Nasal irrigation (aka nasal lavage or nasal douche) is a method of cleaning the nasal cavities in order to avoid and/or treat allergies, sinus infections, and to generally improve breathing.
Nasal irrigation has existed for at least several thousand years, appearing in the ancient Vedas and remaining a central part of Ayurvedic medicine. It is known as Jala Neti in Sanskrit, and is the first and most essential step for practicing Kriya Yoga due to its ability to clear the nasal breathing passage: the foundation of yoga and meditation. Nasal irrigation is also an essential part of Shatkarma, the yogic system of fully cleansing and purifying the body to make way for proper and advanced meditation and yogic practices.
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Hailed by practitioners all over the world, nasal irrigation has gained incredible prominence in the west over the last decade. Health professionals and daily practitioners agree that it is an effective method for cleaning the nasal passages and breathing easier.
According to Evangeline Lausier, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine and director of clinical services at Duke University’s department of integrative medicine,
I find it to be the first line of defense in dealing with complicated sinus problems and allergy problems, particularly if you are developing congestion or have a sinus infection, it’s very helpful.
The tool nasal irrigation practitioners use comes in many forms with the most common and basic being a bulb syringe, squeeze bottle, or neti pot. This article will focus on neti pots, as they are the most widely used, and my personal favorite.
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By using a neti pot, nasal irrigation acts as an aid for the cleaning system that is already in place inside your nose. WebMD explains:
The nasal passages come equipped with tiny, hair-like structures called cilia, which beat back and forth to catch dirt, bacteria, viruses, and other unwelcome substances. The cilia beat and the mucus acts kind of like flypaper, catching spores and particles you inhale. Those particles get pushed down to the back of the throat, where they are swallowed and destroyed by stomach acid.
Nasal irrigation helps thin out the mucus and improve the coordination of the cilia to help them more effectively remove bacteria and other irritants from the sinus passages.
You clean your skin, your hair, your teeth, your tongue, your ears… but not your nose, especially not your nasal cavity. Our bodies are attacked and foraged by a constant onslaught of bacteria and microbes, and your nose is equipped with a natural filtration system to keep those creepies on the outside. How many of you have ever seen an air filter last forever? You need to replace it every so often, right? The same principal applies with your nasal cavity; it must be cleaned. Have you ever seen an air filter that hasn’t been replaced in a while? If you’ve never done jala neti, imagine what your nasal cavity must look like!
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For those of you that have concerns, nasal irrigation is a very safe practice. In fact, it is virtually devoid of any complications at all. Studies have shown that even doing it 2-6 times a day is safe and generally side effect free. The Department of Family Medicine, at the University of Wisconsin found that
daily hypertonic saline nasal irrigation improves sinus-related quality of life, decreases symptoms, and decreases medication use in patients with frequent sinusitis.
Although it is rare, a very small number of people do note minor nasal irritation, though studies have shown that the irritation is frankly worth it in view of the benefits.
So, how do you practice nasal irrigation? With a neti pot, especially those made by NielMed, it is very cheap and simple. A basic explanation of the process involves placing the spout of the neti pot in one nostril, tilting your head, and allowing a salt water mix to glide into the nostril, through the nasal cavity, and out the other nostril. Dry yourself, and repeat. There are details you should make sure to pay attention to, like proper drying techniques and proper salt water mixtures. Use this explanation on how to practice nasal irrigation safely to ensure everything flows smoothly.
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By the way, if you are interested, there is a more advanced version of jala neti called sutra neti which involves cleaning the nasal cavity with a cord running down your throat that you pull back and forth between your nose and mouth. If you are planning to try out this method, make sure to read this guide from yoga-age and do it safely.
*Important Note* The most important thing to remember is to use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water. There have been two cases of deaths linked to nasal irrigation due to unintentionally using tap water that contained a highly fatal amoeba. Please, be smart and use properly treated water. As long as you do that you have nothing to worry about.
You should also ensure that your neti pot is clean and properly dried after each use. Think of it like any other hygienic tool: if it’s not clean, it can’t properly clean you.
Here’s to better breathing and clearer cavities!