Nasal irrigation, which for many is synonymous with the neti pot, is one of the tools used in Ayurveda as part of basic daily hygiene. Simply put, it cleans out the nose and sinuses with salt water and ensures they stay clean.
On a deeper level, though, the function of nasal irrigation has to do with maintaining balance in the kapha dosha. A dosha is an energy pattern, and according to Ayurveda each day the body moves through a series of dosha changes, from predominance in kapha (earth/water) in the morning, to pitta (or the fire element) at midday, to vata (air) in the evening. The kapha-predominance of each waking morning often results in sluggishness and congestion residing in the upper part of the body. Using the neti pot as part of your morning routine helps relieve some of the kapha excess in the nasal area (manifested by mucus accumulation), and by extension, benefits the eyes, ears, throat, and entire body.
Neti pots come in many designs made from a variety of materials. It is best to choose an unbreakable one that won't react with the salt water it will be mixed with. To prepare the salt water, mix one heaping teaspoon of sea salt in a half-liter (or pint) of warm, purified water. The salt creates a higher osmotic pressure than water alone, meaning that it helps nasal and sinus fluids flow into the water and get flushed out, rather than absorb the water and stay put.
Fill the neti pot with the prepared water and hold it in the left hand. Bring the spout into the left nostril, lean over a sink, and as the head is tilted to the right side, tip the pot up to get the water to flow. Breathe through the mouth.
The aim is to get water to flow into the left nostril, around the area inside the nose and sinuses, and out the right nostril. Do this for 15 to 30 seconds, then change sides. It might take a couple of tries to get the right alignment.
Anyone can benefit from this practice, although it is especially recommended for people with chronic respiratory congestion, frequent colds, and sinus headaches or pressure.
Those with conditions such as chronic nose bleeds, nasal polyps, or a severely deviated nasal septum should talk with their health care providers before using the neti pot, to assure that it won't exacerbate the condition.
Ayurvedic physician Robert Svoboda was the first Westerner to receive a license to practice Ayurveda in India. His newest book is Light on Relationships (Samuel Weiser,2001).