Neti or Jala Neti is a process of cleansing and purifying the nasal passages with a nasal rinse cup and water or saline solution. This allows free breathing so that air can enter the lungs unimpeded by mucus and dirt which easily builds up during the day.
To enjoy smooth respiration, you need to take care that both the nostrils should be clear and the passage within them should be completely open for air to move. But with many people, it is usually only one of the nostrils that is open. Hence it is important for you to clean the nasal passage. Yoga gives a kriya called Neti which is useful for clearing the nostrils.
How Neti is Performed?
In Neti, a thick thread of about one foot made by interlacing three or four thin threads and softened with butter or oil is passed through one of the nostrils and is brought out through the mouth. Hold both the ends of the thread together and rub the nasal passage by pulling both the ends of the thread, alternating to and fro. When you finish cleaning one nostril, take out the thread from the mouth. Wash the thread properly and insert it in the other nostril. Repeat the process. You can replace the thread with a rubber catheter and derive the same purpose.
You can also perform a milder version of Neti by pouring lukewarm water with a dash of table salt through a cup with a spout into your nostril. You stoop slightly forward and tilt your head to a side to pour water. Do not permit the water to go down the throat but it should come out through the other nostril.
Drinking water through the nose can be another form of Neti. The water should not be either too cold or too warm. Take this water in a bowl, dip your nostrils slightly into the bowl and then tilt it. Suck the water gently and let it go down the nostrils. This will irritate the inside of the nasal passage initially, since the upper side of the nasal passage is very delicate and water will irritate it. But regular practice will teach you to pass the water through the lower nostril, so there is no irritation. This method is very useful in warm climates as it cleans the nasal passage and has a soothing and refreshing effect on the nasal canal, brain and eyes.
As per tradition, water is kept in a copper vessel overnight and is drunk through the nose early in the morning. Once you get the experience, you can easily empty an entire glass of water within a minute or two. You can then enjoy the yogic breathing after cleaning both the nostrils. But people with a deviated nasal septum or any breathing disorder should always take medical advice before doing yogic breathing.
What are Benefits of Neti?
It has been found from experience in the ashram that many diseases can be cleared up or at least alleviated, by using the simple process of neti combined with other therapeutic techniques. Neti has been used successfully to treat the following ailments: colds and coughs, eye ailments, nose ailments, throat ailments, sinusitis, tonsillitis, catarrh, adenoid inflammation, headache, insomnia, tiredness, migraine, epilepsy, depression, tension, lung diseases (asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis and bronchitis), facial paralysis.
Perhaps the most surprising of the benefits includes the alleviation of facial paralysis, epilepsy and migraine. In scientific terms it is not easy to explain these benefits. In this short article we will give a summary of the effects of neti based on our experience and observations.
What are General Effects of Neti?
The effects of jala neti can be divided into two groups : direct and indirect. Let us discuss these in turn.
Direct effects are those that come directly from the salt water. This brings about stimulation of:
a) the olfactory nerves situated at the very top of the nasal cavity. These are concerned with the sense of smell.
b) the sensory nerves coming from the nose and face and going directly to the brain. This is called the fifth cranial or trigemminal nerve.
c) the mucus membrane (covering) of the nose.
d) the blood vessels in the nasal cavity.
e) the lymphatics in the nasal region.
Indirect effects include repercussions which occur in the body as a result of cleaning the nose. They include :
a) improved conditioning of the air before entering the respiratory passages and lungs.
b) better overall health as a result of improved lung efficiency.
c) a soothing effect on the eye-socket; this is due to the stimulation of the fifth cranial nerve which has branches in the eye and eye muscles.
d) reflex soothing of the whole face as a result of stimulating the sensory cortex (brain) via the fifth cranial nerve; the sensory cortex sends impulses to the facial muscles via the motor nerves.
e) re-balancing of the autonomic nervous system (this is the automatic nervous system, which regulates the different organs of the body according to the needs of the environment: either 'fight or flight' to counteract stress, or relaxation). The olfactory nerves in the nose are connected to a part of the brain called the hippocampus which is associated with deeper structures in the brain, concerned with regulation of the autonomic nerves. Stimulation of the olfactory nerves thus influences the autonomic functions of the body.
f) soothing of the brain; this helps to reduce stress and tension.
g) opening up and re-balancing of the pranic channels. These pranic channels are in the pranic body (bio-plasmic body) and have been photographed by Kirlian apparatus. They have been proved to be the underlying system that maintains the health of the physical body. Subtle prana is absorbed into the pranic body via the nose. Therefore improved efficiency and cleanliness in the nose leads to better health at a pranic level. Let us discuss these effects in a little more detail.
