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The Virtues of the Neti

When you catch a cold, how long does it last? Three to four days? Maybe more? It is only when you have a severe nasal blockage that you realize the value of effortless breathing and a clear nose. For people who live with perpetual congestion, allergies, or sinusitis, life can be doubly hard and what’s with the relentless headaches?

I rarely get nasal sicknesses. If and when I do, they don’t last for more than a couple of days. You may think it is to do with an exceptional immune system or with having the perfect septum. The secret is this wonderful gift of Jal Neti that practitioners like me vouch for in keeping their nasal cavities clear and respiratory system robust.

Jal Neti is one of the Shatkarmas, or six purification processes mentioned in ancient yogic texts, which involves clearing up your nasal passages and cavity by removing the excess mucus, debris, and other toxic waste with the help of a pot. The term that comes closest to describing the process of Jal Neti is nasal irrigation. Neti pots have successfully managed to replace previously popular decongestants. Jal Neti has come to be translated as a nasal cleanse. But Neti in Sanskrit also means ‘to guide or lead’. So Jal Neti is the art of guiding water from one nostril to the other through the nasal cavity and clearing the path off of impurities in the process.

Jal Neti and the Senses

We have five senses-sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. They relate to our body matter which is made of the five elements—air, water, earth, fire, and space. Each of the five elements is associated with one sense organ and an organ function. Our sense of smell is associated with the earth element (kapha dosha). So whenever Kapha dosha is out of balance, you are likely to have problems related to cough congestion, mucous or phlegm formation among other conditions. Interestingly, each sense organ is also related to an action. For example, the nose is related to anal action. These are important yet subtle connections between our sensory systems and organs of action that help us find a treatment that is holistic in nature and takes into cognizance these interactions. This explains how clearing your nasal passages with the help of Jal Neti, can also help keep constipation and diarrhea at bay.

Jal Neti is an excellent technique to relieve symptoms of nasal or pollen allergies, conditions like rhinosinusitis, perpetual sinus inflammations, running nose, nasal blockages, irritated nasal cavity, recovering from nasal surgeries, or even asthma or any other respiratory condition for that matter.

It’s Ancient

What we now know was nasal irrigation, which has been around for thousands of years as part of the Ayurvedic tradition in healing kapha imbalance and for nasal relief. Proper and uninterrupted breathing has an important place in the science of Pranayamas in yoga. Jal Neti is one of those processes that help clear out all nasal obstacles for pranayama to happen. When you are able to breathe better, the effect of pranayama deepens and the meditative benefits are experienced clearly, taking you closer to the union of mind, body and the spirit—the real purpose of yoga. It is for this reason that Ayurveda prescribes Jal Neti as an important part of an ideal Dincharya,  or daily routine, as a morning ritual.

Jal Neti or Nasal Irrigation/Nasal Lavage

For nasal cleanse, or nasal lavage, you only need three things—salt, distilled water, and a pot (ideally copper) with a long nozzle or spout, called a neti pot.

The first step is to make the saline water to be used in the pot. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to glass of lukewarm water. You can use distilled or sterile water, or you can boil tap water. Never use water from the tap unless it has been boiled. If you are using filtered water, make sure the size of the filter pore is not more than 1 micron.

If your nose burns a lot, reduce the amount of salt, but note that it is quite common to experience a little irritation, sneezing, or coughing while doing it for the first time. Some people also add a half of a teaspoon baking soda. Stir, and the solution is ready for use.

If you are looking to add herbal or some other washes to the saline water, watch out for store-bought washes containing toxic metals.

Now that you have the saline water ready, it’s time to go about cleansing your nasal passage of the mucus, pollens, and other pollutants.

  1. Pour the saline water into a clean neti pot.
  2. Step closer to the sink and look down. Tilt your head sideways.
  3. Insert the spout of the neti pot inside the upper nostril, while your head is still tilted, enough for the nostril to get nicely locked. The best point of judgment is to make sure the pot is not grazing the septum.
  4. While the solution travels in from the upper nostril and drains out from the lower nostril, keep breathing from the mouth only.
  5. Once you have drained out the whole pot from one nostril, bring your head up.
    TIP Keep your head near the sink as much as possible to prevent water from spilling outside the sink.
  6. Breathe normally with your nose and let out the excess water. Wipe your nose with tissues.
  7. Repeat the same steps on the other side.
  8. Once you have finished cleaning up nasal passages on both sides, make sure your nose is dry.
  9. Follow up with a few rounds of kapalbhati pranayama to clear out rest of the nasal cavity.

