jala neti – nasal wash

As the warmth of the sun descends upon the earth, the layers of sweaters and coats are discarded to reveal pale skin that has not been touched by these golden rays for six long months. Waking up to the chirps of young ones getting ready to make their first flight is music to my ears. From the front stoop I see signs of life pushing through on bare branches.

IMG_2322

Buds have appeared, ready to open their faces to the sun. A baby chipmunk pokes its head out from under the rocks, and hastily retreats fearing human presence. A squirrel shoots up the majestic maple trunk with another in pursuit, only to come down as fast as King-Da-Ka at Six Flags. Ah! The joys of spring!

IMG_2326

I bravely emerge on this sunny day and take in the smell of spring air. Walking up the driveway, I catch a glimpse of the beginnings of spring before Mother Nature awakens from winter’s hibernation. The earth is preparing to be reborn. And I – will enjoy her spectacular birthing from behind a glass curtain! Lucky guess – Allergies!

Spring is the time of the year when some of us are tormented by allergies while others rejoice in the hues and warmth. Allergies affect my sleep, concentration, and my yoga practice. I am exhausted and at times, end up in a bad mood. Sneezing and red, itchy, watery eyes means blooming has begun. If I am not careful, my sinuses can get clogged which may cause infections and headaches.

And evidence shows that allergies and asthma may be related – meaning asthmatics are more likely to be allergy sufferers and those with allergies have a greater chance of developing asthma. Soon – a full blown congestion where I am popping pills, squirting drops and inhaling puffs. Many times I have lost my voice as well. Some folks (who remain nameless) were very happy! But try going to work as a speech pathologist or a yoga instructor with laryngitis!

IMG_2335

While people often think of spring as “the allergy season,” my immunologist in New Jersey, explained that there are actually three separate times of year when allergies tend to occur: spring (tree pollen), summer (grass pollen), and fall (ragweed pollen). Many suffer due to indoor allergens such as dust mites, carpet fibers and mold during the winter season as well! Growing up in Bengaluru, India, I suffered from allergies all year round. The triggers were pollen, dust and pollution. I remember using saline nasal drops but other over the counter allergy medications were not popular then.

Being medicated long term via allergy shots, nasal steroid sprays, and prescription antihistamines is something I have never wanted to do. Yet, I am so grateful for them as they have brought a sense of normalcy to my life. Along with medication, a holistic approach of yoga and ayurveda (diet adjustments) has significantly reduced the allergy symptoms by calming my immune system’s response to the perceived triggers, and has helped me find a balance.

Yoga’s cleansing practices are called Shat Karmas or Kriyas, (6 practices), of which jala neti, nasal wash and kapalabhati pranayama, skull shining breath, are effective for seasonal allergies.

Jala Neti – Nasal Wash

Neti (pronounced as Naythi) is a technique used to cleanse the nasal passages and sinuses.

This cleansing is done in one of two ways: with a warm saline solution, known as jala neti; or with a cotton thread, known as sutra neti (not familiar with this technique). Is one easier than the other? It’s probably a personal preference.

Technique

  1. Mix one-half teaspoon of  non-iodized salt in a 8 oz cup (500ml -8 ounces) of lukewarm water. I use fine sea salt.
  2. The traditional method is to take some saline water in the hollow of your palm. I use this method and it works well.
  3. Close the left nostril with the index finger of your left hand and slowly inhale through the open right nostril, drawing the water in. It will sound like liquid being sucked/slurped in through a straw.
  4.  If you inhale too fast, it will go into your sinuses causing a slight burning sensation. This only happens in the learning phase.
  5. Vigorously expel the water out through the same nostril while continuing to hold the left nostril closed.
  6. If the water drains into your mouth, gargle and spit it out.
  7. Repeat 2-4 times on the same side or until you feel that side is cleansed.
  8. Then, repeat steps 2-7 on the other side.
  9. Finish by blowing your nose to clear any residual liquid.
  10. Gargle deep in your throat with the remaining saline water.
  11. Jala Neti is usually done once a day. Use apps to track the levels of pollen and ragweed. During allergy season, end of the day cleanse may be essential.

Neti Pot

Nasal wash may also be performed with the help of a neti pot. The market is flooded with neti pots made out of plastic, stainless steel, porcelain and copper. They also come in various sizes and shapes. Your choice – the neti pot or the palm of your hand.

