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Advanced Yoga Practices
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Note: For the complete lessons, with additions, see the AYP Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.

Lesson 313 - Cleansing of Mouth, Nasal Passages and Sinuses

From: Yogani
Date: Mar 4, 2009

New Members: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"



Whether we are looking to improve our health, or advance our spiritual progress, cleansing of the mouth, nasal passages and sinuses can be an important activity. Not everyone will need to do this beyond the basic methods of oral hygiene, but it is good to know that we can do more as the need arises.

Once the nervous system is ready to begin to open ecstatically (kundalini), cleansing in the nasal passages and sinuses can become especially significant. The neurobiology of the brain as influenced by mudras such as sambhavi and kechari tie in with this also. So there is a higher purpose to these cleansing methods.

Mouth and Tongue

We have all been brought up (hopefully) to practice good oral hygiene by brushing our teeth every day and flossing regularly to remove tartar (plaque) from our teeth. There are varying opinions on using antiseptic mouthwashes, so it is suggested to go with the intuition on that. Our habits of oral hygiene will improve as we advance in yoga.

A yoga method that can be added to daily oral hygiene, which few may be exposed to in modern society, is tongue scraping. Sometimes brushing the tongue with the toothbrush is advised after brushing the teeth. The yogic equivalent of this is tongue scraping, which is far more effective for removing tartar and its resident bacteria from the tongue. This involves using the edge of a straight piece of metal or plastic to scrape the top of the tongue forward from the area right in front of the taste buds. A more effective tool for this is a flat strip of metal that has been bent into a "U" shape. The curved edge can be used to scrape forward on the top of the tongue, covering the full top surface with a single stroke, or several repetitions.

The amount of tartar collected with tongue scraping in this manner will far exceed what can be accomplished with a brush, and will greatly reduce the amount of tartar collecting on the teeth as well.

Of course, excessive tartar on the tongue and teeth can be a sign of an imbalance in the diet and/or general health condition. If that is the case, we can step back further and look at our lifestyle to address the root causes of excess proteins and bacteria (tartar) building up in the mouth. If we do this, we will find ourselves with a much cleaner mouth, and much better all around health as well.

The condition of our mouth at any point in time is a visible indication of the condition of the rest of our body, and the quality of life we have been living.

Nasal Passages and Sinuses Neti Pot
The nasal passages and sinuses play a key role in the neurobiology of human spiritual transformation and the rise to enlightenment. It is through this region that an intimate connection between the brain and the rest of the nervous system occurs. So daily cleansing of the nasal passages and sinuses may be desirable at certain times along our path. We will know intuitively when it is time for this. There are also significant health benefits to be found in knowing how to cleanse these delicate tissues.

The age-old yogic shatkarma for cleansing the nasal passages and sinuses is called jala neti, or nasal wash, which is running salted water through in a safe and comfortable way. Several mudras and pranayama methods work in the nasal passages and sinuses also, without using water. These include yoni mudra, kechari mudra, sambhavi mudra, bastrika pranayama, and kapalbhati.

The simplest way to begin to do jala neti is with a neti pot, which is like a small teapot with a spout that fits comfortably into the nostril. It is easily obtained through any yoga supply store. With appropriately mixed salty water in the neti pot and the spout inserted in one nostril with face turned down over the sink, then the head is turned to the side so the water will run into the nostril. From there it will run through the nasal passage, over the back edge of the nasal septum (the divider between left and right nostrils), and back out through the other nostril and into the sink.

This is first done through one nostril, and then through the other nostril. The order does not matter. As long as the head is tipped forward during this procedure, no water will find its way into the throat. A little might spill over into the mouth, and that can be easily expelled through the mouth. (See the next section on doing jala neti using a bowl.)

In the course of doing this easy procedure with a neti pot, the sinuses will also be filled with the saline solution, gently massaging and cleansing them. Once both nostrils have received and emptied the neti pot, and have drained, it will take a few minutes more to drain the sinuses. This is done by slowly tilting the head to the left and the right, and then up and down over the sink. Water will continue to come out of the sinuses for a few minutes, so be patient. If you walk out of the bathroom too soon, you may end up draining your sinuses on the living room rug!

The amount of salt we put in the water is important, as this determines the comfort (or lack of it) we will find in doing jala neti.

Obviously, if the practice gives us discomfort, we will not be inclined to do it. So getting the salt content right is essential. Everyone will be a little different in this, so some trial and error will probably be necessary to get the salt content just right for you.

Slightly warm tap water can be used, if the water is sanitary. It is preferred to use pure salt without additives, such as iodine. One to two teaspoons per quart or liter of water is a range of concentration, which translates to about one-half to one teaspoon per pint or half liter. For a small neti pot, a few pinches of salt will be adequate.

Adjustments to salt content are made based on how it feels going through our nostrils. Everyone is a little different in this, and the above ranges are approximate. If there is too much or too little salt, there can be stinging sensations or other signs of discomfort, and we should adjust our salt content accordingly. No permanent damage will result from using incorrect salt concentration, but it isn't fun either, so we should make the necessary adjustments. When the salt content is right for us, there will be no discomfort at all as the water passes through our sensitive nasal and sinus tissues. This is how we will know we have the correct salt content. Experiment and see for yourself.

It is like that with many yoga practices. The most comfortable application of a yoga practice is usually the best application. Always self-pace for that.

Jala neti can be performed daily as part of our morning hygiene, or as needed. It is an excellent practice to do if we are having health issues in the sinuses or nasal passages. By itself, jala neti is not a cure for the common cold, but it can help prevent one, or shorten the duration if one occurs. Jala neti practice included as part a daily routine of integrated yoga practices, can have a dramatic effect on our overall health and well-being. Good health often accompanies the process of human spiritual transformation, assuming one is moderate in practices and lifestyle.

For more advanced practitioners, the neti pot may be replaced with a bowl. Jala neti may also be combined with amaroli (discussed in an upcoming lesson).

Nasal Passages and Sinuses Water Bowl
Once we have mastered the neti pot, we may feel like we'd like to have a more thorough cleansing of our nasal passages and sinuses. This will mean using more water than can be delivered at one time with the small neti pot. Of course, we can keep refilling the neti pot and run as much water through as we like. There is also another way, which is using a bowl instead of neti pot, and drawing the water up directly through our nasal passages with negative pressure from the lungs, rather than a neti pot, which relies on gravity to pass water through the nasal passages.

Using a bowl for jala neti is a more advanced procedure, but not nearly as difficult or risky as it might seem when first considering it.

It can be a pretty short trip from the neti pot to sucking salted warm water up from a bowl with both nostrils and expelling it through the mouth. The bowl can be emptied in a few cycles this way. The water can also be expelled through the nose, but that is messier. The nasal pharynx is a natural vessel for this operation, and even has a "dam" in the form of the soft palate inhibiting the water from running down into the throat while inhaling it up through the nose. This is the same function the soft palate serves when we are using the neti pot.

Using the bowl is fast and effective. The longest part of it is waiting for the sinuses to drain, which can take a few minutes. That is true of any form of jala neti, but especially when doing a whole bowl, which can be a pint (half-liter) or more of water.

If this form of jala neti sounds risky, it isn't. With this procedure, the instances of inhaling water will be practically non-existent. We have a natural ability to handle water in this way. But if the salt content is too much or too little, it will not be so pleasant, so do mind the instructions above for getting the salt content adjusted just right for your comfort.

The guru is in you.

Note: For detailed instructions on shatkarmas (cleansing techniques), see the Diet, Shatkarmas and Amaroli book.

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