Healing Respiration with Ayurveda:

Three N’s for the Nose: Nasya, Nettles and Neti

“Boiled with barley and eaten as a porridge several times a day, the fresh or dried leaves of sister spinster stinging Nettle loosen and bring up deep congestion without irritating sensitive respiratory tissues…Considered a specific for adults with asthmatic allergies, Nettle tincture is used for acute care, and the infusion for restorative and healing care.”
Susun Weed, Wise Woman Herbal Healing Wise p175

“The mind is the king of the senses, and the breath is the king of the mind”
BKS Iyengar author of Light on Yoga

Friends and readers…a new season approaches and with it a challenge to the respiratory system. The first organ that the air (or hair, or pollen) encounters is the noble nose. In this article I will share three herbal allies to help keep the nobility of this finely crafted organ from falling into mucus-laden misery. These three herbal Friends are Neti, Nasya, and Nettles.

Before we begin the three specific ways to use Neti, Nasya and Nettles, many of you know I have been devoted to an Indian Master named Meher Baba for thirty-four years; and Meher Baba teaches that the first goal in spiritual evolution is to actually become energy. In Ayurveda energy, or Prana, is held to exist in five distinct forms each available in one of the five breaths found in our physical body. These five breaths are named Prana, Samana, Udhana, Vyana, and Apana. They can be remembered by (the first letter in each word) the sentence “People Smile Understanding Vibrant Air”. And Pathways readers I promise you it is true that if your busy schedule allows you to master the five Pranas you will find as I have that it is true: People Smile Understanding Vibrant Air. For this article we will explore keeping our breath clear when water and earth end up collecting in the nose.

Neti comes from the tradition of Yoga breathing named Pranayama (the control of energy or Prana through breath). Neti, simply stated, describes a variety of ways of washing out the nose with saltwater or herbal preparations in order to keep breathing free and clear of any blockages. There are three choices about Neti you will have to make before learning how to heal your nose this way. First, what kind of Neti pot to buy, secondly what type of liquid either saltwater or another herbal preparation to run through your nose, and finally where to perform this cleansing ritual.

First, the choice is yours as to what type of pot to purchase. Most folks these days associate the practice of Neti with simple white ceramic pots shaped like Aladdin’s lamp that are designed to place in one nostril and let the salt water or herbal preparation flow out the other nostril. These pots hold about a pint of water and make Neti very easy and are the first choice of ways to start with learning how to keep the nose clean and functioning properly. White ceramic neti pots have always been available in most health food stores and now thanks to the magic of a consumer driven society, neti pots come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. All the ones I have tried work fine since all that is needed is a pot that holds a pint, a spout that fits in your nose and an easy way to fill them. So choose the one that is the right color that matches your bathroom and you will be set. These pots come with instructions on how to simply perform Neti.

Secondly, the intelligent informed choice of liquid to run through your noble nose greatly increases the efficacy of this cleansing. Salt water is always the first choice for everyday general Neti and there are now available really cool infused salt rinses with essential oils added to the salt. A variety of companies make these preparations and my fave at this time is the Cold and Flu infused salt blend made by the Baraka Company. No, the company is not named after Barak Obama; rather both the company and our president are named from the Hebrew (Barak) and Arabic (Baraqat) word for the grace of God. Barack is a Semitic word meaning "to bless" as a verb or "blessing" as a noun. In its Hebrew form, barak, it is found all through the Bible. It first occurs in Genesis 1:22: "And God blessed them, saying, be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth." The word Barak occurs 62 times in the book of Genesis alone.

Finally… One chooses where to perform this ritual. I say ritual because if this practice can become pleasant to perform and a regular part of your daily health care regimen you will benefit from it immensely. However, if it never makes it to the exalted status of ritual, you will either only use it to treat symptoms or (horrors) not do Neti at all. So here is an easy tip to make this cleansing an easy part of your day. Do it as part of your shower or bathing instead of in the bathroom sink. This way there is no cleanup and for the squeamish no having to look at what comes out of your nose. In a shower it’s a no brainer and for the bathtub fans just do the Neti before you bathe while allowing the water to warm up. Wasn’t that an easy solution to all the fuss of doing neti in the sink? Look, I know neti takes a little getting used to at first because we are not in the habit in the West of cleansing our nose on a daily basis but it evolves into an actually pleasant experience with practice. Remember as Bobby McFerrin sings, “ all discipline is painful, but the fruit of discipline is sweet”.

