Yoga’s shatkarmas are six traditional purification processes meant to harmonize the ida and pingala nadis, or energy pathways, and balance the Ayurvedic doshas. But truth be told, regurgitating a swallowed cloth and then making yourself vomit is a little too eccentric for most modern yogis. However, jala neti (cleaning the nasal passageways with water) is one shatkarma that still deserves a place in your occasional self-care routine.
Neti pots are becoming trendy—I’ve even seen them for sale in the famous Powell’s book store in Portland. Apparently the rest of the world is catching on to what yogis have known for thousands of years: jala neti is an amazing way to detox the nasal passageways!
Here’s your complete guide to using a neti pot.
Mix 1/4 teaspoon sea salt with one cup of warm water. Taste the mixture. If it tastes too salty, you’ve added too much. If you can barely taste the salt, you should add a little more. Test the temperature of the water before you use it. It shouldn’t be too cold or too hot, but warmed to room temperature. Fill the neti pot with the saline solution.
Stand over a sink. Lean forward and turn your head to one side. Open your mouth and gently place the spout inside of your upper nostril.
Raise your elbow to tilt the pot so that the water runs through your upper nostril. Breathe through your mouth. The water will flow out through your lower nostril. If it flows out of your mouth, you need to reposition (but don’t worry, this won’t cause any harm). Once you’ve used all the water, you can blow your nose very gently to expel any mucus.
Turn your head to the other side and open your mouth. Place the spout inside of the opposite nostril and repeat the step above.
After you practice jala neti, you need to dry the nasal passageways so you don’t induce the symptoms of a cold. Stand with your feet hip-distance wide, place your hands on your thighs, and lean forward. Exhale vigorously multiple times as if you’re practicing kapalabhati (skull shining breath). Turn your head to the left side and do the same. Repeat on the right side. Do this until no more fluid comes out of your nose.
This next step is little-known, but it shouldn’t be skipped. You need to lubricate the nostrils so the nasal passageways don’t dry out from the salt water. This is an Ayurvedic practice called nasya, and neti isn’t complete without it. You can use special nasya oil, ghee, or sesame oil. Lie down and lean your head back over the edge of a bed or couch. Using a dropper, squeeze 2-4 drops into each nostril and inhale deeply. Wait a minute or two before getting up.
As with other shatkarmas, you don’t want to overdo purification. It’s best to use neti symptomatically, and only every now and then to give your nasal passageways a little extra cleansing.
Reference: Saraswati, Swami Satyananda. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Bihar: Yoga Publications Trust, 2008.