I Always Get Stuffy … or … Why and How to Use a Neti Pot
The massage treatment has come to the point when I ask the client to gently turn their body on the table to face upwards, and I notice a change in the quality of their breath. Each inhale and exhale through the nose sounds muffled, belabored, and stuffy. It is at this point that many clients vocalize a discomfort that had been building while lying on their stomach with their face comfortably held by the face cradle:
“I always get stuffy when I get a massage.”
Invariably, the stuffiness subsides after a few moments lying on the back, but for some people the stuffiness lingers.
Invariably, I suggest using a neti pot every 1-3 weeks, depending on the severity of the congestion.
Why, if it appears to be a temporary discomfort that only happens when lying face-down, do I suggest regular nasal irrigation? The answer is multi-layered. Even though the stuffiness is experienced for only a few moments – seemingly only when in a massage treatment – it is actually always present. How do I know this? Because I’ve had a long journey with my own sinuses and I’ve learned a lot about how they work. That’s another story, but suffice to say that I suffered more than a year of chronic sinusitis as a teenager and was prescribed every kind of western medication. None of the medicines were effective and they had nasty side-effects. My doctor did also suggest nasal irrigation, but the suggestion did not include the neti pot, so my experience and assumption was that nasal irrigation just didn’t work. I tried to deliver the warm saline solution to my sinuses using many strange kitchen utensils, which was very messy and I don’t suggest trying. The neti pot is designed to work perfectly with gravity and simple principles of physics to easily and effectively flush the sinus cavities.
In my experience as a massage therapist, yoga instructor and singer (all three professions involve close attention to the client or student’s quality of breath), I have noticed that most people are walking around with old mucus in their head. This old mucus lies unseen in the bottom of the maxillary sinus cavity, which is just below the eye cavity and spans about the length of nostril to jaw joint. This cavity is actually quite large and can hold a large volume of mucus before it is even overtly detected by the average person.
The body uses mucus to lubricate mucus membranes and clean waste from the body, so there is always a little healthy mucus being produced by normal, functioning sinus cavity mucus membranes. However, if we don’t regularly flush the sinuses, the mucus becomes stagnant. With old, impacted mucus in the sinus cavities, we find ourselves fighting off colds, flus and other airborne viruses and bacterial infections more frequently because there is basically a nice cozy Petri Dish in our heads for those pathogens to settle in and multiply. We also find that we get stuffy when lying face down in a relaxing, rejuvenating massage treatment. Although the latter scenario doesn’t seem so bad, it means the former is likely happening a lot, too.
Neti pots are a wonderful invention that probably originated in India. Neti practices have been an important aspect of Ayurvedic medicine and Yogic practices called Shat Karma for over 5,000 years. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a text that explains Hatha Yoga as a system of purifying the body and mind to awaken the kundalini energy and attain Samadhi, Neti is the first in a list of 6 practices to cleanse the physical body. In Ayurvedic medicine, Neti – or nasal cleansing – could be done with a string (sutra neti) or with various liquids such as water, milk, or ghee. These Ayurvedic methods should only be performed under the care of a studied and practiced doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine. However, consistent Neti with sterile saline water is safe for almost everyone.
Here’s how to do it:
First, you will need a neti pot! They look like small tea pots with a long spout that fits perfectly in a nostril. There are inexpensive plastic models at most drug stores, but I suggest spending a little more on a ceramic model that can be found at most local food co-ops, locally owned health food stores, or at online sources.
Next, wash the neti pot and your hands thoroughly! The neti pot can be sterilized with boiled water before each use, but a good washing with soap and water will do.
The best way to cleanse the sinuses is with purified, sterile water. No matter the water source – the tap, your home water filtration system, or bottled water – it should be boiled for 3-5 minutes to kill any potential pathogens that might be hanging out.
After boiling, allow the water to cool until it is warm. Test the water temperature on the back of your hand or your wrist to see if it is cool enough to enter your nasal passages. The skin in these areas is more sensitive, so by testing the water on these places you will have a good idea if the temperature will be perfect.
Any time after boiling, add either a prepared saline packet for neti pots from the local drug store, or sea salt, or pickling/canning salt. The measurement should be about 1 – 1.5 teaspoons. Table salt is not safe to ingest at all, and is certainly not OK for entering the sinuses, so I suggest tossing it out altogether.
Once the water is slightly warmer than body temperature and the salt is dissolved into the water, head to the bathroom sink with the neti pot, and grab a clean hand towel on your way.
With your head leaned over the sink and tilted slightly to one side, pour the soothing warm salt water into one nostril and watch as gravity carries it out the other nostril and into the sink. Pour half of the contents of the neti pot through one nostril, and then switch sides.
While the nasal irrigation takes place, it is helpful to lightly hold the breath or breathe through your mouth. With your head tipped slightly forward and to one side, gravity will naturally carry the water through your nasal passages and it will not go down your throat.
After cleansing, resist the urge to blow your nose right away. While standing, do a quick forward fold from the waist and stand up quickly. Any water that is still in the sinus cavities will drip out. Do this 2-3 times. At that point, you may gently blow your nose. Gently blowing the nose after 2-3 quick forward folds will prevent water from being forced into the Eustachian tube and into the inner ear. Water may drip out within an hour of nasal irrigation, and you may experience some post-nasal drip and mucus drainage, so just keep a tissue nearby. Be sure to expel any drainage from your cavities. Do not swallow the fluid that drips from the sinuses down the throat because that keeps the waste materials and unbenefitial organisms in your body. Best to get them out!
Regular nasal irrigation with a neti pot using warm, sterile saline water will relieve you of stuffy situations, reduce the severity of allergic reactions and reduce the number of colds and flus you experience greatly. David Crow has this to say about nasal irrigation in his book, In Search of the Medicine Buddha :
Using nasal insufflations to energize the brain and increase cerebral circulation, yogic healers can treat various ailments of the eyes, ears, nose, and throat, as well as increase mental capacity. They pour warm salt water into one nostril and out the other, activating the sinus cavities and their connections to the brain, desensitizing the body to external pathogens, and eliminating allergic reactions. The respiratory calisthenics that yogis practice to bring about physiological alterations to enhance meditation have been adopted by Ayurvedic doctors and modified for such purposes as controlling asthma attacks
If the sniffles do happen to sneak up on you, flushing the sinuses 2-4 times a day will reduce a 2-week cold to about 3 days. I have been testing everything written here for about 15 years and they work! So, try it out. At first is may feel like a strange or even unpleasant sensation, but after the first, second, or third nasal irrigation it will be quite soothing and normal. After the first nasal irrigation there will definitely be a lighter, clearer sensation in the nasal passages and in the head over-all.
1 Petri Dish – a Petri dish is a small circular dish that scientists use to grow and observe organic cultures such as bacterium, molds, mosses and viruses. The dish is filled with a moist, mucus-like substrate that is a favorable environment for the culture being observed.
2 The Kundalini energy lies latent at the base of the spine. Once awakened by yogic practices, it rises up the central energy column that mirrors the location of the spine, and induces a state called Samadhi. Samadhi is a bliss-state of complete realization in the intrinsic divine nature of existence.
3 Source: The History & Science of the Nasal Wash. Yoga International https://yogainternational.com/article/view/the-history-science-of-the-nasal-wash
4 There are always exceptions to every rule. Most healthy preteens through adult-aged humans with normally formed sinuses are eligible for regular Neti pot cleansing. In this case the exceptions are very very very few. Western medical doctors are usually skeptical of eastern medicine without reason, knowledge or experience, so I don’t suggest consulting your Western medical doctor. Find a reputable doctor of Ayurvedic medicine if you need to inquire.