Nasya (or Nasya Karma) is the oleation (oiling of) the nose with medicated oils that is one of the five main therapies in Ayurveda, which together are named Pancha Karma, or the five therapies. It is the easiest of the five therapies to do in your home and unlike the other four requires no special equipment or investment of time. Nasya is simply the placing of drops of herbal infused oil in the nose in order to keep the nasal passages lubricated and to get all those wonderful soothing herbal molecules close to the brain on a regular basis so we can stay alert and chilled out at the same time. This is the concept in Ayurveda of a softer breath and therefore a “softer” mind. This is perhaps the first therapy anyone who has breathing issues should learn. The results are immediate and reliable, and the investment is 60 seconds of time daily. Basically what you do is drop 8 or more drops of oil into each nostril and then massage this oil into the mucous membranes gently. 8 drops is the minimum and one can use up to a milliliter of oil, which will then gently lubricate the throat. Start slowly, pay attention, and gently massage the oil into your nasal passages and you will have a happier throat and nose.

Nasya begins with plain uncooked sesame oil and then can evolve into a specific custom designed regimen for your body type or ailments. Any herb can be infused into sesame oil so the choices of herbal therapy for the noble nose are endless. However it is beyond the reach of this Pathways article to describe all the various herbs that can be infused into nasya oil. So the best bet for most folks is to buy already prepared nasya oil in the 30-milliliter (one ounce) size. An ounce is 30 milliliters or ml, each ml is 30 drops so a one ounce bottle is a 60 days supply at 7-8 drops in each nostril daily. I would encourage anyone who anticipates issues in their nose to begin a daily regimen of nasya. However a fallback position would be to begin a daily nasya massage at the fist sign of a cold or flu or allergic response. There are a variety of types of already prepared nasya oils, just pick the one that comes closest to your symptoms and begin to have a softer breath and mind.

Nettles: Urtica dioca is the primary herb for inflamed sinuses I would recommend from 35 years of medical herbalism. According to Susun Weed “Old wives stories circulate of people who cured themselves of severe lung diseases with daily use of Nettle. Try a half cup serving of Nettle greens several times a week for up to three months repeated for several years or drink up to two cups of Nettle infusion daily for the same amount of time.”

Sister Nettle is the first herb I recommend for building the strength of upward moving air (Udhana Vayu). Upward moving air allows us to speak, sing, shout, and stated simply, to express fully our thought, emotions and spirit. How important is that? Nettles, Dandelion and Lemon Balm are the first herbs greening in the spring around here and Nettles is the strongest for building the breath and protecting our respiration. Dandelion helps heal the liver and makes water flow, Lemon Balm soothes the digestive system from start to finish, but sister Nettles is the choice of the first herbs up in the Spring for keeping the sinuses free. Nettle leaves can be purchased by the ounce dried in cut and sifted form, 300mg capsules, or in liquid tincture form in one ounce bottles. Nettle tea made from the dried leaves can be enjoyed as a full bodied herbal beverage, or used in a neti pot to tone the mucus membranes in the nose and throat. Nettle capsules are an easy way to get more physical volume of the leaves Nettles in your bloodstream. Nettle tincture is the European herbal tradition’s way of preserving herbs and is very convenient to measure and to use on a daily basis. Nettles also remain green late into the season but one must remember that she has another name, which is Stinging Nettle. So handle this sister carefully especially when fresh and remember as she says in a poem I wrote: “I am she who heals if understood, yet burns if handled without care, knower of the element of wood (Udhana)". This sister can be one of your best herbal Friends and she loves to help you clear you upward moving air so you can be yourself and speak your Truth fully without blockage. She will attend tenderly to your noble nose.
In short (as the poem continues) "Nettles is one tough lady who grows behind fences. Yet healer sublime when you can get beyond her defenses”

In conclusion your nose is too big to fail. Breath connects us to our energy and emotions, and inspiration means both the first primary breath (Prana Vayu) and spirit within. Our nose is our connection to the air outside us that becomes part of the spirit within us. So I say unto you the nose is too big in importance to allow to fail.