The first time a boyfriend saw me use my neti pot as a part of my morning sense cleansing ritual, his reaction told me ayurveda (or at least this manifestation of it) may not be in everyone’s karma, not his anyway. Needless to say, he didn’t last long. And I can see it… voluntarily sending salt water through your nasal passages resulting in the inevitable freed booger or two isn’t the stuff of romance. But sense cleansing will help you to see and feel more clear, especially this time of year when we often wake up feeling like we’ve cracked out of a cocoon. I guess I never was one for subtly.
Why take on this set of practices that sets free some icky stuff? Well, she says it better than I can…
“The sense organs are our only apparent means of communication with with external world. By maintaining them in excellent health, we are better equipped to use the innate cognitive abilities that braid us with the universe and our own sacred journeys from the beginning of time.” –Bri. Maya Tiwari, Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing
So if it sounds like something you’d like to give a try, here are a few simple instructions on the ayurvedic practice, as well as some “in a pinch” tips.
1. Washing the eyes (Akshitarpana)
Rather than using chemically-based eye drops to keep your baby blues clear and moisturized, pick up an eye cup like the one here on the left at your local whole foods store (even some pharmacies have these); glass is best.
There are myriad solutions you can concoct to wash your eyes, including warm water with a bit of triphala settled to the bottom of a glass or rosewater. In a pinch, I just use a little bit of warm tap water. Regardless of your solution, fill your eye cup about 3/4 full, then put it to your eye and cock your head back. Open your eye fully while it’s covered by the cup, take a moment to look fully to the left, right, up and down before finishing. If using triphala, I typically will follow it with a warm water rinse, as to take out any lingering little triphala bits in my eyes.
This practice is balancing for all doshas, though if you have high pitta (fire, mediated by water), often exaggerated by staring at a computer screen most of the day, you may find the rosewater your best bet (as it will most effectively counteract fiery pitta, with its cooling, soothing properties). The eyes are governed by pitta, so they are easily irritated in this way. Another indication of high pitta is if closing your eyes makes them burn. High fire. Rosewater is a little pricey, by my estimation, so when I need it, I’ll sometimes dilute it with a bit of warm water to make it stretch.
2. Neti pot (Navana Nasya)
Making sure any significant others on precarious terms are out of sight line, and grab your neti pot. There are lots of these for sale these days, at drug stores or whole foods stores. I prefer the glazed clay sort pictured at the left, rather than a plastic one. Though as with many aspects of ayurveda, doing something, while it may not be “ideal,” is better than nothing at all if it fits into your life, schedule or budget. I do urge you to resist purchasing the pre-packaging salt that comes with some neti pots in drugstores. Instead, measure out approximately a teaspoon of sea salt (you can even eyeball it) and put that in your neti pot.
I typically do this practice in the morning, during my shower if I can, so the the humidity of the shower will help loosen up the “stuff,” (we’ll leave it at that).
Note: you may have to adjust your proportion of salt to water to meet with your body’s natural saline proportion. Begin with about one teaspoon salt, then fill your pot with warm water. I usually just use shower water, though I saw online recently—and we all know everything online (particularly, as in this instance on Fox News), including this blog, is totally true—a case of brain-eating bacteria seeping its way into an individual’s homemade neti solution. Yikes. I’d never heard of this before in more than a decade of ayurvedic practice, using regular ol’ tap water for my neti pot. But I’m not a scientist and can’t speak to the veracity of brain-eating claim, so if this concerns you, just use distilled water.
While in the shower, I take a Ball jar full of sea salt I keep in there for such occasions, and pinch about a one teaspoon salt into the pot. Then I use shower water to fill the rest and swoosh around the salt. Typically, I’ll run half the neti liquid through one nostril, then close off that nostril and blow out forcefully (hence, latent boogers and lost boyfriends), and repeat the same on the other side.
You must tilt your head to the side to do this. If it hurts, your salt balance is probably off. I tend to find people err on the side of adding too little salt. It should not hurt. If you feel like your younger brother has dunked your head under water and its just run up your nose, chances are you have too little salt. If you are really congested, use one full pot though each nostril. You will radiate like a whole new being! (Though your nose may run for a few minutes as the stuff trickles out).
3. Gargling (Kavalagraha)
Lay ayurvedic practitioners and experts alike herald triphala as one of the best curative tonics around. Some benefits proponents cite: it assists natural internal cleansing, gently maintains regularity, nourishes and rejuvenates the tissues, supports healthy digestion and absorption, and acts as a natural antioxidant. Anyone who follows From the Ground Up, with even passing regularity, may’ve noticed I’m a big fan of Banyan Botanicals. I think they are a great source for all of these items, with a keen attention to sustainability, affordability, and wonderful web tutorials that make ayurveda really palatable for a Western audience.
You can use triphala in sense cleansing in several ways. Upon arriving to the bathroom in the morning, I typically take one teaspoon of triphala powder (not tablets), mix it in with about eight ounces of warm/hot water, and then just let it sit and filter down to the bottom of your water (to be used in the eye rinse). In the meantime, I shower, use the neti pot, tongue scraper, thoroughly rinse my neti pot with hot water to extract the sea salt, then fill it with a teaspoon of triphala and refill it with warm water. You could use a separate cup if this weirds you out, but I am OK with it.
I mix the triphala in with my finger and gargle with it three times. On each round, I swish the mixture throughout my mouth and throat. Then, before letting it go, open all of your senses… bug your eyes… flare your ears and nostrils, and then kick your head back for one final gargle and expel the solution with as much force as you can. This is your final sensory “hi–yah!” to expel all of the ama out of all of the senses. Because of triphala’s astrigent properties, such a method will extract ama (toxicity that stagnates throughout the digestive tract) as well as other stagnation, which may come in the form of kapha (read: mucus). Again with the subtlety. Mom would not be proud. “Stop talking about mucus-ey things online,” she’s probably saying. Someone’s gotta do it, Mom! Onward.
I do the eye cup, neti pot, and the gargle in the shower, as well as our final step, tongue scraping. May make you think twice about staying the night at my house, but I just wanted to throw all of this out there for those who are interested.
4. Cleansing the tongue
One of the primary mechanisms an ayurvedic doctor uses to assess your imbalances is by looking at your tongue (and what forms on it… sorry, a bit gross, I know). Most recently, when I studied with Dr. Vasant Lad at The Ayurvedic Institute, I had him assess my dosha and diagnose imbalances. He took one look at my tongue and said, “Much ama in the colon.” Super. As if I don’t have enough to worry about. But the truth was, I’m sure there was ama. I’d been traveling, eating processed foods and I was vata-aggravated, big time. Damn that fast food burrito I ate the night before. In ayurveda, the thought is that all dis-ease begins in the digestive tract, hence why these little maintenances aren’t so little.
Try to find a stainless steel tongue scraper, then cleanse your tongue by scraping it from the back of your tongue forward, about 5–10 times. If the gunk that comes off of your tongue is yellowish in hue, it may indicate high pitta; if the tongue is dryish and grey, that could be a vata imbalance; and if the residue is thick and white, you may have high kapha.
For now, this is enough. And maybe in this regimen, you’ll pick one thing that works for you and leave the rest aside. Ayurveda is all about questioning what works for you, at any given time, and modifying throughout one’s lifetime. I’d encourage you to apply the same scrutiny.
Some of these practices are contraindicated with states of being, like pregnancy, as well as conditions and diseases. Please consult an ayurvedic practitioner or even your family doc if you have concerns about anything.
To research more specified herbal remedies for non-generalized conditions, I recommend this source: Tiwari, Maya. Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 1995. Print.