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  • Aerowenn Hunter

How the Practice of Neti Transformed My Life

I grew up asthmatic. Before the time of inhalers, my mother would sit with me in the middle of cold, dark nights, at the kitchen table, as I breathed mentholated steam through a mug of hot water and Vicks Vapor Rub. My mom had rigged a system with a mask and tube through a plastic lid she attached to the mouth of the cup with surgical tape—supplies she brought home from the hospital where she worked as an x-ray tech. I imagine she added a strong dose of prayer.

As a child I spent a great deal of time struggling to breathe, afraid to sleep at night because surely I would die if I wasn’t consciously trying to breathe. Not only could I not breathe through my lungs, but I could not breathe through my nose.

As the years went by, asthma drugs developed such as those delivered with inhalers and life became a bit easier. One thing that stuck though was the chronic, low lying sinus infections I had for years and years on end. I simply could not breathe through my nose. It was chronically blocked and I lived with wadded stacks of bedside tissue—evidence of my fruitless attempts at clearing the path to breathe freely.

As I was beginning my journey into yoga and meditation I twice attended Vipassana meditation retreats. Ten days of immersion into the practice of silent meditation where the first three days are dedicated solely to the practice of Anapana: awareness of the flow of breath at the nostril tip. Great. Needless to say, as I could not breathe in or out of my nose, this was a struggle, of both body and spirit.

It wasn’t until I began my deeper Hatha Yoga studies that I was trained in the “shatkarmas”, the six Hatha Yoga methods of purifying the body with the intent to free it of disease and yoga's sister science, Ayurveda. Enter Jala Neti—the practice that changed by life forever. In this simple practice we wash the sinus cavities with warm salient water, in through one nostril and out through the other. It wasn’t easy at first and took some time before I could successfully create the flow—to unblock and reduce the inflammation that plagued my sinuses every day of my life. I dedicated myself to the practice of Neti daily—religiously—morning and night, for a full year, without ceasing, transforming every breath I take in this precious life I am living.

For years now, I have breathed freely—through my nose—the chronic state of infection permanently washed away. At the top of my gratitude list is this: I can breathe through my nose. I am constantly elevated by this feat, this immeasurable pleasure, even after the years that have since passed. Not a day, or night goes by that I do not marvel and celebrate my ability to breathe through my nose with ease.

As children, we are often plagued with irrational fears. Mine was of being kidnapped, but it wasn’t the kidnapping per se that plunged me into terror, it was when the kidnappers would place the duct tape over my mouth that I knew would seal my fate to die. I no longer have that fear. I am free.

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