Jala Neti

Dr Swami Shankardevananda, MB, BS

Jala neti is a process of cleansing the nasal passages with salt water. This allows free breathing so that air can enter the lungs unimpeded by mucus and dirt which easily builds up during the day.

Its profound effects

It has been found from experience in the ashram that many diseases can be cleared up or at least alleviated, by using the simple process of neti combined with other therapeutic techniques. Neti has been used successfully to treat the following ailments: colds and coughs, eye ailments, nose ailments, throat ailments, sinusitis, tonsillitis, catarrh, adenoid inflammation, headache, insomnia, tiredness, migraine, epilepsy, depression, tension, lung diseases (asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis and bronchitis), facial paralysis.

Perhaps the most surprising of the benefits includes the alleviation of facial paralysis, epilepsy and migraine. In scientific terms it is not easy to explain these benefits. In this short article we will give a summary of the effects of neti based on our experience and observations.

The process of neti

Most readers will already know the practice of jala neti. For those people who don't here is a brief description:

A lota (small pot with a long spout) is used to pour water into the nose. It is generally made of brass, though any other suitable material can be used which does not contaminate the nose and body.

Clean, salty, lukewarm water (at body temperature) is poured through the left nostril. The head is tilted to allow the water to flow through the nasal cavity and out through the right nostril. The spout of the lota is then inserted in the right nostril and the procedure repeated.

Note: one teaspoonful of salt is used per litre of water to make the solution isotonic. This prevents water being absorbed into the nasal blood vessels and prevents irritation of the sensitive nasal membranes.

The passage of water through the nostrils washes the whole mucus membrane of the nasal cavity. All the sinuses and structures in the nose are given a soothing bath and are thoroughly cleaned. At the same time the nerves and blood vessels are stimulated.

General effects of neti

The effects of jala neti can be divided into two groups: direct and indirect. Let us discuss these in turn.

Direct effects are those that come directly from the salt water. This brings about stimulation of:

  • a) the olfactory nerves situated at the very top of the nasal cavity. These are concerned with the sense of smell.
  • b) the sensory nerves coming from the nose and face and going directly to the brain. This is called the fifth cranial or trigemminal nerve.
  • c) the mucus membrane (covering) of the nose.
  • d) the blood vessels in the nasal cavity.
  • e) the lymphatics in the nasal region.

Indirect effects include repercussions which occur in the body as a result of cleaning the nose. They include :

  • a) improved conditioning of the air before entering the respiratory passages and lungs.
  • b) better overall health as a result of improved lung efficiency.
  • c) a soothing effect on the eye-socket; this is due to the stimulation of the fifth cranial nerve which has branches in the eye and eye muscles.
  • d) reflex soothing of the whole face as a result of stimulating the sensory cortex (brain) via the fifth cranial nerve; the sensory cortex sends impulses to the facial muscles via the motor nerves.
  • e) re-balancing of the autonomic nervous system (this is the automatic nervous system, which regulates the different organs of the body according to the needs of the environment: either 'fight or flight' to counteract stress, or relaxation). The olfactory nerves in the nose are connected to a part of the brain called the hippocampus which is associated with deeper structures in the brain, concerned with regulation of the autonomic nerves. Stimulation of the olfactory nerves thus influences the autonomic functions of the body.
  • f) soothing of the brain; this helps to reduce stress and tension.
  • g) opening up and re-balancing of the pranic channels. These pranic channels are in the pranic body (bio-plasmic body) and have been photographed by Kirlian apparatus. They have been proved to be the underlying system that maintains the health of the physical body. Subtle prana is absorbed into the pranic body via the nose. Therefore improved efficiency and cleanliness in the nose leads to better health at a pranic level. Let us discuss these effects in a little more detail.

Effects on the physical body

The lining of the nose, the mucus membrane, is very sensitive. It contains myriads of tiny glands which secrete a sticky mucus substance to trap and remove dust and dirt from the inhaled breath. These glands also moisten the air to the correct degree of humidity before entering the lungs. Within the nose there are also multitudes of small, fine hairs which further filter and clean the air. Breathing through the mouth means that all these processes are bypassed. For good health it is essential to breathe through the nose at all times.

Neti ensures that the nostrils are kept clean and in good functional condition; this helps to ensure the best possible health.

The two main nerves in the nose are the olfactory (smell) and the fifth cranial (facial sense perception). These are stimulated by the passage of water during neti and send nerve impulses direct to the brain. This leads to the stimulation of other nerve connections in the brain. Eventually motor and autonomic nerve fibres are fired at the end of the nerve pathways and different parts of the brain are stimulated. The ramifications are widespread throughout the whole body. If you do neti you can almost feel the impulses inside the brain; one feels the effects immediately. One feels light-headed and 'high' - it is a pleasant sensation.

