Neti for the Modern Yogi

by Milissa on January 30, 2011

in Breath,Health

Because yoga is about removing the obstacles to spiritual growth, there is more to the practice than posture flow alone. Purification of the body is an important piece. There are many cleansing practices in yoga.

I was first introduced to these kriyas during my yoga teachers training course at Sivananda Yoga Ashram in 1994. Frankly, some of the methods seemed a little extreme. Like the practice of vastra dhauti, where one swallows a 15-foot length of cloth, and then pulls it back through the mouth to cleanse the upper part of the digestive system. Or kunjar kriya, where the yogi drinks a gallon of salt water, until she upchucks, purportedly removing toxins from the lining of the stomach in the process. Um, thank you, but no.

The kriya that I adopted as a daily practice is one that has entered the mainstream in the last few years: jala neti. Nasal irrigation is traditionally practiced by placing the spout of a neti pot filled with lukewarm salty water into one nostril, with the head tipped to the side so that the fluid runs out the other nostril. Even the medical establishment has picked up on this practice, and it’s no wonder as it’s simple and the benefits are many including allergy relief, better breathing and increased immunity to colds and sinus infections.

You probably know the drill by now. (If not, watch this video.) Maybe you’ve tried nasal cleansing with a neti pot, but haven’t gotten into a routine. Maybe you weren’t quite sure if you were doing it right. Or, perhaps, it seemed like too much trouble.

So here are some inside tips from a sinus headache sufferer, who swears by neti for ongoing relief of symptoms:

  • Use a ceramic neti pot that fits comfortably in your hand.
  • If you get water down your sleeve, or covering the front of your shirt, try doing neti as part of your overall body cleansing in the shower or bathtub. Then it won’t matter if you get all wet in the process.
  • Experiment with the right amount of salt for you—not too much, not too little. The slightly warm water should be the same salinity as your body fluids so that it doesn’t sting or burn. Be sure to use sea salt, not iodized table salt.
  • Use filtered water, if possible. Otherwise, let the water sit for awhile so that some of the chlorine from the tap water evaporates.
  • If you have a sinus infection try a drop (not more) of grapefruit seed extract in the water, along with salt. If it’s irritating to your sinuses, skip it.
  • Exhale before pouring the water through the nostril, and hold the breath out during the nasal irrigation on that side. This is a pranayam called external kumbakh. After irrigating one side, take a few breaths, blow your nose if necessary, then repeat on the other side.
  • Hang forward in uttananasa, or ragdoll, after completing jala neti to let the sinuses drain. Especially if you practice before bed.
  • Be sure to clean your neti pot regularly, and don’t let standing water remain in the pot or spout. A warm, moist environment breeds mold, just what your sinuses don’t need. I soak mine in hot water with a drop or two of grapefruit seed extract.

Especially during Midwestern winters, where indoor air is as dry as the Sahara’s, this practice can make a huge difference in staying healthy and headache-free. And, if we’re lucky, spring allergy season is right around the corner, so practice now to optimize your energy and health during the transition.

For Spring Equinox cleansing and self-care tips come to the Half-Day Retreat: Restorative Yoga & Mindfulness, March 19. Space is very limited. To preregister click here.

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