Neti: What You Need to Know

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In the yoga tradition, there are list of daily cleansing rituals named, shatkarmas. The word “shat” means “six” and the word “karma” means, “action”. The purpose of the shatkarmas and hatha yoga is to create a balanced flow of prana in the body. 

The first of the shatkarmas is neti. Neti is a nasal irrigation process that cleanses and purifies the nasal passages. Netis have been used by millennia to facilitate deep breathing. When we breathe, we take in much more than simple oxygen. We draw in Prana, life giving energy with every breath. Prana is the very essence of life. It animates the entire planet, the stars, the ocean, every blade of grass and every cell in our body. The concept of Prana is similar to the Great Spirit in the Native American culture. Like the Great Spirit, Prana creates an intricate connection between us and everything around us. We are one with nature and the life force that connects us all is Prana. Prana travels through the body through a series of energy channels. 

According to Ayurvedic medicine, there are 72,000 energy channels (or nadis) in the body and all channels spring from three primary channels, Ida, Pingala and Sushumna.  Ida begins at the left nostril. Pingala begins at the right nostril. Ida and Pingala wrap around Sushumna which is located in the spine like a double helix. The places where Ida, Pingala and Sushumna intersect are the Chakras. 

Two of the primary entry points for Prana to enter the body is Ida and Pingala, so it is important that we breathe clearly and effectively. Neti is used to clear the nasal passages to allow the proper flow of Prana. Hatha yoga shares the same purpose. Hatha is performed to clear tension and energetic roadblocks within the body, so Prana can flow freely through the nadis. Due to the expansive definition of Prana and the many ways Prana supports life, Prana is deemed highly intelligent and thus, essential to good health and healing. 

Benefits of Neti: 

Breathe Better: One of the primary ways that Prana, life giving energy, enters the body is through the nostrils. If our nostrils are obstructed, we cannot breathe properly and we cannot absorb a proper amount of oxygen (and Prana). It is also difficult to exhale carbon dioxide. Struggling to breathe, even if we are just slightly congested, is disruptive to the body and places the body in a high alert mode, which is taxing and exhausting. We must breathe properly to sleep, think and function properly. 

Improved Immunity and Infection Prevention: Neti helps to clear congestion from the nasal passages by washing them out into a basin and thus, preventing the congestion from sitting and festering in the nasal cavities or traveling into the throat, lungs, or stomach where the congestion can further tax our body’s immune system and digestive system. For many years, I contracted a sinus infection every year. I came to think of it as a “normal” occurrence. In all those years, none of the doctors who treated me, shared with me that if I washed out my sinus cavities regularly, I might be able to prevent an infection. It seems so obvious to me now, but I did not know about neti back then, so I took the same actions and got the same results year after year. In 2012, I attended my first yoga teacher training, and we used a neti every day. I have continued to use it. Since then, I have not contracted another sinus infection to date. 

Balance: The left nostril, Ida, represents moon energy. The right nostril, Pingala, represents sun energy. When we are breathing evenly or appropriately through both nostrils it helps to balance the energy within our body and mind. In Ayurveda, there is an entire science, Swara Yoga, dedicated to understanding and utilizing dominant nostril breathing to refine our thinking and life.  

How to Perform Neti: 

You will need a neti pot, stainless steel or ceramic is recommended over plastic. I personally prefer a stainless steel neti pot. I found that the ceramic ones are generally too small and one must fill it and prepare the saline twice to irrigate both nostrils. The spout on a ceramic neti pot is often too large and I find it uncomfortable on my nostril.  The stainless-steel pot is large enough to irrigate both nostrils. 

Fill your neti pot with warm water. Be sure to use clean water. Filtered or distilled water is recommended. I boil filtered water that I allow to cool before using. The water should be warm, but not too hot. Your nostrils are more sensitive to heat than your skin, so you can check your water with your skin and make certain it is warm, but not too hot. 

Salt is added to the neti to protect the lining of your nostrils. Be sure to use non-iodized table salt. ¼ tsp per cup is what is recommended, but you may want to experiment to determine what feel best for you. Note: There are a lot of saline/salt packets sold exclusively for neti pot use today. I have not used any of these. I use plain old non-iodized salt that I purchase at my local supermarket. 

If the salt to water ratio is correct. Pouring the saline solution through your nostrils should not hurt or sting. It is an awkward feeling to pour water through your nose, but it should not be painful. 

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Fill your neti pot with clean warm water. 
  2. Add saline solution or salt whichever you have decided to use. 
  3. Check to see which nostril is dominant, by capping off one nostril and breathing through the other and then, capping off the second nostril and breathing through the first.
  4. Begin by pouring the water through the dominant nostril. Let’s say your right nostril is dominant and your left nostril is congested. Standing over the sink, in the shower or a basin, tip your head to the left. Bend forward slightly, so the water runs into the basin and not down your chest. Place the spout of the neti pot in your right nostril snugly, so water goes into the nostril and not down the side of your face. Gently pour the solution through your nostril. (If the solution is too hot, stop and allow the water to cool before using.) The water should pour out the opposite nostril. Breathe calmly through your mouth as you pour the saline through your nose. Pour about a cup of the prepared fluid through the first nostril. Then, tip your head in the opposite direction and pour another cup of prepared fluid through the opposite nostril. 
  5. When you are done irrigating each nostril, you can wipe your face, but do not blow your nose immediately. Allow the water time to drain out for a few seconds. Cap off one nostril and blow gently, then cap off the opposite and gently blow. Once again, do not blow your nose to hard. You will find that your nostrils may drain for the next 10-20 minutes. 
  6. Be sure to wash your neti after each use. Leave it upside down on a clean surface to drain and dry completely, before your next use. This is particularly important if you are using a stainless steel neti pot. If you leave salt water in a stainless-steel pot, it may rust. If you are using your neti pot and you have a cold or infection, be sure to wash your neti pot properly with dish soap and hot water or you can run the risk of re-infecting yourself. 

The best time to use your neti pot is in the morning as a part of your morning ritual. I recommend doing your neti before your morning sadhana or yoga practice. The downward facing dogs, sun salutations and movement can help empty any remaining water from the sinus cavities. 

When you finish neti, notice how you feel. Take note if you feel more energetic or clear headed after using a neti pot.

Please check with your doctor to make sure neti is safe for you.

If you are interested in purchasing a neti pot, I included a product recommendation on my shop page: 

Melody is a former Corporate Sales and Marketing director and an independent consultant who is personally dedicated to sharing health and wellness information with others. She is a highly experienced yoga, meditation, group fitness instructor, a NASM certified nutritional coach and a Chopra Health coach. Utilizing her unique skill set, her intuition and corporate experience, she creates wellness content and programs that resonate with patrons in a meaningful way.