IMG_2345

Benefits

This kriya loosens and flushes away incrustations of dried mucous in the nasal cavities, dissolves and expels dust and other impacted pollutants and thoroughly washes the sensitive olfactory endings, helping you to effectively manage your seasonal allergies and making you less susceptible to colds with regular practice.

Jala Neti is usually followed by Pranayama and is necessary to enhance the capacity of your breathing practices.

Jala neti and breathing practices have helped me to manage my allergies. I began these practices in 2008 and noticed improvement in 2012. In 2012, I was able to decrease the frequency of medications to spring and fall, after being dependent on them throughout the year for many years. Since last year, I am taking the medications from March through May only, and have been laryngitis free for 4 years.

I am grateful.

Next Post – Pranayama for allergies

*********************

Rama, Swami., Ballentine, Rudolf. M.D. 1978. Science of Breath. Himalayan Institute, Hinsdale, PA

 

 

last 3 limbs of raja yoga

Writing the introduction to Rāja Yoga and its first 5 limbs made me realize how difficult it is to write about spiritual practices. But it was a wonderful exercise in discovering what I have understood in order to convey the essence to you. At this stage, learning continues to be an intense study, with frequent challenges and rare aha moments, propelled by vacillating effort. I have to believe that each limb prepares me for the next and brings me one step closer to the most sought after state of everlasting calmness and Bliss.

The last 3 limbs – a deceptive phrase suggesting that we are on the home stretch to destination, Rāja Yoga, royal union. I am certainly not implying that at the end of this read you will know exactly how to get from Asana to Bliss in eight steps. Hopefully, you’ll find inspiration within these paragraphs to join me on this quest.

Paramahamsa Yogananda taught Rāja Yoga, – but the limbs 5- 8 may be referred to as Kriya Yoga. Traditionally, the first 5 limbs are referred to as the external limbs, Bahiranga Sadhana, which are practiced simultaneously to prepare the body and breath for the next phase of practice. The last three limbs, referred to as the internal limbs, Anataranga Sadhana, are practices to silence the vrittis, thoughts, which must be practiced sequentially. 

I’ve learnt that in the ancient gurukulas, when personal attitudes, habits and daily practices are streamlined (yama and niyama), a comfortable seated position (asana) and a slow deep breath (pranayama) are obtained, only then one is introduced to Anataranga Sadhana, internal limbs. However, that’s not the case in today’s world. It has become a practice to begin yoga with asana, poses or meditation, but it is essential to add the complete study of the 8 limbs for spiritual progress.

Last 3 Limbs of Raja Yoga

Dhaarana धारणा Concentration, Focussed Attention, Single-mindedness
Dhyana ध्यान Meditative State
Samadhi समाधि Spiritual Union, Self- Realization, Liberation, Oneness, Ever-New Bliss

Dharana

The sixth limb, Dhaarana, power of concentration, begins when we become somewhat successful in channelling our awareness inward. Now, we begin dealing with the distractions of the mind. This practice too, is not easy. However, when the mind is able to draw inward consistently, Dhaarana, is used to train the mind to concentrate on a single object, usually the breath, a chosen deity or mantram.  The purpose of Dhaarana is to create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction only, instead of going out in different directions.

According to Gurudev, I have already begun to develop my powers of concentration in the previous three stages – asana, posture, Pranayama, breath control, and Pratyahara, training of the senses. When practicing asana my attention juggles between movement and stillness, but in pranayama, I am becoming aware that my attention is sustained for short periods during a specific breathing technique. In the practice of concentration, I am learning how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: my breath or silent repetition of a spiritual sound, mantram.

The purpose of the object is to stop the mind from wandering through memories, dreams, or reflective thought. An arbitrary selection to focus the attention upon some static object creates boredom leading to inconsistency or giving up of the practice altogether. Selection of an appropriate object for concentration is a serious process, one that requires your effort as well as guidance from a spiritual teacher.

