Every day, we are exposed to millions upon billions of particulate matter, with pollen, dirt, pollution, and germs constantly surrounding us. Over time, these build up in our sinuses and can trigger allergies, colds, asthma, and many other respiratory system related ailments. While our mucus contains infection-fighting molecules, rinsing or cleansing the nasal cavity can provide immediate relief and help purify the body.
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Body purification has roots in many cultures, but nasal cleansing is most associated with Buddhism and the principle of shatkarma. Shat, meaning “six”, and karma, meaning “process”, shatkarma refers to the six steps of cleansing the body. First, there is dhauti, the cleansing of the stomach; next, basti, cleansing of the colon; third, neti, cleansing of the nasal passage; fourth, nauli, cleansing of the abdominal organs; next, kapalabati, cleansing of the respiratory organs; and finally, trataka, the cleansing of the mind.
We’re especially interested in the number three: neti. With neti, Buddhists aim to improve inner breathing, which allows us to fill our bodies with energy and become more apt in our mental focus. Interestingly, neti was used in esoteric yoga tradition, not for nasal relief from allergens, but for the increased focus it brought: good sinus health being an added benefit! Regardless of intent, like so many other things in life, the passageway of breathing can become congested and difficult to navigate, hence the importance of regular cleaning.
However, while there is a need for personal intervention at times, health care professionals stress the fact that we need a consistent layer of protective mucus in our nasal cavities, and constant nasal rinsing may compromise the effectiveness of that barrier. We should be careful and conscious of our bodies whenever we practice cleansing, and the nose is no different. So how do we practice neti?
Simple enough: use a neti pot! Shaped like a teapot, the small kettle pours a warm saline solution (best with Himalayan rock salt) in one nostril and out the other, using the power of gravity to do the dirty work. This can be used as either a solution to nasal congestion or a preventative measure for flues and allergies; it’s just like gargling salt water, but for your nose!
There are other ways of nasal cleansing, however. In Scandinavia, fishermen used to snort salt water and spit it out of their mouth, a practice noticeably similar. Others, however, use pressure points, acupuncture, steam, essential oils, and of course, western medicine. Despite the alternative methods, neti has remained a popular and highly praised practice, adding to the centuries of credibility.
Whether you think it will bring mental clarity or not, the fact remains that neti is a great practice for maintaining good sinus health. Try it out today, you might be surprised with how easy you can breathe!