By: Emil Lars
True Story. Dude walks into a hospital for a cough that had been plaguing him for 3 months. Having tried over-the-counter meds and prescription antibiotics to no avail, this visit was necessary. Tests were done but the doctor couldn’t find anything seriously wrong except that there was post-nasal drip – this happens when an irritation, illness, or allergy causes excessive mucus production in the nasal cavity. As the excess mucus drips down the throat, cough receptors in the throat are triggered.
Doctor says, “Let’s try the eastern approach. Go and pick up a Sinus Rinse kit from the pharmacy. Let’s have a check-up in a few days.”
After reading the included instructions, the dude went ahead and prepared the kit and the solution. It was a little intimidating at first, but surprisingly easy and pleasing. Like a warm soothing bath of the nasal cavity and its interconnected parts. The first time, for real, black stuff started coming out literally. Just gross. And just like that, within a day or so, the coughing had stopped completely.
A lot of things have changed since then. For one, he realized that he could now walk into a flower shop without a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. He always had a hanky in his pocket and spent years on prescription meds to suppress those symptoms. He was that snotty kid in school. He no longer needed his antihistamine nasal spray. This is just one of the well-known benefits of nasal rinsing, but it was an unexpected consequence of trying to fix a coughing problem.
He hardly ever got sick anymore. If ever he felt like he was going to have a cold or feeling congested, he would nasal rinse and the symptoms would go away. It had been so beneficial that it became a health regimen which he has performed regularly since then.
He likely picked up the infection from surfing in waters where the river meets the sea. River run-off especially during and after heavy rain makes the bacteria and contaminant levels in the water higher as pollutants flow into the sea. This could explain why scuba divers and freedivers are more prone to ear infections during certain times of the year.
Some years later, he found himself in a yoga ashram in India, to attend a traditional yoga teacher training course. For weeks, they would start the day by doing certain purification routines (referred to as Shatkarmas or kriyas), one of which is called Jala Neti. Seems cleansing the nasal cavity has been around for a very long time. In yogic theory, the practice of nasal cleansing is not only beneficial for respiratory health but also for the nervous system among other things. They would also practice breathing techniques called pranayama, some as breath control exercises, some as cleansing techniques too. He swore by the benefits of nasal rinsing and now he was learning more things that support and expand his understanding of its health benefits.
So what is Neti?
Neti is a technique that uses salted lukewarm water in a small teapot-like device to irrigate and cleanse the nasal cavity. Water is poured into a nostril and out the other. The process washes away trapped dirt and bacteria in the nostrils and nasal cavity. You then dry the nose properly immediately after.
The air we breathe, particularly in congested cities, has a lot of dirt, dust, allergens, and unwelcome particles. In normal quantities, the mucus in the nasal cavity traps these dirt particles and moves them harmlessly down the throat and away from the respiratory system. Unfortunately, air pollutants or particles that can cause irritation can sometimes be too much. And too much of anything causes the body to react.
How does Neti help in freediving?
Regardless of technique (Valsalva, Frenzel, handsfree, etc.), and in addition to environmental and physical factors, dairy products, smoking, medication, vaping, alcohol, and dehydration hinder equalization. Mucous membranes lining the nasal cavity and sinuses excrete more mucus as a response to the irritation or allergic reaction. Decongestants relieve by drying the mucus which can make it more difficult to rid of excess mucus. Alcohol tends to dehydrate which thickens the mucus. Also, higher histamine content in beer and wine in particular makes the body react more. Perhaps spirits might be a better choice… shots anyone? Let’s not get off track here. Unable to drain itself normally, mucus can even lead to an ear infection as it backs up into the Eustachian tubes.
Freedivers and scuba divers often travel to visit locations suited to their training and recreational needs. When they do, it usually means air and land travel and air-conditioned rooms. As air conditioners remove humidity, the dry air causes the mucus in the nasal cavity to thicken. This can lead to blockages. Air conditioning units with improperly maintained filters, ducts, and vents mean allergens. Now imagine these allergens being released into an enclosed room, cabin, or vehicle with you in it. These might explain why it’s not unusual for divers and freedivers to be dealing with congestion especially when travel is involved.
