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Clear Your Congestion Naturally

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Clear Your Congestion Naturally

By Shannon Sexton, Yoga+

Do you have a neti pot yet? Droves of Americans are beginning to rely on this small container, which is used to clean out the nasal passages with saline, as a natural remedy for all sorts of congestive ailments. Each year, about 18 million Americans suffer from sinusitis; an estimated 40 million cope with environmental allergies; and there are more than one billion reported cases of upper respiratory tract infections. Many people try to quell their symptoms with antibiotics, nasal steroids, decongestants, and antihistamines. But if you’d prefer to avoid the side effects of medication, why not use a neti pot to learn the nasal wash? The process only takes five minutes–an easy, safe, inexpensive way to obtain relief.

Getting to Know the Nose
The sensitive lining of the nostrils secretes mucus, which effectively traps dust, dirt, and other particles when it is moist. The mucus also contains antibodies, which help protect the body from infection or irritation by foreign materials or organisms. This is important because you inhale 18,000 to 20,000 times daily. All day the moist, sticky mucus collects dirty particles from the air you breathe and keeps it from entering the lungs. If you don’t clean this matter out of the nostrils, it will end up in your stomach, because the mucus lining of the nostrils slowly moves everything backwards until it is swallowed. What’s more, when the mucus becomes dry or laden with dust, it loses its protective function. The nasal wash dissolves and clears away dried mucus and stimulates the nasal linings to secrete fresh, moist mucus, which will help keep your nose–and the rest of your system–healthy.

How It Works
You can use the neti pot to rinse away pollen, dust, germs, and other airborne contaminants; to remove excess mucus when you’re congested; to moisturize the nasal membrane after spending time in planes or in heated or air-conditioned rooms; and to open the nostrils as you prepare for meditation.

The anatomy is simple. As holistic expert Carrie Demers, MD, explains: “Your nose is divided into two passages, and there’s a septum in between. You pour the water in one nostril, it goes around the back of the septum, and gravity helps it flow out the other side.”

The nasal wash, she says, can also prevent or treat sinus infections. “Your sinuses drain into your nasal passages through little openings called meatuses. It’s when these openings get blocked that mucus accumulates and causes pressure and infection. The neti water washes over the meatuses, keeping them open and the mucus inside the sinus cavities flowing out–the water doesn’t actually go into your sinuses.”

Yoga on the Nasal Wash
Yogis call the nasal wash jala neti or neti kriya, and they have been doing it for centuries. They regard the nose as one of the most sensitive parts of our anatomy, and they make bold claims for its benefits: cleaning the nose helps overcome addictions, especially to tobacco and alcohol; it is as effective as nadi shodhanam (alternate nostril breathing) for curbing mood swings; and, because it is one of the six shat karmas (yogic cleansing practices), jala neti washes away at least one-sixth of human complaints.

Lofty promises? Yes. But the yogis encourage us to use our bodies as laboratories. Try it and see for yourself.

The Practice
Neti pots vary in shape and size, so here’s a basic recipe: Mix one-half heaping teaspoon of pure noniodized salt with two cups of warm water until the salt dissolves completely. Adjust the mixture to your own salinity–it should taste like warm tears.

Fill your neti pot and lean over a sink, face downward. Keeping your nose slightly higher than your lips, twist your head to the left. As you breathe through the mouth, insert the spout into the upper nostril until it forms a tight (but comfortable) seal. Raise the handle of the neti pot and let the water flow through the nose and out the lower nostril. When you’ve emptied the pot, exhale through both nostrils into the sink or a tissue. (Do not close off one nostril while blowing, because this could force the water back into the ear.) Then repeat on the other side.

To clear loose mucus and water from the nose after the practice, exhale forcefully into the sink 5 to 10 times with both nostrils open and the face relaxed. Next, do a simple forward bend, turning the head from side to side as you do another round of vigorous exhalations. Remember, one of the goals of the nasal wash is to reduce excess mucus–so don’t be squeamish about blowing it out. You’ll feel better if you do.

Next: Help! Having trouble with your technique? Read my FAQs about the nasal wash.

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Megan, selected from Yoga+ Magazine

Yoga International is an award-winning, independent magazine that contemplates the deeper dimensions of spiritual life--exploring the power of yoga practice and philosophy to not only transform our bodies and minds, but inspire meaningful engagement in our society, environment, and the global community.


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9:29AM PDT on May 27, 2011


11:50PM PDT on Mar 18, 2010


9:17AM PST on Mar 1, 2010


2:49AM PST on Feb 1, 2010

Good advice on limiting dairy intake. I suffer from allergies and sinus congestion on a fairly regular basis. I find that reducing my dairy consumption reduces the severity of my allergy symptoms.
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8:44AM PST on Dec 7, 2009

I finally tried this, using a kit that had packets of salt and baking soda. It does help clear the nose and sinuses, but it really burns, which is very unpleasant. Any suggestions?

11:04PM PST on Nov 23, 2009

A friend recommended a neti pot to me during my most recent cold. I chose a plastic recyclable one from the drugstore, which came with packets of the dry ingredients, and followed the instructions -- since I was a new user, it recommended that I use half a packet of the dry ingredients at a time. It worked beautifully. The congestion cleared, the pressure was gone. Of course, the relief is temporary, but I prefer using the neti pot repeatedly to taking decongestants. Some say the neti pot is unsanitary. Well, it is if you don't clean and disinfect it properly after use. I always took care to wash it with very hot water, and swirled some rubbing alcohol in the pot and poured it out the spout for good measure, in between uses.

6:17AM PDT on Sep 29, 2009

Luda...I've found that once I get a stuffy nose, the neti pot doesn't help much to release the pressure. I generally just continue using it the best I can. I think of it as a more preventative treatment. However, if your daughter removes dairy products (milk, cheese, etc) from her diet (at least for the time that she is sick), the mucas may decrease or at least speed up the road to recovery.

I love my neti pot! I've been using it for about 8 months and haven't had a runny/stuffy nose since! In the past, I'd get at least 3 or 4 sinus infections a year and 5-6 headaches a week. Now, I haven't had a sinus infection all year and I only get headaches every once in a while. I really believe that the neti pot is responsible for a lot of this.

11:33AM PDT on Sep 28, 2009

What is the difference between using regular tea pot? Also for little kids too what is the most effective way to get ride of sinus. My daughter have stuffy and runny nose for a week already i made saline from scratch and use steamy baths but nothing helps really.

9:54AM PDT on Sep 28, 2009

this works wonderfully! I've had much better sucess w/the Grossan than steam...I figured how many times over the years I'd use this...and NOT have to buy allergy pills and squirts of medicine up the nose..."Google" and you'll find web sites are full of info to make the best choice for you.

3:26AM PDT on Sep 28, 2009

Does this work better than inhaling steam? I find steam inhalation really works for me but am always on the lookout for something better as I do suffer from congested sinuses.

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