The olfactory nerve passes into the area of the brain which is the oldest from the evolutionary point of view. It is connected with the autonomic nervous system. Stimulation of this nerve during neti helps to balance the autonomic nervous system. The fifth cranial nerve, on the other hand, passes through the thalamus into the higher brain centres, which are concerned with receiving and interpreting sensory information from the very sensitive areas of the face. As a result of stimulation during neti, the motor cortex sends messages to the muscles of the face and eyes.

Neti brings about a profound physical stimulation of the whole brain. It helps to bring relief in cases of facial paralysis and other nervous diseases. Soothing of the brain helps to soothe and relax the rest of the body. Neti helps to remove blocks in the flow of nervous impulses and thereby it brings good health.

Other ailments, such as colds, sinusitis etc. are also alleviated by the direct cleaning, antiseptic and purifying effect of the salt water.

The effects of neti can be explained at a physical level. The explanation, however, should not be confined to this level since neti also acts on a pranic and mental level.

Effects on the pranic body

Prana is the vital energy which underlies the physical body and maintains life. It flows through the human framework in multitudes of channels comprising the pranic body. If there is a block or imbalance in the pranic flow then we get sick. Neti helps to induce and maintain this free flow and balance of prana and thereby brings good health.

The essence of air is prana. Our body absorbs this subtle prana through the nose during respiration. Therefore thorough cleansing of the nose with neti leads to better health at a pranic level.

The flow of breath in each nostril has profound implications. The right flow is called the pingala, the sun nostril, and is concerned with the external environment, physical activity and warmth. The left flow is called the ida, the moon flow, and is associated with the internal environment, mental activity and coolness.

If you examine your nostril flows at different times of the day you will find that one of them predominates. Occasionally the flows are equal; in this case, the breath is said to be flowing in the sushumna. During sushumna flow, both the physical and pranic bodies are in balance.

These facts have yet to be verified by scientific experiments, but will be in the near future.

The flow of breath through the nostrils has a direct influence on the flow of prana. Neti helps to balance the two breath flows, and thereby brings balance into the ida and pingala flows of the subtle pranic body, as well as the autonomic nervous system at a physical level. This leads to flow of the sushumna and overall balance of one's whole being. This helps to induce good health and peace of mind. Neti brings benefits which are not easy to explain in terms of modern science.

Incidentally, the practices of pranayama are concerned with gaining some control over prana via the breathing process. For these practices to be effective, the nose must be clean to allow free flow of air and efficient absorption of prana through the nose. Neti is therefore essential for serious practice of pranayama.


Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese system of medicine that makes use of meridians (pranic passages) to remove illness. The pranic flows are either increased or decreased by methods such as needles, heat or massage. The form of treatment depends on the ailment and the type of imbalance. It is the science of prana and there are many similarities with yoga.

Acupuncture treats diseases such as headache, sinusitis, facial paralysis, nasal problems etc. by putting needles in specific points in the area of the nose and face. These points are between the eyebrows, half way down the nose, on either side of the nose and so forth. These areas correspond to the areas associated with the olfactory and fifth cranial nerves. These points are also stimulated by neti, either directly or indirectly.

In acupuncture, the point between the eyebrows is called GV (governor vessel) 241/2. It corresponds to the point called the bhrumadhya in yogic terminology.

It is the trigger point for the ajna chakra which is a very important psychic centre. It is the point where the ida and pingala meet and flow as one channel - the sushumna. There are many methods of stimulating this point: acupuncture uses needles etc., yoga uses other techniques including neti.

Effects on the mental body

The physical and pranic bodies are intimately related to the mind; they are part of the same instrument. Therefore the beneficial influences that neti has on the physical and pranic bodies has positive repercussions on the mind. This can be tested by personal experience. This alone is a great help in maintaining vibrant health and removing ailments.

Other forms of neti

Jala neti is the most commonly practised form of neti. It is usually done with lukewarm water. Alternatively, the following cleansing agents can also be used: cold salt water, hot salt water, milk, ghee, urine. Each of these fluids can be used for specific effects. There is also the practice of sutra neti which cleans the nose with a catheter or thread. This too has distinctive benefits. Generally, however, the benefits and effects of these different forms of neti are as described in this article. Neti is a simple practice, but it can bring profound positive changes in the physical, pranic and mental bodies. Apart from helping to maintain good health, it can alleviate ailments that we have listed in this article. We suggest that you try neti for yourself.