For example, I was inclined towards choosing a mantram as an object of concentration for Dhaarana. According to Eknath Easwaran, the author of The Mantram Handbook, a mantram is a spiritual formula, when invoked has the ability to calm, heal and develop divine attributes. Let’s assume I chose the mantram, ‘Krishna’, which means the Lord of Love, among other meanings. This formula helps to achieve the mental state of pure love where the mind, intellect, and ego are purified and offered to the Lord for His use and in His service without the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. Keeping the mind focused, and at the same time, releasing attachment to ‘I’ thoughts is extremely challenging. Selection of an object of concentration that can bring about such transformation, therefore, requires some serious forethought, and must be chosen with a sense of reverence, surrender and gratitude.

Dhyana

Yogis declare when one obtains the ability to concentrate the mind on a single object to the point of being completely absorbed in it, then one has moved into the 7th limb – Dhyana, meditation, uninterrupted flow of concentration. The attitude of effort is evident in the previous limbs, however, in Dhyana, the state of meditative mind happens when these previous limbs have been mastered. Yogis call this effortless effort.

An ancient yogic analogy: Dharana, concentration is compared to a dripping faucet where the space between each drip is the time when the concentration peaks – which can be short or long based on the rate of dripping. Then, visualize concentration as a continuous flow without breaks just as the flow of oil being poured without drips. This is Dhyana, the seventh limb, the meditative state of mind.

Recently, I was speaking with someone who had been referred for yoga. Over the phone, I gathered that his doctor had prescribed yoga and meditation along with medication to deal with poor health, stress and anxiety in his life. I asked him to come in for a consult and an asana class to find out more. He kept repeating the question, “what techniques of breathing and meditation can you teach me?” I explained to him that I needed more information about his health, personality and lifestyle to make the right suggestions. Then he asked how long would it take to notice improvement. It is difficult for me to answer these questions at an instant, without having met in person.

Watching closely how my practice has progressed and morphed over the years of studying and practicing Rāja Yoga, my answer is – a few years to say the least. Best guess – he was not looking for this answer. Of course, I did not want to scare him off by giving this answer. The only reason I mention this is to highlight the fact that meditation, Dhyana is the seventh limb of Rāja Yoga; meaning it is preceded by six important, preliminary limbs that are absolutely necessary to prepare the body, breath and mind to achieve a meditative state.

Samadhi

It is said that when the mind is completely absorbed in Dhyana, thoughts cease and the mind stills. Although the dictionary defines meditation as awareness, stillness, reflection, contemplation, absorption – many descriptions; its best to begin practicing the yogic techniques and directly experience this stillness. This stillness is alluded to as the meditative state of mind, and when sustained, leads us to the last limb, Samadhithe ultimate state of yoga, blissful union.

In Samadhi, Paramahamsa Yogananda and other yogis guarantee that one sees pure awareness reflected on the still surface of the mind. Enlightenment, Self-Realization, Union, Liberation, Superconsciousness and Ever-New Bliss are all words used to describe this pure awareness. Here, the object of concentration, the subject, you, and the act of perceiving, all merge into an awareness of Oneness. In other words, the mantram or chosen spiritual formula as the object is God or Divine. If my chosen mantram is ‘Krishna‘ then in Samadhi, my awareness becomes Pure Love.

As the Indian mystic, Meher Baba puts it, “you and I are not we, you and I are One.” I understand this as: with dedicated and systematic practice, eventually, I will arrive at this universal awareness – where there is no difference between you and me, hence no conflicts or favoritism, no misunderstood intentions, just complete acceptance and unconditional love. This is the promise of Rāja Yoga to a dedicated seeker.

With this realization comes the “peace that passeth all understanding”; the experience of bliss and being one with the Universe. This can neither be explained by another, taught or read from a book; it can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, with surrender to the Guru, with persistent effort and total devotion by the seeker.

This is my effort to bring you the last 3 limbs of Rāja Yoga from a place of limited understanding. But, the 7th limb, Dhyana, meditation and 8th, Samadhi, Liberation, can only be explained using the words of illumined masters. Although, it was a futile attempt on my part to bring them to light, this was more of an exercise to validate my Ahbyasa, and deepen my faith – so that I may experience the state of Self-Realization, Samadhi – sooner than later.

***********

Yogananda, Paramahamsa. 1955. Autobiography of a Yogi. Rider Press, CA

Bell, Charlotte.2007. Mindful Yoga Mindful Life. Rodmell Press

Easwaran, Eknath.2008. The Mantram Handbook: A Practical Guide to Choosing your Mantram and Calming Your Mind. Nigiri Press, CA