In the ancient text on the practice of Yoga, "Hatha Yoga Pradeepika", six cleansing techniques have been prescribed: Neti: nasal cleansing, Dhauti: cleansing of the digestive tract, Nauli: abdominal massage, Basti: colon cleansing, Kapalbhati: purification and vitalization of the frontal lobes, and Trataka: focused gazing.
In this discussion, we will be focusing on one of the nasal cleansing techniques called "jala neti" (saline nasal irrigation). Jala Neti is a simple technique which involves using a special "neti pot" filled with warm, slightly salted water. The nose cone is inserted into one nostril and the position of the head and pot is adjusted to allow the water to flow out of the other nostril. Whilst the water is flowing through the nasal passages one breathes through the mouth. After half a pot has flowed in one direction, the water flow is reversed. When the water in the pot is finished, the nose must be properly dried.
To a person who has never used it before, the technique may seem a little intimidating. However, the technique is not hard or uncomfortable. Most people are pleasantly surprised after even their first attempt at just how simple and effective this method of health maintenance is. Once learned, the practice can be done in about 3 minutes, and like showering and cleaning the teeth, Neti is easily integrated into ones daily routine.
For general nasal cleanliness, practicing neti once a day is usually sufficient. In the case of a cold, 2 -3 times a day will give great relief, providing the nose is well dried each time and this frequency does not induce nose bleeds. Reduce this frequency when the worst of the congestion is over.
Jala Neti is best practiced first thing in the morning to clear out the night’s grogginess and prepare the body and mind for the day’s breathing activities. However, if you live or work in a dusty or polluted environment where the nostrils have an increased load of filtering, a good second occasion is upon returning from such work. Neti should always be done before rather than after meals. The best times are: (i) upon waking before breakfast, (ii) mid morning before lunch, (iii) evening before dinner, (iv) just before bed
- Neti removes all the dirt and bacteria filled mucus from within the nose.
- It helps to drain the sinus cavities. This in turn, will help to reprogram the body’s natural mechanisms against nasal infections such as hay fever, allergies, sinusitis and other upper respiratory complaints like sore throats and coughs, post nasal drip, inflammation of tonsils and adenoids.
- It is beneficial for illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis as it reduces the tendency for mouth breathing by freeing the nostrils of mucus.
- It has a cooling and soothing effect on the brain by drawing out excessive heat, and is therefore beneficial for headaches, migraine, epilepsy, temper tantrums, hysteria, depression and general mental tension.
- Neti is of great benefit for problems associated with the eyes. It helps flush the tear ducts, encouraging clearer vision and gives a sparkle to the eyes.
- It can be beneficial for certain types of ear disorders such as middle ear infections, glue ear, tinnitus.
- Neti improves sensitivity of the olfactory nerves, helping to restore lost sense of smell, and thereby benefits the relationship with taste and the digestive processes.
- It has subtle effects on the pineal and pituitary glands which control the hormonal system. This has a harmonising effect on emotional behaviour.
- Neti affects the psychic centre known as Ajna Chakra which helps in awakening higher states of meditation.
- It helps to stimulate better powers of visualisation and concentration and gives a feeling of lightness and clarity to the mind.
- Neti is excellent for those trying to give up smoking. Since it reduces the tendency for mouth breathing, Neti re-sensitises the nose to the actual pollution of ingesting smoke, thereby de-programming the brain of the physical and psychological addiction.
Anatomy of Nasal Cleansing
The first line of nasal defense is the set of tiny hairs called "cilia" which should trap larger particles entering the nose. These cilia are usually cleansed by normal breathing and by blowing the nose, but sometimes, due to a gradual build up of dirt, they can become clogged and may require washing out. The whole of the nasal passage from nose tip to throat (and beyond) is covered with a layer of mucus. This mucus is secreted from within the mucous lining, and its function is to trap smaller foreign particles and bacteria. The dirty mucus is normally blown out, snorted and coughed out or swallowed. The sinus passages are an even finer mechanism of filtering which, if infected, secrete a runny mucus to evict the germs. This is generally called sinusitis and can be a short term symptom or a chronic condition.
During the neti practice, the water simply flows up one nostril to just above the bridge of the nose where the usual air flows meet, backwards into the middle cavity and then down and out the other side of the nose. In this route, it passes by the frontal and mid nasal sinuses. The practice does not cause any discomfort or damage to the nasal functions.
The way in which Jala Neti rinses out the dirt and bacteria filled mucous lining would be obvious to most people as the warm water loosens and dissolves any internal build ups, and takes them outwards. But what may not be so obvious is that, due to gravity and a venturi effect, the sinus passages are also drained by the vacuum pressure flow of the water. Whereas it would normally be impossible to drain a "dead end" cavity like the sinuses, Jala Neti achieves this ingeniously and simply.
For those with thick mucus conditions as well as those with running sinuses, the relief of sinus pressure can be felt within seconds. Also, the eustachian tubes (which are also dead end passages) receive exactly the same effects as the sinuses – a drawing outwards of dirt and mucus. Hence Jala Neti is of great benefit for blockages and infections of the middle ear, by draining the tubes to relieve the pressure build up as well as removing germs.
