SOLVED: Pain in gums confusing attention to breath at nostrils

Front Page Forums Meditation SOLVED: Pain in gums confusing attention to breath at nostrils

This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Raza 2 weeks, 1 day ago.

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    Hi everyone! Thanks for being here and hosting/participating in an environment where people help each other overcome the obstacles in their meditation practices. I have a question I was hoping to receive external insight on.

    I’m around stage 4, following TMI instructions and attending to the sensations of the breath at the nostril. My problem here is, that I have chronically sensitive gums*, which create a constant stream of nearby sensations that are several times more salient (=attention-grabbing) than the sensations of the breath. Moreover, while I usually have a clear awareness for all my body sensations of which area of the body they belong in, these sensations from my gums form an exception in that my mind often (falsely) merges them into body-sensation perceptions of what’s really going on elsewhere in my body. For example, I might be attending to a tension in my chest that is associated with an emotion I’m purifying in meditation, and open close inspection I’ll find that the ache from my gums was getting mixed in with it, lending it an extra quality of intensiveness and aversiveness that didn’t really belong with the emotion/tension. At this point, I can take 2-3 seconds of close attention to separate them and re-focus on the sensations that don’t come from my gums, but while this makes a nice exercise it requires full narrowed attention and only helps for perhaps 10-20 seconds, after which my gum sensations will automatically merge back into whatever I just separated them from.

    So this is a minor problem (I think) in purification practice, but (I fear) a bigger one for breath sensation; my gums are so close by the nostrils, and their sensations so much more intense, that is essentially requires full-intensity narrowed-down detail-focused attention to have any chance of telling a genuine breath sensation apart from them. When I just casually attend to the area of the nostrils while trying to keep peripheral metacognitive awareness, my spatial awareness will just slightly distort until it’s really just the sensations of my upper gum that I’m attending to. At first, I thought that I would just learn to tell the difference automatically with enough experience, but after a year or so of dealing with this I’m not convinced that it’s requiring any less attention than before.

    So my question is: how big an obsacle is this really, and what can I do to deal with it?

    On the up side, I’ve learned a lot from attending to the sensations of my gums. They’re highly salient and very clear, lending themselves much better than other sensations into breaking down into countless momentary pinpricks coming and going in rapid succession. There’s mild aversion with them, so I suppose they’d lend themselves to learning the ‘pain is inevitably, suffering is optional’ lesson. And I’ve learned important lessons about how larger, more permanent-seeming mind objects are ‘constructed’ by the mind out of several smaller, briefer, separate sensations and mental qualities, and how these constructs can sometimes be deceptive, containing things that shouldn’t really be in them. So maybe I’m doing fine, and it’s an example of ‘you get the benefits from looking for breath sensations, not from finding them’.

    What concerns me though, is that Culadasa says that attending to the breath leads to enlightenment more reliably than other objects, and I’m not actually getting the breath sensations much this way. When I did a vipassana, Goenka adviced that if multiple sensations were present in the nostril area, to always attend to the subtlest sensation that was available, while the sensations from my gums are the least subtle around. Finally, there’s the fact that if I keep narrowing down my focus to separate my upper gums from the nostrils, I keep losing peripheral awareness, which I’m supposed to be practicing at this stage.

    So what can I do?
    – Continue with the breath at the nostrils, every time separating my gums from the breath, and hope this eventually becomes automatic, so I’d have learned a useful lesson and be able to continue with breath-focused meditation with only a gentle measure of attention as normal?
    – Continue with the breath at the nostrils, but neglect to separate the gum sensations in favor of practicing peripheral awareness, and accept that for the time being I’m getting 97% gums to only 3% true breath sensations?
    – Move my breath focus to a different area of the body, making the gums easier to separate from them, but losing some of the benefit of automation picked up over years of breath-at-the-nostrils focus, as well as the beneficial clarity that the nostrils offer relative to other locations at which the breath can be sensed?

    * My dentist says they don’t know what my problem is, and although I’m an avid health problem solver I’m out of ideas for reducing the sensitivity by biological means.

    Thank you very much for reading, and I’d be grateful to receive your advice!

    • This topic was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  Raza.
    • This topic was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  Raza.
    • This topic was modified 2 weeks, 1 day ago by  Raza.


    Hey Raza,

    First I think it’s great the way you have used and framed the challenges you face and progressed to stage 4…way to go! Have you read stages 5 & 6 in TMI? I think I see a way thru for you but you will need to be familiar with the techniques and goals in those stages first.

    Re: the pain in your gums. Have you looked at foods that cause inflammation (not allergies)? In the states there is a company called EveryWell that analyzes a few drops of blood and tests for the foods that cause inflammation in the body. Every person is different and they rate the foods into 4 categories of increasing inflammation. I had 3 foods in the high category. One I knew of and avoided and one of the others I ate almost everyday and did not realize the issue. When I eliminated them from my diet the ache I felt in my knees when I did qigong in the morning disappeared and has not returned.

    mucho metta,



    Hi Eric,

    I’m curious what your suggestion was going to be, but the problem I described above has been resolved in another way; I switched objects to the breath at the abdomen, both because it’s further away from the gums and because I’ve read that it’s more relaxing than observing the breath at the nostrils (as I tend to overexcitation more than dullness). In practice, I’m both less overstimulated and much less distracted by my gums now, and I’ve had no trouble picking up at stage 4 with the new object, so I’m pretty happy with this outcome.

    (The foods are a good suggestion, I’ve benefited in the past from paying attention to that sort of thing)

    Thanks for taking the time to respond!

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 1 day ago by  Raza.
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