The History & Science of the Nasal Wash

If you’ve got allergies or sinus problems, find out how the nasal wash can relieve your symptoms. And check out our fun facts about the history of the neti pot!

May 20, 2013    BY Shannon Sexton

Need some inspiration to start doing the nasal wash? Scientists have been conducting a growing number of studies that suggest the nasal wash is an effective way to relieve the symptoms of sinus discomfort and disease. According to Dr. Oz, some of this research shows that “it’s as effective as drugs for preventing sinus infections…[and] hugely beneficial for people with nasal allergies and headaches.” Several recent studies indicate that with regular use of the neti pot (and other nasal irrigation devices), patients become less reliant on medication.

Kids with allergies: In 2008, Nanjing Medical University conducted an independent study with 26 children suffering from allergic rhinitis, concluding that regular use of nasal irrigation led to a decreased use of topical steroids, “which will contribute to fewer side effects and less economic burden.”

Adults with chronic nasal and sinus problems: An eight-week randomized clinical trial at the University of Michigan with 121 subjects in 2007 suggested that nasal irrigation was more effective than saline sprays.

Chronic rhinosinusitis: A statistical analysis of eight randomized controlled studies in the Cochrane database in 2007 suggested that nasal irrigation is beneficial as both a sole and an adjunct treatment for chronic rhinosinusitis, or inflammation of the sinuses.

A Brief History of the Neti Pot

Did you know that the nasal wash has been an integral part of the yoga tradition for more than 5,000 years? Ancient hatha masters like Yogi Gorakhnath taught their students a variety of neti practices, from sutra neti (nasal cleansing with a string) to jala neti—techniques that flush water, milk, ghee, and other liquids through the nasal passages to prepare the body and mind for pranayama and meditation.

The development of the neti pot—and the coinage of that term—came much later. Yoga International’s publisher, the Himalayan Institute, introduced the first mass-market neti pot to the West in 1972. Swami Rama, the Institute’s founder, wanted his students to use the nasal wash to improve their spiritual practices, so they crafted an elegant ceramic pot.

Jala neti gained a broader following when hatha postures became mainstream and yoga enthusiasts embraced a more holistic yogic lifestyle. Nasal irrigation devices began popping up in a variety of shapes and materials, including plastic, stainless steel, copper, and, recently, an eco-conscious bioplastic. When Oprah covered the neti pot on her show in 2007 (and again in April 2009), it made the neti pot popular among not only natural health buffs but also everyday Americans.

Shannon Sexton
Former Yoga International editor-in-chief Shannon Sexton writes about food, travel, yoga, and natural health.