The eyes derive benefit by Neti. The tear ducts, which connect from the eyes into the nasal passages, get the same drawing out effect as the sinuses, resulting in a brighter, clearer sense of vision.
The nose is the "air conditioner" of the body. One of the many functions of the nose is to regulate the temperature and humidity of the incoming air. This is necessary so that the breath does not strike the throat and enter the lungs too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet. Upon exhalation, the nose also helps to draw out excessive heat from the frontal portion of the brain, which is the part where the heavy thinking is done, and where the greatest heat builds up when under stress. People with chronic nasal blockages who end up being habitual mouth breathers, therefore have a cooled throat, which imbalances the thyroid function. They also have cooler lungs, which creates excessive moisture and mucus secretion in that area. Mouth breathers also fail to get enough of the cooling effect from exhalation at the front of the brain, and can therefore be described as "hot heads". Regular practise of Jala Neti helps to establish the correct working environment of temperature and humidity in the nose.
Another aspect of physiology which Jala Neti affects is the relationship between olfactory function and the body’s nervous systems. According to medical science, there are two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System called sympathetic and the parasympathetic which are constantly working to keep in balance. Each of these systems affects different organs and functions of the body. Basically, one controls the functions of stimulation and the other controls the functions of sedation. This dualistic push/pull conflict correlates exactly with what the yoga masters say about the forces of Pingala and Ida, or Ha and Tha.
According to yoga science, by balancing nasal breathing function, better balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is gained, and hence better balance of the whole body’s nervous function is achieved. So, by cleansing, balancing and manipulating these two complimentary opposite forces, better physical and mental health is maintained. Hence it is one of the known effects of Jala Neti that mental tension and headaches can be relieved, as well as nervous system disorders such as epilepsy, and psycho-emotional imbalances like temper tantrums can be controlled.
- Nasal cleansing can be performed over a sink, a bowl on a table, in the shower or outside. First fill the Neti Pot with warm water of a temperature suitable for pouring in the nose – neither too hot nor too cold. It is recommended that the water temperature should be same as the temperature of the tears. Pure water is best if available but this is not obligatory.
- Mix in salt to the proportion of one level teaspoon for half a litre of water. This equates to 0.9% – the same as human blood – and is called isotonic or physiological solution. Mix the salt thoroughly. Be sure to fully mix and dissolve the salt, as you don’t want fresh water in the spout or very salty water at the bottom of the pot. Pure sea salt is the recommended salt. However, if that is not available, clean table salt which is used for cooking can be used.
- Place the nose cone into the right nostril, sealing it to the nostril with a slight pressure. Try to point the spout straight up in line with the nasal passage so as not to block off the tip of the nozzle on the inside of the nose. Open your mouth and breathe gently through the mouth. Do not sniff, swallow, laugh, talk or have any movement of air through the nose whilst the water is flowing through.
- Now slowly bend forward from the waist so that the tip of the nose is the lowest point of the head; and then tilt/roll the head to the right, so that the left nostril is now the lowest point of the nose. Tilt slowly so that water doesn’t run out the top of the pot onto your face! Keep the nose cone fully sealed into the right nostril so that water doesn’t leak out. Keep on mouth breathing whiles the water comes through. Just wait a few seconds and the water should run out the left nostril. Keep breathing slowly and gently through the mouth. After the water begins to flow, wait for about half a pot to flow right to left, and then remove the pot and stand up.
- Before changing sides, blow out gently through both nostrils to clear water and mucus from the nose. It is important that you do not blow hard at this point or you will send water up into the ear tubes and sinuses. All that is needed is a couple of slow, soft blows out into the sink to remove the water in the nose. Do not pinch the nostrils to create extra force, or blow hard and vigorously.
- Repeat steps 3 & 4 as above, but with the nose cone entering from the left nostril and the flow of water going left to right. After the pot runs dry, stand up, blow out gently through both nostrils and then prepare to dry out the nose.
- Drying the nose properly is a very important part of the practice. First bend forwards from the waist and hang the head down with the nose pointing towards the floor, letting any residual water drain from the nose for 10 – 20 seconds. Then point the nose towards the knees. Closing one nostril at a time, gently breathe in the mouth and out the nose about 10 times. Then stand up to do some rapid breathing through the nostrils. First do 10 breaths through both nostrils together, sniffing in and out moderately with a bit more emphasis on the exhalation. Then close off the right nostril with one finger and do 10 rapid sniffing breaths through the left nostril only. Then do 10 sniffing breaths through the right nostril only. Finally, do 10 breaths again through both nostrils together.
- Another effective technique of draining out any residual water from the nose is to practice a few rounds of the cat-and-cow pose. Failure to dry the nose properly may manifest the symptoms of a cold for several hours, or leaving dirty water in the sinus passages or Eustachian tubes may result in infection.
Limitations and Precautions
Persons who suffer from chronic bleeding of the nose should not do neti without expert advice.
Make sure that the water is not too hot or too cold 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, when your 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 some structural blockage. 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.