The Neti Pot

Hiya Sweet Friend,

Check out this super informative guest article by Shannon Sexton from my blog archives. Happy reading—take it away Shannon! xo, Kris

Getting to Know the Nose

Before we go into the details of the nasal wash, let’s begin with a science lesson. The nostrils are the interface between your body and the atmosphere—they filter, clean, heat, and moisten the air you inhale. This is why yogis advocate breathing through the nose instead of the mouth.

The sensitive lining of the nostrils secretes mucus, which effectively traps dust, dirt, and other particles when it is moist. The mucus also contains antibodies, which help protect the body from infection or irritation by foreign materials or organisms. This is important because you inhale 18,000 to 20,000 times daily. All day the moist, sticky mucus collects dirty particles from the air you breathe and keeps it from entering the lungs. If you don’t clean this matter out of the nostrils, it will end up in your stomach, because the mucus lining of the nostrils slowly moves everything backwards until it is swallowed. What’s more, when the mucus becomes dry or laden with dust, it loses its protective function. The nasal wash dissolves and clears away dried mucus and stimulates the nasal linings to secrete fresh, moist mucus, which will help keep your nose—and the rest of your system—healthy.

How It Works

You can use the neti pot to rinse away pollen, dust, germs, and other airborne contaminants; to remove excess mucus when you’re congested; to moisturize the nasal membrane after spending time in planes or in heated or air-conditioned rooms; and to open the nostrils as you prepare for meditation.

The anatomy is simple. As holistic expert Carrie Demers, MD, explains: “Your nose is divided into two passages, and there’s a septum in between. You pour the water in one nostril, it goes around the back of the septum, and gravity helps it flow out the other side.”

The nasal wash, she says, can also prevent or treat sinus infections. “Your sinuses drain into your nasal passages through little openings called meatuses. It’s when these openings get blocked that mucus accumulates and causes pressure and infection. The neti water washes over the meatuses, keeping them open and the mucus inside the sinus cavities flowing out—the water doesn’t actually go into your sinuses.”

The Practice

If you’re wincing at the memory of getting water up your nose while swimming as a kid, don’t worry—jala neti uses a warm saline solution that’s the same temperature and salt concentration as your bodily fluids and is soothing to the sinuses. Neti pots vary in shape and size, so here’s a basic recipe: Mix one-half heaping teaspoon of pure noniodized salt with two cups of warm water until the salt dissolves completely. Adjust the mixture to your own salinity—it should taste like warm tears.

Fill your neti pot and lean over a sink, face downward. Keeping your nose slightly higher than your lips, twist your head to the left. As you breathe through the mouth, insert the spout into the upper nostril until it forms a tight (but comfortable) seal. Raise the handle of the neti pot and let the water flow through the nose and out the lower nostril. When you’ve emptied the pot, exhale through both nostrils into the sink or a tissue. (Do not close off one nostril while blowing, because this could force the water back into the ear.) Then repeat on the other side.

To clear loose mucus and water from the nose after the practice, exhale forcefully into the sink 5 to 10 times with both nostrils open and the face relaxed. Next, do a simple forward bend, turning the head from side to side as you do another round of vigorous exhalations. Remember, one of the goals of the nasal wash is to reduce excess mucus—so don’t be squeamish about blowing it out. You’ll feel better if you do.

The yogis have numerous variations of jala neti. In addition to the beginner’s nostril-to-nostril version described above, you can also learn how to pull water from your nose into your mouth, or push it from your mouth to your nose—which is especially useful if you’re away from home without your neti pot. To try the mouth-to-nose practice, fill your mouth three-quarters full with warm saline solution. Lean over the sink, facedown. To expel the water, tuck your chin toward your neck and press your entire tongue against the roof of the mouth, forcefully exhaling the saline into the sink. Keep the throat relaxed through the entire process. Repeat several times. This nasal wash reverses the natural motion of the cilia and cleans them in a different way. It also reduces postnasal drip.

The Neti Pot Challenge

For those of you who are new to the nasal wash, try spending three to six days learning how to do it. Then use the neti pot every morning for a month to observe its overall effect.

Next, figure out how often you need to do it and what time of day works best for you. To check whether you would benefit from the nasal wash at any given moment, breathe deeply through both nostrils together, then through each nostril separately; if you feel any blockage, you will find the nasal wash helpful and soothing.

Here are a few more suggestions: Use the neti pot before your asana or meditation practice. Try rinsing your nose after exposure to dusty, smoky, or sooty environments and notice the relief you get from it. Anticipate allergy seasons by getting started on a regular schedule of two or more daily washes. Generally, use the pot before meals, instead of afterward, to stay in harmony with the body’s natural mucus-producing schedule.

Meet You at the Sink?

So there it is: nasal irrigation is both comical and practical. It cleanses and protects the nasal passages, counteracting the effects of environmental pollution and treating colds, allergies, and sinus problems naturally and effectively. It improves the quality of your breathing, and hence, your yoga and meditation practices. Now, that’s a pretty convincing argument, isn’t it?

Written by Shannon Sexton, Yoga+’s Editor-at-Large. Originally published in Natural Health Magazine on September 4, 2009.

Kris Carr