With the weather transitioning into a new season, the body sometimes has a hard time with the change, and often one of the first signs of illness is a stuffy nose. If not treated carefully, the symptom can grow into nasty colds or even sinus infections. We wash our bodies and brush our teeth every day to keep them clean, so here is something to think about: Why not wash our noses as well?
Most yoga teachers recommend a strict discipline of nostril breathing. Some of us are chronic mouth breathers, which can result in a host of problems from a dry mouth to shortness of breath. Not only is the habit of breathing through the mouth damaging to the body, as air does not pass through the filtering mechanisms of the nose, the ancient Yoga texts say that it is harmful to the mind as well.
The more attention we give to a particular task, the more refined it becomes. It is a common affliction in our age to disconnect from our bodies and let habit take over. In an increasingly polluted world, a common habit is mouth breathing. If the respiratory system is functioning optimally, then nostril breathing should be automatic. Therefore, habitual mouth breathers should focus on the well-being of the nasal cavities in order to improve their respiratory health.
The traditional hatha yoga practice of “jala neti” is particularly useful for restoring the nostrils to the finest condition. It involves making a saline solution and cleaning the nostrils using a specially designed vessel called a neti pot. Once the vessel is filled with the saline liquid, the spout is pressed against the right nostril and the head is tipped to the side, allowing water to flow up the right nostril and out the left. The process is repeated on the left nostril as well.
This cleansing technique promotes sinus drainage and moistens the nasal cavities. The ancient yoga texts say that neti is one of the many practices that prepare the body for evolution. If that concept sounds too new age, we can think of it this way: Cleaner nostrils promote deeper breathing through the nose, which, in turn, can have a dramatic effect on respiratory health.
One more very useful practice is called “kapalbhati.” Different schools teach the method in various ways, but the common thread of the practice is the emphasis on the exhalation. First, take a comfortable seat and allow the belly to relax extend. Then begin to rhythmically contract the belly (the sensation is someone punching the stomach at regular intervals and forcing the air out of the nose). Keep a steady rhythm, with the eyes closed, and complete up to 100 rounds (50 for beginners). Worry not about the inhales, as they happen automatically with the pumping action of the tummy.
On a deeper level, both jala neti and kapalbhati teach us to be aware of what we are doing, even to the smallest detail such as the breath: After all, we do not shove food in our nose, so why should we shove air in our mouths?