While I was ill this past week, one of the most annoying symptoms that I had was a clogged or runny nose. Because of this, I was unable to think efficiently, breathe properly, or practice my yoga adequately. So, what did I do about this particular problem? I grabbed my neti pot.
Perhaps you know what a neti pot is. Maybe you don't. Either way, please proceed with an open mind if you can. ;) I promise you will find that what is shared here is enlightening and, if practiced, totally worth it in one way or another, whether or not you practice yoga or any other form of Ayurveda.
Dinacharya - The use of Jala Neti is one of the key ingredients in a healthy dinacharya (daily routine) practice. A large part of this blog post is referenced from my most favorite yoga book of all time, “A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya,” written by my teacher, Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
With his guidance, we will cover the following common questions about Jala Neti:
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This blog post is very detailed since most of it is coming directly from Swami Saraswati, and he doesn’t miss a thing. If you are patient, you will learn quite a bit about Jala Nati and the human body. At the end of the blog, I will gladly share with you my first experience of using a neti pot… it was quite harrowing, but in the end, totally worth it. I will also offer up some recommendations and tips to help guide you on your journey toward having a healthy and balanced lifestyle through the Ayurvedic practice of dinacharya and Jala Neti.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati says...
Yogic science gives as much importance to certain cleansing processes as it does to asanas or pranayama. Without regular cleansing of the system you will not gain maximum benefits from your practices. Without purification of the body one will not be ready for the higher practices of yoga. When the body is free the mind also functions properly.
Body cleansing is gained through the practice of shatkarmas or the six purificatory techniques. Shatkarmas are excellent practices, which are designed to purify the whole body and bring about first class health. They also bring clarity and harmony to the mind. They are very important from the point of view of physical and mental health, and these simple techniques are also highly valuable in healing internal disorders. Today I will share with you one of the main groups of shatkarmas or yogic cleanses: Neti.
What is Jala Neti? Jala neti is a process of cleaning the nasal passage with salt water, and is essential in allowing free breathing as required in many yoga practices, as well as in helping to ensure your good health.
What are the functions of the nose? The nose is the body’s organ for ensuring that the air that enters the lungs is of sufficient purity and warmth not to cause harm. The air that we inhale is rarely suitable for entry into the lungs. It is generally too cold, too dirty and too germ-ridden. It is the function of the nose to rectify this situation.
First of all, the air we breathe contains dust and small insects. These larger impurities are initially screened out by the vibrating hairs at the entrance to the nasal passages. These hairs vibrate in the opposite direction to the air as it enters the nose and prevents impurities from proceeding further.
In the deeper regions of the nose there are special body structures that are covered with a thick, spongy, germicidal mucus membrane, through which circulates a large, rich supply of blood. The mucus membrane follows a long winding air passage which ensures that all the inhaled air comes in contact with the membranes. These mucus membranes remove millions of germs that are contained in the air and which could cause the lungs much harm, and in fact do in the case of pulmonary tuberculosis, bronchitis, etc. This mucus membrane also removes small particles of dust that have passed through the first defense of the hairs. This membrane both heats and moistens the air to a level that will not harm the lungs. Cold and dry air can result in much injury to the lungs.
Deeper in the nose there are a set of glands which further help to eliminate germs that have managed to escape the previous defenses. Additionally, our sense of smell prevents us inhaling noxious gases. As soon as we smell something unpleasant we immediately stop breathing, or if possible seek clean, fresh air.
By now the reader should be aware of the importance of the seemingly insignificant organ – the nose. It should also be obvious why it is so unhealthy to breathe continually through the mouth as so many people do. When air is inhaled through the mouth instead of the nose, it escapes all the mechanisms of the nose which prepare the air for admittance to the lungs. All the dust, germs, cold and dry air directly enter the lungs. The mouth and throat do have mechanisms for removing these impurities and air conditions, but they are nowhere nearly as efficient as the nose.
If the nose is blocked, or if the mucus membranes are profusely covered in impurities, then the nose cannot perform its duties effectively. In fact if the nose is completely blocked, then one is forced to breathe through the mouth. And we have already explained the disadvantages of this process. This is the reason why we blow our nose to operate efficiently. However, the normal nose blowing does not remove all impurities. Ingrained, dry mucus can remain. This is one of the reasons that the practice of neti was developed: to ensure the best possible cleaning of the nose.
There are other reasons for the use of neti such as the stimulation of various nerve endings in the nose; this leads to improvement in the brain and organs to which these nerves connect and also helps in the stimulation of ajna chakra, the midbrain psychic center.
Equipment - What kind of equipment do we need? A pot or lota (pitcher) should be used to introduce salt water into the nostrils. There are various designs and even a teapot can be used if nothing else is available. I recommend the shape of the pot to be as shown in the provided picture at the top of this blog. This pot is known as a neti lota. It can be made of brass or any other suitable material which does not contaminate water, but the important thing to remember is that the nozzle on the end of the spout should be suitably sized so that the end fits comfortably into your nostril.
