sense.

Each of these subtle activities (concentration/tranquility and insight practice, otherwise known as samatha and vipassana) is related to one another, and therefore your mind must be pliant enough to be able to observe (and view) them as one WHOLE process during tranquility meditation and insight contemplation. In other words, in being willing to switch between the two on the fly so to speak, you will need to be on the lookout for insight about how to recognize what for you will be a valid object for tranquility so that you may utilize it during your meditation. I cannot make that choice for you; it has to be something that your mind/body sphere reacts and relates to, something that demonstrates meaning (such as a pleasant sensation) within your individual experience of it.

Let's begin with your comment here:

Robert McLune:

But I'm not sure how to pick a different object. The problem is, the choice of object, and what one does with it, seems to depend on exactly what kind of practice one is doing. But exactly what is important in choosing, and what by contrast is just personal preference and not significant, is not clear.


Assuming that your ultimate goal is the attainment of a dhyana state, such that you are able to return to it time and time again with ease and at will during subsequent meditation sessions, it will be important for you to recognize a phenomenon (preferably physical in nature so that it is easily recognizable) that allows the mind to drop into a pleasant state of concentrated awareness, devoid of distraction, yet mildly pleasant and enjoyable. You might want to label that phenomenon as a nimitta or sign, telling you that you are on the right track to enter into dhyana.

That nimitta may manifest as any one of several phenomena. It may manifest as a sensation of mild pressure in the center of the forehead (similar to the sensation of a balloon being inflated in the center of your head and pressing against the cranium), allowing you to establish mindfulness on it and heralding the achievement of concentration. It may manifest (as it did in my childhood) as a very pleasant tingling sensation at the top of the head (where a skull cap might be placed), which allows the mind to slip into a very pleasant state that is both physically enjoyable and slightly trance-like (that is, until you bring mindfulness to bear to cancel out the trance-like factor while retaining the pleasant concentration state). (Note: My nimitta always have something to do with the head region as that seems to be where I associate concentration being placed. Others may differ.)

Or the nimitta may manifest as a whole body sensation that becomes recognizable for the development of absorption concentration. An example of this kind of manifestation is given in the suttas as translated from Thanissaro Bhikkhu's book The Mind Like Fire Unbound beginning at Habits & practice. Pay careful attention where it begins: "Just as an adept bathman or bathman's apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again & again with water, ..." all the way to the end of that section where it ends at Doctrines of the self.

I've even heard of people feeling a tingling in their hands and using that as their nimitta. If one is paying attention to the rise and fall of the abdomen, there may be some sensation that arises there on which to focus. So, it all depends upon the individual and what stirs in their imagination / physical experience to qualify as a nimitta that they can then take and use to develop dhyana. You will just have to experiment to find out what you respond to.

Let's clarify the significance of your comment here:

Robert McLune:

At several points in their book, Rasmussen/Snyder make a clear distinction between their (Pau Auk) approach and the Mahasi approach. For example, in their approach, if pain arises while sitting one is supposed to get the mind back to the breath as soon as one notices it has shifted, whereas in Mahasi noting -- as they describe it -- one can temporarily make the pain itself become the meditation object for a while.


The difference in instruction here is, as you note, a difference in approach between what is definitely two separate activities of mind in the practice of calm (with the ultimate intention to achieve a tranquil mind) and insight (with the ultimate intention to achieve insight about the object and one's response to that object). In this example that you have singled out, there are definitely two distinct activities and not one WHOLE activity as I described above. In this case, if your intent is to find a pathway to calm the mind in order to enter into dhyana meditation, then to follow the instruction in the Mahasi style might be counter productive. Therefore, you want to disregard the Mahasi style instruction and just focus upon the Rasmussen/Snyder instruction.

Which brings us to the heart of your question in your comment below:

Robert McLune:
OK, my point isn't the pros and cons, whys and wherefores of Mahasi-style noting vs Pau Auk anapanasati. My point is, details matter.

So, to the nasal blockage. Rasmussen/Snyder go into some detail about the use of the anapana spot as the meditation object. As one advances, it's not just the spot in general one focuses on, but a specific tiny point within the spot. Eventually the practice leads to the merging of something called nimitta with the anapana spot. They're going to a lot of effort to provide the reader with precision in their instruction, and I'm not knowledgeable enough to know which aspects of their instructions are important, and which are just optional aspects. I doubt very much that there's anything significant in that specific spot below my nose, and Rasmussen/Snyder don't suggest there is. But as a non-expert, I can't tell what if anything *is* significant. *Some* of it must be (otherwise there would be no scope for the clear comparison with Mahasi noting).


If you've been paying attention, I've already responded to this question in my reply above about the development of the nimitta and its relation to dhyana. The anapana spot may or may not be significant for you. You would just have to experiment with the meditation technique in order to find out. I would say give it at least two weeks to a month of practicing the technique before you come to any conclusions about it. If you are not able to experience any significant sensation / sign (nimitta) that allows the mind to achieve a pleasant state of abiding, then you'll need to search (or wait) for a different object to arise.

