neti & nasya: sinus rinse for optimal immunity
Another great winter practice for immunity is Neti and Nasya. In Ayurveda, neti is an essential practice to cleanse and purify the sinuses, mucosa that line our nasal passages and mucosa lining our upper respiratory tract. I had a yoga teacher describe using a neti pot as “soaking the dishes.” The warm salt water drains any stubborn or excess mucus to prevent congestion and infection. However, A KEY component of neti that is often overlooked is NASYA. The application of medicated oil to the nasal passages after being rinsed.
Anatomy of Our Nasal Passageways:
Firstly, I want to explain a little bit about the anatomy of the nasal passages and upper respiratory tract and how excess mucous affects our health. This tissue is lined with finger like projections called “cillia.” These are like little brooms constantly working to sweep away excess mucous, pollutants, pollens and disease causing microbes that enter our nasal passages and lungs. They sweep them right into the lymph system and digestive system to be cleared away, which are like the dump trucks of our body. So when this team isn’t working optimally it’s like having a dirty broom, or a vacuum that needs a new bag, or a trash team that’s understaffed...ok I digress. Essentially, our precious cilia get gummed-up, our lymph and digestive systems lose balance, and pathogens don’t clear properly, leading to disease (chronic sinusitis, infection, a compromised immune system, bronchitis, asthma, sinus pain and pressure...the list goes on).
Back to neti and nasya specifically. Neti is the use of salt water to irrigate and wash our sinus passageways. It can have a drying effect on the delicate mucus membranes which is where nasya comes in. Once the sinuses are stripped of their natural lubrication the tissue will secrete more mucus to relubricate, essentially exacerbating the mucous problem. Anyone else have acne (at any age really) and used Clearasil as a teen!?! That incredibly drying and tingling cream that you just thought would suck the life out of every pimple leaving you clear-faced like the model in the TV ads in the morning? Only to find out your acne likely didn’t go away? Sigh. Eventually a dermatologist (maybe? I actually don’t remember who) told me that oily skin will just secrete more oil when it becomes dry (from something harsh and astringent like Clearasil). Awww. Anywho...I digress.
(Sidenote: the lining of our nasal passages is the same as our skin, is the same as the lining to our gut. What happens in one area can often be a pointer to what is happening in a different area).
Using a nasya oil after the neti water strips the lining of mucus and gunk away will line this membrane with the moisture it needs to feel protected, moisturized and feed the healthy microbes that fight off congestion and infection. When good bacteria flourish, bad bacteria will naturally be kept in check. A well oiled machine of an immunity team! Cilia effectively sweep gunk to the lymph, which carry said gunk to be deconstructed and digested.
The herbs used in infused medicated oils are specific for having a moisturizing effect, as well as support brain function, mental clarity, and memory. Such herbs include gotu cola and calamus. Traditionally in Ayurveda, while cleansing the sinuses optimizes lymph drainage around the brain, this function also has an effect on clearing old emotions that can become stored in this tissue.
Here is a link to a video describing an in depth cleansing method for clearing stored emotions in the brain sinuses by one of my favorite Ayurvedic practitioners Dr. John Douillard. This video conveys the essence of what I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. That’s it’s a lifestyle medicine. It uses things we have around. It’s time-tested and down-home.
What makes a good nasya?
I have also used straight unmedicated sesame oil as a nasya oil when I haven’t had access to a specific oil. Sesame oil is suitable for all body types and is highly nourishing to all tissues of the body. Expellar pressed, organic and unrefined sesame oil is the best. I would absolutely advise against “Toasted” sesame oil...unless you want the scent of dinner cooking to hitch a ride in your nose all day.
I’ve bought nasya drops from Ayurveda World at Mount Madonna Center. Follow this link to their online store: https://ayurveda-world-herb-store.square.site/. I am also sure a nasya oil can be found at any run of the mill health food store.
¼ teaspoon of non-iodized salt to warm water. You want a solution similar to the body’s pH. If it stings, you can decrease the amount of salt. Also be aware of water temp, you don’t want to burn yourself. Purified water is important. Non-mineralized is also a plus. I keep an electric kettle in the bathroom and turn that on in the morning. Neti can be invigorating so it’s best to do in the morning. Otherwise, do at least 2 hours before bed.
Stand over the sink, or in the shower, or even go outside and let the neti fountain fly in the wind. Tilt your head to the side and pointing the crown of the head slightly down. It takes a little practice, so play with the positioning. Eventually you will feel the water go up one nasal cavity and out the other. In cases of extreme congestion the water won’t flow out the other side. That’s ok, this is what is meant by “soaking the dishes.” Flow out both side a couple times.
Then blow out the nostrils, but don’t hold one side of the nose to blow out the opposite side, as tempting as that may be. This can back-up congestion into the ear canal and we don’t want that. Just gently blow out both nostrils simultaneously.
Nasya: Best done immediately after neti. You can warm the oil gently by placing the bottle in a little bit of warm water. Tilting the head back drop 2-4 drops of oil (start with 2) into each nostril and take a few deep sniffs pulling that oil into upper sinuses. You may taste some of the oil in the back of your throat.
Repeat daily for 2 weeks, or until congestion improves.
This is a powerful and effective way to keep our upper respiratory portion of the immune system in check! It’s a great practice to also improve clarity and alertness in the morning. If you have any questions, experiences or testimonials about your own neti/nasya practice please let me know!