Use any leftover water within two days.

Once you are done with neti, rinse the pot clean with sterile or boiled water, and leave it out for drying.

Benefits of Jal Neti

Time has borne testimony to the usefulness and healing potential of this practice.  Jal Neti has been used for thousands of years as a powerful way to keep respiratory congestion, nasal blockages, allergies, and mucus accumulation at bay.

  1. Balancing the autonomic nervous system. Jal Neti helps you breathe deeply and clearly by clearing out nasal toxins. Clear breathing can greatly help balancing your autonomic nervous system. Due to our lifestyle and the daily stressors from the environment, our sympathetic nervous system, which controls our flight or fight response to potential threats from the outside, remains overactive while our parasympathetic nervous system—which is active when we are resting—does not get to do its job just as often as it should. So deeper, effortless breathing can help bring the two systems in a perfect autonomic balance.
  2. Protects upper respiratory functions. Jal Neti is often recommended by doctors as a complementary treatment for conditions like chronic rhinosinusitis, infections in the upper respiratory tract, allergic rhinitis, and chronic sinusitis, which can completely thwart one’s quality of life. Regular Jal neti practice keeps the respiratory system clear, free from pollens and allergy-causing germs and bacteria.
  3. Research backs its efficacy. Conditions like chronic rhinosinusitis or inflamed sinuses and nasal cavity can disrupt a patient’s life with continuous sneezing, redness, inflammation, and in many cases relentless migraines/headaches and blocked nasal passages. This can lead to a lack of focus and productivity, loss of work, and a constant sense of discomfort. It is particularly common among people who are occupied in professions that require them to be around dusty workplaces such as industrial workers, miners, and woodworkers. But for those using a neti pot for nasal irrigation every day, research has shown promising results for conditions like rhinosinusitis, particularly when it has been a chronic problem. An influential Cochrane review showed that patients of chronic sinusitis using 2%  saline solution daily, reported a 64% improvement in their severe symptoms. They also reported improvement in their quality of life at the end of six months. Most importantly, they reportedly reduced their intake of antibiotics for symptom relief.

    Studies done on patients of chronic rhinosinusitis, who are exposed to workplace airborne irritants, has shown impressive results. Those woodworkers, who are exposed to varying levels of wood dust, showed a remarkable reduction in their sinus symptoms, clearance of mucus, and smoother exhalation, after practicing daily nasal irrigation.

    Another 2009 study showed, jal neti clears up nasal cavity, removes inflammatory sources, and improves the bio intelligence in the respiratory system, to self-clean. A study carried out at University of California on 200 patients of various allergies reported statistical improvement 23 out of 30 allergy symptoms. In another major survey of 330 family physicians, 87% of them reportedly recommend nasal irrigation to their patients.
  4. Enhances wellness. Not just on the physiological level, but nasal cleansing with neti pot also supports mental well-being. It brings clarity of mind and allows for more prana or life force to flow through the nostrils. More prana leads to a higher state of awareness. It is also known to stimulate the master gland or the pituitary gland, thereby improving the endocrine function of the body and giving you heightened awareness. It also activates the Ajna Chakra, an important energy center that is responsible for awareness and anger.

A summary of the benefits of jal neti includes

  • Reduction in headaches and migraines caused by sinus blockages.
  • Reduced dependence on antibiotics for the management of chronic allergy symptoms.
  • Reduced use of nasal steroids for managing inflammation.
  • Reported improvement in quality of life.

Keep in Mind

  • Do not use tap water unless it is boiled or sterilized.
  • Use lukewarm water and not too hot or cold water.
  • While initially, it is quite normal to experience irritation or sneezes, if irritation and burning sensation in the nostrils persist, do not continue with nasal irrigation without consulting a physician.
  • Sterilize the pot after each use and change the pots from time to time.
  • Jal Neti is not safe for infants. But for children, refer to an Ayurveda physician for the right guidance on age and use.
  • People who have a cold should avoid doing jal neti since mucous membrane is sensitive and tender around the time and it can be easily irritated.

Jal neti is more than just nasal cleansing—it helps in aligning your body, mind, and soul. Don’t wait until you have blockage or a cold to use it, add it to your daily routine!

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