Salt Water - How do we prepare the salt water? The water used in the practice should be pure and lukewarm; body temperature is the ideal temperature for pouring the water into your nose. The water should then be mixed with clean salt in the proportion of one teaspoonful per half liter of water. Make sure the salt is fully dissolved in the water.
People often wonder why salt water is introduced into the nostrils instead of ordinary water. The reason is very simple and very practical. Salt water has a much higher osmotic pressure than ordinary water, which means that salt water is not easily absorbed into the delicate blood vessels and membranes in the nose, whereas ordinary water is. If you try this practice with ordinary water you will discover for yourself, in the form discomfort or a little pain in the nose. However, we don’t suggest you do this, though it is not at all dangerous.
In conclusion, salt water is ideal for jala neti, because while it thoroughly cleans the nostrils of impurities it is not absorbed into the delicate nasal membranes. As such no discomfort will be felt when the water flows through the nose.
Posture - What posture should we take? One may either sit in a squatting position known as kagasana, or one may assume a standing position, bending the shoulders and head forwards. This position is most suitable for doing neti into a sink or washbasin, while the other position, kagasana, can be done in the garden or in a shower.
Personally I simply lean over my sink. :)
Let this lady show you how it's done!
Technique - What exactly is the technique? Fill the neti pot with the prepared salt water. Hold the bottom of the pot with one hand, as shown. Gently insert the end of the nozzle into the end of the left nostril (or, if this is blocked into the right nostril). There should be no force involved, but the nozzle should press firmly against the side of the one nostril so that no water leakage occurs.
Progressively tilt your head to the right side while simultaneously raising the neti pot in such a way that water runs into the left nostril. Make sure that you keep your mouth wide open so that you can breathe. Some people say that the mouth should be closed and the breath held during the practice, but we feel this complicates, especially for beginners, a practice that is essentially very simple. If the pot is in the correct position, if your head is tilted at a suitable angle and if there is a tight fit between the nozzle and the sides of the nose, then the water should flow in through one nostril and out through the other nostril. It doesn’t matter if water flows into your mouth or throat, but if the practice is performed correctly with relaxation this should not happen. Allow the water to flow through the nostrils for 10 to 20 seconds.
Then remove the neti pot and remove the water and impurities from your nose by closing the left nostril and breathing quickly and forcibly through the other nostril. Don’t blow so hard, however, that you damage your nose and cause bleeding. In this respect the practitioner should use his/her discretion.
Now close the right nostril and blow forcibly through the left nostril. Now pour water into the right nostril for about 20 seconds and repeat the same process. Again pour water into each of the nostrils in turn, repeating the same technique just described.
Personally, if I am using a large stainless steel neti pot (which I like to call the Cadillac of netis) I use one half of the water in one nostril, pause to blow, then use the remaining half of the water in the other nostril, pause, blow. Done.
Drying the Nostrils: After completing this practice the nostrils must be dried and any further impurities removed.
Stand erect. Bend forwards so that the trunk assumes a horizontal position. Close one nostril by pressing the side of the nose with the thumb. Breath in and out vigorously up to 10 times in quick succession. The exhalation should be especially emphasized to expel the moisture from the nostrils. Repeat the same procedure with the other nostril closed. Then repeat the same procedure with both nostrils open.
This simple practice should remove most of the moisture from the nose. If moisture remains the vigorous breathing should be repeated until the nose is perfectly dry.
Duration - How long will this take? Once the practitioner is familiar with the technique, the whole process can be completed in a short period of time. Not including preparation of the water, the whole process should take less than five minutes.
Neti is ideally practiced early in the morning before breakfast. However, if necessary, it can be practiced at other times of the day, excepting straight after meals. Once a day is sufficient, though if one has a nasal catarrh, a cold or any other specific ailment, it may be practiced more times.
Limitations and Precautions: People who suffer from chronic bleeding of the nose should not do neti without expert advice. Make sure that the water is not too hot when you introduce it into the nostrils. Do not breathe in and out too deeply when removing the moisture from the nose; we are trying to improve the condition of your nose, not damage it. Also, if sinuses are blocked with mucus, be careful not to blow your nose hard. It is very easy to push the mucus further into the cavities. Ensure that the salt fully dissolves in the water before pouring it into your nose.
Be careful to hold the head correctly and not to hold the neti pot too low. In order for the water to flow into one nostril and out the other, the water level in the pot must be higher than the region at the back of the nose, where the two nostrils merge with each other. If you tilt your head too much then the water will go down your throat instead of the other nostril. If you tilt the pot too much the water will merely overflow out of the pot. You must adjust the position of your head and the pot so that they are at correct levels.
