Neti Washing Clears Your Sinuses—and Maybe Your Mind
There’s nothing more important to our health than the way we breathe. Indeed, everything living on this planet breathes—all fauna, right down to single-celled animals, and all flora from majestic trees to algae.
As a yoga teacher for almost three decades, my respect and reverence for the breathing process continues to grow. The yoga poses many of us practice are not intended to be gymnastic feats to perform. They were developed to be vehicles for expanding the breath.
In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, the framework for practicing the whole system of Yoga, pranayama—expansion of the breath—lies between the physical and mental/spiritual practices. The breath is the gateway between the body and mind.
The breath provides us with life-giving oxygen and allows us to expel toxic carbon dioxide—20,000 times a day. Breathing happens all day long, whether we choose to control it or not. But, unlike any other automatic physiological process, we can also control the breath. We can extend it or shorten it or speed it up or slow it down, all of which affect the nervous system in many ways.
But sometimes we don’t have a lot of control over our breath. Allergies, sinus infections and environmental pollutants can sometimes cause our breathing passes to be blocked, making it impossible to take in a full inhalation. When this happens, we can feel less energetic and sometimes even suffer a bit of brain fog.
Neti Washing to the Rescue
Of course, eating healthy foods, taking antioxidants such as Protandim and exercising regularly can help ward off these symptoms, but sometimes our environment gets the best of us. That’s when neti washing can save the day.
Neti washing is a form of nasal irrigation that employs a small pot—usually ceramic—and a solution of salt water. The warm water soothes nasal passages as it gently clears excess mucus so that the cilia inside your nostrils can more efficiently trap bacteria and other toxins.
You can buy a pot at most pharmacies and many larger grocery stores. You must use specially formulated neti salt—non-iodized—for the solution. You can order a convenient starter kit from Himalayan Institute here. The kit includes instructions on how to get started.
There’s lots of good info online about how to use your pot, but here are a few tips:
- Use boiled, distilled or filtered water. Even though neti washing has been practiced safely for centuries, there have been two recorded cases of life-threatening infections from using straight tap water.
- Add 1/4 teaspoon of neti salt to your pot and pour water over the salt. Stir to distribute the salt.
- Test the temperature of your water before you irrigate. It should be warm, but not hot. Hot water will burn delicate nasal passages. Cold water isn’t as effective and doesn’t feel all that great either. When the water is running through your nostrils it should feel slightly warm.
- Position yourself over a sink and have some tissues handy.
- You may need to experiment with the tilt of your head. It took me a few tries to find the tilt that would allow free flow between my nostrils. It’s a good idea to start neti washing at a time when your sinuses aren’t blocked, just to get the hang of it when it’s relatively easy.
- Gradually pour one full pot of salt water through each nostril, blowing your nose at the end of each washing.
- Wash your pot thoroughly and let it air dry completely.
I was hesitant to try neti washing for years. It just seemed too weird—running water through one nostril and having it flow out the other one. Not for me, I thought. But about five years ago, in the throes of a sinus infection, I decided to try it. I’ve been doing it almost daily ever since. Even if my sinuses are pretty clear, it just feels good for my sinuses and nasal passages to feel so open and expansive. And this is purely anecdotal, but after my morning neti washing, my brain feels a lot more clear too.