The Eustachian tubes, which lead to the middle ear, and the sinuses are connected to the nasal cavity. You need clear passages to be able to equalize the spaces of the middle ear and sinuses. When excess mucus in the nasal cavity blocks the passages, it makes equalization difficult and sometimes even impossible. Clear passages mean clear equalization. Neti and freediving are just naturally compatible.
What you need:
1. A Neti pot or nasal rinse bottle (or Neilmed Sinus Rinse kit)
2. Rock salt or sea salt (or premixed refill packets)
3. Filtered water. Do not use tap water! (Tap water, while may be safe for drinking, contains microorganisms that can cause infections in the nasal cavity)
Note: You can also purchase a bottle of saline solution from a pharmacy although that may not be an economically viable long-term approach.
So how do you do it?
1. Wash your hands. If your kit comes with instructions, read and follow them.
2. Dissolve a heaped teaspoon of salt in about a liter of lukewarm or body temperature water. You can also just add hot water to room temperature water to make it lukewarm.
3. Check the water temperature to make sure it’s not too warm. You can pour a little over the back of your hand.
4. Lean over a sink, or more ideally, forward with your hands or elbows resting on your knees on open ground.
5. With your head down, turn to one side so that one nostril is lower than the other. Keep the mouth open so you can breathe.
6. Gently seal the tip or spout of the neti pot (or nasal rinse bottle) against the higher nostril. You’ll have to find the right amount of forward and sideways tilt so that the water exits freely out the nostril and does not flow along your face and neck.
7. Depending on whether you have a pot or a bottle, you may have to raise it so that water can flow out and into the nostril. NeilMed’s Sinus Rinse bottle is compressible and has a tube inside so water flows easily just by squeezing. Some nasal rinse bottles have an air release valve that you need to press to allow air in so that water can flow out.
8. Relax, water will flow out. Water may drain out the mouth as well. A more effective variation of the process can be achieved by slowly inhaling the water. Water will flow more thoroughly into the nasal cavity for an even deeper cleanse. Water will drain out of the mouth.
9. Gently blow excess solution out of the nostrils.
10. Turn your head the other way to repeat the process on the other side of the nostril.
11. Dry the nostrils by doing rapid moderate exhales through the nose. Don’t blow too hard and don’t pinch the nostril tightly to avoid too much pressure on the eardrums. It is important to rid the nostrils and nasal cavity of too much residual water as it can lead to an infection.
12. Clean the neti pot or bottle and allow them to dry.
- The solution sometimes pools in the sinus cavities and nasal passages even after drying. It helps to turn the head left and right as you lean forward before blowing. Do it several times.
- When mixing your solution, too much or too little salt will cause it to sting a little. Adjust the salinity as necessary. You will determine the perfect mix after a couple or so tries.
- A teaspoon of seawater has millions and millions of bacteria and viruses. Don’t use seawater to cleanse your nasal cavity. That’s just asking for an infection. Old ways don’t always open new doors; sometimes they just cause an infection.
- In traditional yoga schools, a breathing technique called Kapalabhati is used to dry the nostrils. It entails quick powerful exhalations and gentle automatic inhalations. You contract the abdomen as you force a breath out in a short burst, and then relax the abdomen allowing air to naturally flow back into your lungs. The process is repeated a few times. You can choose to learn it if you want to incorporate it into your nasal cleansing routine.
The dude, the author, is not a medical professional nor an expert in anything. His knowledge about this topic is limited and the recommendations in this article may not be for everyone. Seek the advice of a doctor or healthcare professional as you see fit.
Shout-out to IG accounts @kerinoble1 @yogaiastore @waterful_life and @rhinoclear. Thank you for letting us use your photos guys! And big thanks to Dumaguete-based yogini and freediving instructor @le_pearce for proofreadng this article.