Written with Briana Borten
There are several simple daily practices recommended in Ayurvedic medicine for maintaining health. One of the most valuable of these routines, especially during cold and flu season, is the combination of neti and nasya. Now that neti pots are available in almost any drug or health food store, you’ve probably used one or heard of them. But, less familiar to Westerners is neti’s essential partner – nasya. Ideally, these two practices should always be done together.
Neti is the process of cleansing the nasal passages with salt water, using a “neti pot.” In medical terminology, it’s referred to as saline nasal irrigation (SNI). A neti pot is shaped like a small tea pot or Aladdin-style oil lamp, the spout of which fits comfortably in a nostril. They are available in ceramic, metal, and plastic. If you can’t easily find one in a store, there are plenty of online vendors.
Start with warm, clean water (body temperature is good). A standard recipe is 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup of water. Try this concentration first, and adjust the saltiness by adding more water or salt if necessary. Usually you will need to add salt if there is a burning sensation. Regular table salt without iodine tends to be most comfortable. The ideal degree of saltiness varies somewhat from person to person. Some studies advocate 0.9% salt, though a better guide is how it feels and tastes. It should be about the same saltiness as tears. When the solution is correct for you there will be no burning sensation.
Fill the pot with your saline solution, stand over a sink, and place the tip of the spout in one nostril. Tip your head sideways without leaning your head forward or back. As the pot is tipped, the solution should enter one nostril and flow out the other. It helps to keep your mouth open and don’t try to breathe through your nose. Pour half of the solution through one nostril and then the other half of the solution through the other nostril. This process cleanses the nasal passages of small particles, bacteria, and other organisms which can cause allergies, colds, and sinus infections. SNI is becoming the standard of care, even in mainstream medicine, for allergic rhinitis and chronic sinus infections.
Typically, the nose is cleared of any mucus first thing in the morning and then neti is performed as basic nasal-sinus maintenance. If you’re suffering from allergies or a sinus infection, it can be repeated two or three times per day.
Nasya, the lubrication of the nasal passages with oil, is the second step in this process, and it should not be overlooked. We frequently hear from patients who have tried neti without nasya that they felt more congested or dry afterwards. This is usually because the salt water dried out the nasal passages, which stimulated the body to secrete more mucus to protect these membranes.
When nasya is done after neti, the nasal passages are soothed and moistened with a constitutionally-appropriate oil and there is no dryness or reactive mucus production. There are two main ways of applying oil to the nasal passages. One is to place oil on your clean pinky and use this to lightly coat the inside of each nostril with oil. The other option (which we prefer) is to use an eyedropper to instill 4-5 drops of oil into each nostril while lying down. With this second method, it is best to relax in this position for a few minutes to let the oil penetrate deeply. The second method is more nourishing to your nasal membranes and should be done at least once a week.
If you know your dosha (prakriti), you can observe the following: For vata types, (untoasted) sesame oil is best. Pitta types should use sunflower oil. Grapeseed oil is best for kapha types. If you do not know your constitution type or would just like to use a general “tridoshic” oil, you can use safflower oil or liquid ghee (clarified butter). There are also many medicated nasya oils for specific ailments and constitutional needs. These tend to be stronger and may be formulated for a particular therapeutic effect. At The Dragontree, we sell our own nasya oil (made by Dr. Borten) – a blend specifically for allergies, sinus infections, and colds. (You may find it somewhat strong for daily maintenance use. If so, it can be diluted 50/50 with regular oil, or just use a plain, unmedicated oil.)
The importance of following neti with nasya cannot be overemphasized. Nasya provides lubrication and protection against new pathogens in the nasal passageways after being cleansed by neti. If the nasya step is skipped then the process of neti could potentially open up the membranes to further susceptibility. The nasal passages work best at trapping airborne irritants and germs when they’re moist. Dryness, such as the dry air in an airplane cabin, makes them less effective.
If you practice yoga, neti and nasya are valuable routines for ensuring optimal absorption of prana, and they’re quite helpful if you practice pranayama – especially if you do so for long sessions. In Ayurveda, the nose is considered the gateway to the brain and the administration of neti and nasya is also said to enliven consciousness and intelligence.
Wishing you a happy nose,
Peter & Briana