Weird? Sure. Worth it? Absolutely! Winter’s coming, or maybe it’s already struck near you, and you’re plagued with a cough, cold, and stuffy nose. You’re out of balance, feverish, tired, dazed and feeling very oh-so-sorry for yourself. There are plenty of remedies on the market, some natural others synthetic. Maybe Sudafed works, but it’s weighing you down and making work impossible. Or perhaps you’ve tried burning some eucalyptus, enjoying the 30 minutes of clarity before the candle burns. There’s a great alternative that you may have heard of. It’s called Neti. It looks pretty scary to some, seems weird, unusual at best. It’s not as invasive as a Sudafed, and not as superficial as a cold compress.
Jala Neti (usually called just Ja Neti) is all the rage today, and with good reason. Although it looks and feels quite strange at first, this centuries-old Ayurveda practice of cleansing the nasal passages with salt water might just change your life. Cleansing the nasal passages with warm salt water clears the dirt and mucus buildup caused by viral infection, air pollution, and allergies.
So What’s Neti?
Neti is a whole system of yogic body cleansing techniques used primarily in India. It is mainly focused on cleansing the airways in the head, including the ears, nose, mouth, and lungs. Jala Neti, one technique within the Neti system, has been found to alleviate the symptoms of numerous problems associated with blocked airways, including seasonal allergies, bronchial infections, eye ailments, nose ailments, throat ailments, sinusitis, tonsillitis, adenoid inflammation, headache, and asthma. Neti is also practiced before yoga exercise to clean out the nasal passages of debris and allow for an uninterrupted breathing practice.
Jala Neti Effects
Using Jala Neti results in primary and secondary effects, including:
- Keeping the nasal cavity clean and free of allergens and flu-causing debris.
- Stimulation of your olfactory nerves, which are at the very top of your nasal cavity and control your sense of smell.
- Stimulation of your sensory nerves, which originate in the nose and face and connect to the brain.
- Improved lung capacity and health.
- Soothing feeling to the eyes due to stimulation of the fifth cranial nerve, which leads into the eyes and eye muscles
- A soothing feeling in the whole face due to stimulation of the sensory cortex through the fifth cranial nerve.
- Use of the Jala Neti stimulates the olfactory nerves, which then influence the autonomic functions of the body.
- Reduces stress and tension in the face, head, and body.
The mucous membrane, which lines the inside of your nostrils, contains millions of tiny glands that release a sticky mucus (let’s just go ahead and call it “snot”) to trap dirt and dust from the air you inhale. Inside the nose itself, there are also millions of small hairs that further filter and clean the air you breathe in. According to Dr. Swami Shankardevananda, an Australia-based medical doctor and author of several books on yoga and health, Jala Neti not only affects the physical body, but also the pranic body, which, he writes, “is the vital energy which underlies the physical body and maintains life.” Of the physical effects of Jala Neti, he explains:
“The two main nerves in the nose are the olfactory (smell) and the fifth cranial (facial sense perception). These are stimulated by the passage of water during neti and send nerve impulses directly to the brain. This leads to the stimulation of other nerve connections in the brain. Eventually, motor and autonomic nerve fibers are fired at the end of the nerve pathways and different parts of the brain are stimulated. The ramifications are widespread throughout the whole body. If you do neti you can almost feel the impulses inside the brain; one feels the effects immediately. One feels light-headed and 'high' - it is a pleasant sensation… Neti brings about a profound physical stimulation of the whole brain. Soothing of the brain helps to soothe and relax the rest of the body. Neti helps to remove blocks in the flow of nerve impulses and thereby it brings good health.”
The effects of Jala Neti on the pranic body, Dr. Shankardevananda says, are equally beneficial. He explains: “Prana is the vital energy which underlies the physical body and maintains life. It flows through the human framework in multitudes of channels comprising the pranic body. If there is a block or imbalance in the pranic flow then we get sick.” This is where Jala Neti comes in: “Neti helps to induce and maintain this free flow and balance of prana and thereby brings good health. The essence of air is prana. Our body absorbs this subtle prana through the nose during respiration. Therefore thorough cleansing of the nose with neti leads to better health at a pranic level… The flow of breath through the nostrils has a direct influence on the flow of prana. Neti helps to balance the two breath flows, and thereby brings balance into the ida and pingala flows of the subtle pranic body, as well as the autonomic nervous system at a physical level. This leads to an overall balance of one's whole being. This helps to induce good health and peace of mind.”
How to Use Your Neti Pot
A neti pot is a small spot with a long spout, also called a “lota,” which is used to pour water through the nose one nostril at a time. Traditionally neti pots were made of brass, but they are now available in plastic and light-weight ceramic as well. Most neti pots you’ll find at health-food and nutrition shops come with small packets of iodized salt, which you simply deposit into the pot and add filtered lukewarm water.
In order to use your neti pot accurately, tilt your head to one side, keeping your forehead higher than your chin. The key to keeping the fluid from entering your throat is to breathe through your mouth. Once you’ve emptied the contents of the pot into one nostril, you will refill it and insert the spout into your other nostril and repeat.
The passage of water through your nostrils clears nearly all mucus membrane from your nasal cavity. All the sinuses and structures in the nose are given a soothing bath and are thoroughly cleaned. At the same time, the nerves and blood vessels are stimulated.
Other Forms of Neti
Although Jala Neti is the most commonly used form of neti, other neti practices include using alternative liquids in place of lukewarm salt water, like cold salt water, milk, and (eek!) urine. Sutra neti, which includes the use of a string or catheter in a similar process of cleansing of the nostrils, provides similarly positive effects.
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