If you haven’t had a good old cold this winter, don’t let your guard down now. Spring often arrives with a nice sprinkling of viruses which are desperate to get into your nose and mouth.
Ideally your digestion will be working well, your body tissues will be well nourished and your immunity (ojas) thus strong and working well. Any germs getting into your mouth or nose will be summarily rejected and you won’t suffer.
If, however, living a busy and somewhat stressful life and possibly taking a few health short-cuts has taken its toll, your immunity may not be up to the battle. If your nose has been a bit too welcoming and you start to feel the tickle of some impending lurgy, take action quickly and you can flush out those germs before they take hold.
A great way to do this is with a neti pot.
Neti pot, neti what?
This is what.
A neti pot is simply a neat little jug which enables you to pour saline solution (salt water) into your nose. You fill it with a lovely warm salt solution and pour it in one nostril, then another and voila, your nose is flushed out and as inhospitable as possible to those viruses. Follow this with a little bit of oil to lubricate and protect the lining of the nose and you are in the best possible position to say NO to germs. This has been part of the Yogic and Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years and is so delightfully simple and yet effective that it never fails to astound me.
As a front-line defence, this works incredibly well. Using a neti-pot is also incredibly useful to deal with helping when a cold or sinus problem is established. People with allergies also find using a neti-pot incredibly useful as a daily method of flushing out pollens, dust and other allergens from the nose.
How does it work?
Using salt water in a neti pot to flush out the nose work in three main ways:
- Osmosis. With my chemistry degree behind me, I’ll try not to get too detailed on you. Osmosis basically means that when you pour salt water into your nose, water moves out of the cells in the lining of your nose into the solution. This is useful because cells which are irritated are likely to be swollen (holding on to more water) and therefore if we can draw water out of them, they’ll be less swollen and less hospitable to germs. If there is mucous in the passages, the excess water from that is also drawn out, reducing the amount of mucous and its ‘come and live in me’ effect.
- Mechanical. By physically moving water along the nasal passages, mucous, crusts, debris, dust, allergens and germs are physically moved along and out (like a shower for your nose).
- Antibacterial. Salt water is not a nice environment for bacteria to live in (it draws their water out too, which kills them) so if there are any bacteria trying to get a look in, they too are done away with.
What else can I do when I feel that tickle?
- Gargle with salt water too, this helps with germs in the throat. Likewise, gargling with a little water with 4 drops of tea-tree oil in, acts as a fantastic germ killer. As with the nose, after using salt to clean out, nourish and protect the linings of the mouth with oil by swilling a little sesame oil around the mouth.
- Keep a really good eye on your diet and lifestyle for the next few days, obviously eating lots of vegetables, fruit (but not with meals) and easily digestible food (avoid dairy, red-meat, fried foods and refined sugar during these times). Warm soups and lightly steamed vegetables with spices (ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, mint, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, oregano) works wonders. Adding a bit more garlic to your meals will help too.
- Raw ginger, raw ginger, raw ginger. Have it in a tea, with lemon and once it is warm rather than boiling hot, add some raw honey.
- Stay warm and out of the wind.
- Take some shitopaladi churna with some raw honey or warm water for a more intense hit of anti-cold medicine.
Right, let’s get using your neti pot
1. Before you start; a few precautions
There are a few essential precautions that you need to follow for it to be effective and safe. Don’t be scared though, it is remarkably easy to follow these.
- Use boiled water to make up a saline solution.
- DO NOT USE TAP WATER. This may contain bacteria etc which will go directly in the nose.
- DO NOT USE WATER WITHOUT SALT. Plain water without salt will be painful and won’t draw out the mucous. Make sure your saline solution is the right strength – too weak or too strong will make it ineffective and/or painful. Use salt which is pure and free from chemical additives. See detailed instructions below.
- Always fully drain out the sinuses and nasal passages after using the neti pot.
- Keep your neti pot and water container clean.
- Wash it after each use (and, ideally, before as well) in hot soapy water and rinse well. Make sure the detergent you use isn’t heavily scented as that will taint the neti pot. Using a dishwasher is also fine.
2. Gather your equipment
- Neti pot (see below for where to buy)
- Clean glass jar with a lid
- Permanent marker pen
- Measuring jug/cup
- ¼ tsp (1.25ml) measuring spoon*
*if you have a scoop that came with your neti pot, use that and adapt the amount of water to that specified in the leaflet. E.g. With a 1ml scoop for salt, use 130ml cooled boiled water and 70ml freshly boiled water.
3. Prepare the saline solution
I’m giving incredibly detailed advice here for those who like that kind of thing (probably if you are kapha or pitta type!). If you are more of a vata-type, wing-it person, you’ll probably ignore the lot of it and go free-style. Just remember to get the right proportion of salt to water.
First time use:
- Put one ¼ tsp scoop of (preferably rock) salt in the jar.
- Add 160ml of freshly boiled water to the jar. Draw a line with your permanent marker around the jar where the water comes to. This means you don’t have to measure out the water next time.
- Close lid and allow to cool to room temperature.
- When you want to use the neti pot, add 90ml of freshly boiled water to the jar. Draw a line with the permanent marker around this water level too. You now have 2 lines.
- This should now be body-temperature water that you can use in the neti pot. Check the temperature before using.
- Use your neti pot (see below).
- Repeat step 1, 2 and 3 (but without drawing the lines). Leave solution for next use.
Ongoing neti pot use:
- Take your jar of room-temperature, salty water and add freshly boiled water up to the top line.
- Check temperature and use.
- Put one ¼ tsp scoop of salt in the jar.
- Add freshly boiled water up to the first line, replace lid and leave for next use.
4. Use your neti pot
- Pour half the warm salt solution into the neti pot.
- Lean over a sink.
- Put the neti pot into the least congested nostril. Tip your head to that side and gently pour the solution into your nostril, breathing calmly out of your mouth.
- When all the liquid has passed through, stand up and blow forcibly out of both nostrils to expel the fluid into the sink.
- Repeat with the rest of the solution in the other nostril, tilting to the opposite side.
- Clear the nose and sinuses well. Hang your head upside down and shake it a few times. Keeping it down, also shake it on one side and then the other. Blow your nose gently and release all the water.
- Put a drop of sesame oil, a smudge of ghee or a dab of coconut oil onto your finger and rub into the lining of the nose. This is important to nourish the membranes and help deter invaders.
This gets easier and easier as you do it, very quickly becoming a natural and pleasant practice.
Where can I buy a neti pot?
There are many suppliers online. Everytime I recommend a link to a client, it seems to be out of date before it even gets clicked! So, no links here, just a recommendation to type ‘ceramic neti pot’ into Ebay. Go for one with a roughly 200ml capacity or above. Fancier isn’t always better. Don’t be lured into buying a plastic one, hot water and plastic doesn’t make for a healthy saline solution…
How often should I use the neti pot?
Use the neti pot as soon as you feel a tickle in the throat or nose. Continue to use daily until you are sure the cold hasn’t established.
If you suffer from hay fever and other allergies, you may want to use it several times a day to clear allergens out of the nasal passages.
If you are prone to sinus problems (if you, like me, have imperfectly formed sinuses which love to invite invaders in), you may find you need to use it every day (ideally in the morning and if you suffer a lot, in the evening too).