What are Physical Effects of Neti?
The lining of the nose, the mucus membrane, is very sensitive. It contains myriads of tiny glands which secrete a sticky mucus substance to trap and remove dust and dirt from the inhaled breath. These glands also moisten the air to the correct degree of humidity before entering the lungs. Within the nose there are also multitudes of small, fine hairs which further filter and clean the air. Breathing through the mouth means that all these processes are bypassed. For good health it is essential to breathe through the nose at all times.
Neti ensures that the nostrils are kept clean and in good functional condition; this helps to ensure the best possible health.
The two main nerves in the nose are the olfactory (smell) and the fifth cranial (facial sense perception). These are stimulated by the passage of water during neti and send nerve impulses direct to the brain. This leads to the stimulation of other nerve connections in the brain. Eventually motor and autonomic nerve fibres are fired at the end of the nerve pathways and different parts of the brain are stimulated. The ramifications are widespread throughout the whole body. If you do neti you can almost feel the impulses inside the brain; one feels the effects immediately. One feels light-headed and 'high' - it is a pleasant sensation.
The olfactory nerve passes into the area of the brain which is the oldest from the evolutionary point of view. It is connected with the autonomic nervous system. Stimulation of this nerve during neti helps to balance the autonomic nervous system. The fifth cranial nerve, on the other hand, passes through the thalamus into the higher brain centres, which are concerned with receiving and interpreting sensory information from the very sensitive areas of the face. As a result of stimulation during neti, the motor cortex sends messages to the muscles of the face and eyes.
Neti brings about a profound physical stimulation of the whole brain. It helps to bring relief in cases of facial paralysis and other nervous diseases. Soothing of the brain helps to soothe and relax the rest of the body. Neti helps to remove blocks in the flow of nervous impulses and thereby it brings good health.
Other ailments, such as colds, sinusitis etc. are also alleviated by the direct cleaning, antiseptic and purifying effect of the salt water.
The effects of neti can be explained at a physical level. The explanation, however, should not be confined to this level since neti also acts on a pranic and mental level.
What are Effects of Neti on Pranic Body?
Prana is the vital energy which underlies the physical body and maintains life. It flows through the human framework in multitudes of channels comprising the pranic body. If there is a block or imbalance in the pranic flow then we get sick. Neti helps to induce and maintain this free flow and balance of prana and thereby brings good health.
The essence of air is prana. Our body absorbs this subtle prana through the nose during respiration. Therefore thorough cleansing of the nose with neti leads to better health at a pranic level.
The flow of breath in each nostril has profound implications. The right flow is called the pingala, the sun nostril, and is concerned with the external environment, physical activity and warmth. The left flow is called the ida, the moon flow, and is associated with the internal environment, mental activity and coolness.
If you examine your nostril flows at different times of the day you will find that one of them predominates. Occasionally the flows are equal; in this case, the breath is said to be flowing in the sushumna. During sushumna flow, both the physical and pranic bodies are in balance.
These facts have yet to be verified by scientific experiments, but will be in the near future. The flow of breath through the nostrils has a direct influence on the flow of prana. Neti helps to balance the two breath flows, and thereby brings balance into the ida and pingala flows of the subtle pranic body, as well as the autonomic nervous system at a physical level. This leads to flow of the sushumna and overall balance of one's whole being. This helps to induce good health and peace of mind. Neti brings benefits which are not easy to explain in terms of modern science.
Incidentally, the practices of pranayama are concerned with gaining some control over prana via the breathing process. For these practices to be effective, the nose must be clean to allow free flow of air and efficient absorption of prana through the nose. Neti is therefore essential for serious practice of pranayama.