Does this begin to help you make any sense of what you have read?
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PP, modified 8 Years ago at 10/1/13 6:47 AM
Created 8 Years ago at 10/1/13 6:36 AM

RE: Anapanasati with deviated septum?

Posts: 376 Join Date: 3/21/12 Recent Posts
Robert McLune:
Thanks Dan. Sounds like you're somewhat of an expert on the nose! :-)

Dan Cooney:
Forget about the nose....

But the problem with that is, it presupposes that the nose is unimportant. However, the way Rasmussen/Snyder describe things, it's far from clear that that's the case. Now you may have sufficient depth of understanding of the core mechanisms at play to be able to say that whatever things are important in anapanasati, the nose and the anapana spot are not among them. But I don't.

It's completely plausible that in their descriptions, the nasal aspect are merely incidental, but I can't tell that. What I'm looking for is someone with something akin to their level of expertise and accomplishment who can advise on what the incidentals are, and what, by contrast, are essential. Perhaps it would be useful if you could describe your own level of experience and attainment?


Sorry, no expert here. But a brief (peer-to-peer) answer would be that focusing in the anapana spot works best for those inclined to visual perception (Nimitta: the red spot you can easily see in your first candle flame concentration meditation sit), or that can connect with smells (Nimitta: smell of roses), whether those inclined to kinesthetic perception might prefer the whole body breathing (Nimitta: warming spreads all over the body). Probably, if you've already been practicing noting/vipassana, you're used to have a wider focus of attention, so the whole body breathing would be the first choice. Ian And's advice on focusing on a sensation of mild pressure in the center of the forehead is a very interesting option too.

[edited several times for clarity]
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Dan Cooney, modified 8 Years ago at 10/4/13 8:53 AM
Created 8 Years ago at 10/4/13 8:53 AM

RE: Anapanasati with deviated septum?

Posts: 60 Join Date: 10/22/12 Recent Posts
Robert McLune:
Thanks Dan. Sounds like you're somewhat of an expert on the nose! :-)

Dan Cooney:
Forget about the nose....

But the problem with that is, it presupposes that the nose is unimportant. However, the way Rasmussen/Snyder describe things, it's far from clear that that's the case. Now you may have sufficient depth of understanding of the core mechanisms at play to be able to say that whatever things are important in anapanasati, the nose and the anapana spot are not among them. But I don't.

It's completely plausible that in their descriptions, the nasal aspect are merely incidental, but I can't tell that. What I'm looking for is someone with something akin to their level of expertise and accomplishment who can advise on what the incidentals are, and what, by contrast, are essential.

Perhaps it would be useful if you could describe your own level of experience and attainment?


I'm not really diminishing the importance of the nose - just basically providing a method to drop the flow of air beneath the threshold of turbulence, to the point where these "obstructions" might just be a non-issue. The nose is an object of focus that many people teach - I just get the sense that "looking down the nose" was a dual-purpose technique to 1 have an object of focus and 2 provide that slight eye cross that helps establish gongfu of internal vision. But imho it is an overly simplistic approach, because shutting the olfactory nerve resonances is a huge accelerator for practice, and bringing the focus of awareness to the niwan is to me far better than waiting for it to emerge from looking down one's nose. If you want repeatable, train the muscle memory until it is forgotten...then just a little bit each day to keep the momentum of the habit.

This nose stuff and forgetting of the air passageways came via my own practice and intuition, putting many pieces together from various sources...I have studied a lot of anatomy as well. The goal of anapanasati is to attenuate. Anapana to attenuate the breath and by proxy the body's other signals (i.e. proper breathing helps settle the heart) and then Sati in attending the focus of awareness. When air brushes across the olfactory nerves, they resonate and send signals to the brain...and with the many logical processing loops in there (ref something like Zen & The Brain) these signal chains and loops produce other neural resonances that shift into higher brain centers and that's where "thought-stream-energy" comes from. I can conclude that because I have immersed myself into such a depth to the point where a calm, clear, relatively thought-free, unchattered, unfettered mind manifests, like a half dozen times over. I've immersed myself into deep enough levels of practice at enough points in my life to know that this approach works, but it is rather rote, blunt, pointed, and can take a great deal of patience. But the signposts come each time I immerse myself over practice-chunks, and the better I employ the ideas I present, the more quickly the progress comes. It'd of course help if my life wasnt hectic enough that my progress wouldnt keep getting destroyed, but hey, that's part of life. The simple things like having too much qi consumed by a night or two of drinking are the easy ones to avoid, but that was the first time I destroyed my depth.

See my post in the knowing the breath thread in this forum, I detail fundamental vs not so fundamental there. Experience, plenty of it I relate in the things I have discovered and write about here and elsewhere like ymaa or taobums, but mostly I focus on these fundamentals of breath and awareness because they are common to pretty much any path one wishes to cultivate. Attainment is somewhat subjective.

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