People who have great difficulty passing water through the nose may have a structural blockage such as a polyp. Expert advice should be sought. If there is a slight burning sensation in the nose during your first attempt with salt water, don’t worry. This will disappear as your nose tissue becomes accustomed to contact with water.
BENEFITS - What are the Benefits of Jala Neti?
Neti is the best method of preventing and eliminating colds. An effective cure for the common cold has not yet been found. Neti is not foolproof, but it goes a long way to solving the problem. A cold indicates something significant, namely that your body is in a weakened condition. If this was not the case, the cold virus would be unable to penetrate the defenses of your system; your auto therapeutic powers would be strong enough to withstand such an attack. The cold virus flourishes in nerve tissue, particularly the olfactory nerves in the nose. During a cold, neti greatly helps by removing the accumulated mucus in the nose, this being a breeding ground.
Regular practice of neti when you don’t have a cold keeps the nasal passages working at optimum efficiency and thereby helps to maintain a healthy body. Remember, breathing through the mouth or insufficient treatment of the inhaled air prior to entry into the lungs, due to nasal blockage and congestion, can encourage the onset of disease, by allowing germs to infect the lungs, or by generally weakening the state of health in the body.
Neti is also a help in curing sinusitis, ailments of the eyes, nose and throat, tonsillitis, catarrah, as well as inflammation of the adenoids and mucus membranes. It is effective in removing headaches, insomnia and tiredness. Neti has a subtle influence on the various nerves which end in the nasal passages, such as the olfactory bulb and other adjacent nerves which innervate the eyes, ears, etc. This has a very soothing influence on the brain and can help to relieve such ailments as migraine, epilepsy, depression, tension, etc.
Neti helps in no small manner to prevent and cure lung diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, etc., for the reasons already mentioned. Respiration becomes much easier, which leads to an improved intake of oxygen, improved removal of carbon dioxide and consequently better health.
Importance of neti in yogic physiology: The science of yoga maintains that the flow of air in each nostril alternately changes. If you test this for yourself, you will find this to be true. At present one of your nostrils is admitting more air that the other. After some time the other nostril will admit the greater amount of air.
This alternate flow of breath through the two nostrils in turn has a profound influence on the energy cycle of man. It controls our thinking and physical activity, our introversion and extroversion. This cycle has a great bearing on our mental and physical health. Now if one or both of the nostrils are permanently blocked, then this natural alternation of breath flow cannot occur. Our health can suffer. This is another reason why jala neti is so important; it cleans both nostrils and allows the breath to alternate freely between the two.
A Quick Story - My Showdown with Neti
The first time I was introduced to neti was back in 2007 in Sedona, AZ. My boyfriend at the time had tried repeatedly to get me to add this practice to my daily routine, however just the idea of putting water in my nose made me cringe. So I ignored him… until one day I was sick and I was standing in the bathroom, miserable, trying to blow my nose. It was then that he came to me, placed the ingredients that I needed for jala neti next to me, smiled a devilish smile and then wandered off.
SO THERE I STOOD... Leaning over the bathroom sink, head cocked at a 90* angle, wishing I had a level with which to verify that my forehead was in fact higher than my chin. Then I had this moment. There was this moment when I thought to myself:
Okay, I'm going to do it now.
No... now. Now! ... ... ... ... hmm... ... ... ... ...
Okay, 1....2....3.... Now!
Wait! I need to collect myself.
It's like the moment after you've cut your finger and you are contemplating putting alcohol on it…
Okay, I'm going to pour it NOW…
No… how about now! Maybe if I close my eyes?? Okay, go! Now!
Aaaannnyyy minute now.
But you keep hesitating! It's like there is a completely confused survival mechanism inside of you saying, "DO NOT POUR THAT STINGING ALCOHOL ON YOUR CUT. IT WILL HURT!" But at the same time you know deep down inside that in order to clean a wound, you have to momentarily suppress your will to live.
The same is true of your first time neti pot use. :)
There is something inside of you saying, "Do not pour that teapot full of water up your nose. That is a bad idea." But then you also kind of know it's probably helpful. You just need to bite the bullet!
Well… I stood frozen for a few minutes. I started breathing through my mouth, lifted the pot, and poured. I bit the bullet and I am here to tell you that exactly one eternity passed between the moment the water entered my right nostril and the moment it started flowing out of my left. I was so sure in the moment of eternity that water would soon be leaking out of my eye sockets, and that this was how it would all end for me… Me, slumped over the bathroom sink, neti pot in hand. Toast… death by neti pot.
But then it worked! I was pouring water into a hole in my face, and watching it flow out of a different hole in my face, and I thought, "THE HUMAN BODY IS A FREAKING ROCK STAR." And I blew my nose like I've never blown it before. It was glorious! :)
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