Breath and a smile

Neti Big PhotoWe’ve got to Chapter 11 in the Yoga Club’s study book “How Yoga Works” taking us deeper into yoga practice.  The focus being on breath rather than the physical and an awareness that breath is what drives our movement.  For this reason I themed Thursdays’ class at Bedfords Walled Garden on breath with preparatory panayama.  We started with Alternate Nostril Breathing/Nadi Shodhana to balance the nadis (channels) and moved on to Pigeon Breath making us aware of where and how we breathe.

Having just got over a head cold I’m particularly conscious at the moment of how easily the flow of breath gets blocked.  As this chapter’s sutra quote points out “Keep a close watch on the breath; outside or inside, stopped or being exchanged.” II.50A.

“Always breathe through the nose and not through the mouth,” explains Friday, the young girl being held as a captive in an Indian village jail while she teaches the captain, desperate to overcome back pain, the finer points of yoga.  “Unless, of course, you have a serious blockage of your nostrils.”  Ah yes, I relate to that!  “If there’s a blockage that’s caused by some kind of congestion – lots of mucus – then before starting your session you should do your best to clear it out.”  So how do you do that then???

Friday advises blowing your nose – good advice before Alternate Nostril Breathing and Neti Demothe reason I always have a box of tissues in my teaching bag.  “Or,” she continues, “do even more effective things that free it up – that the sages of old discovered.”  The importance of all this is to be effective in your asanas.  If the channels are blocked, the poses will be more difficult to do and less effective.  The reason, she explains, is because of the connection between your nasal passages and the three main channels which flow down inside your skull and out on each side of the top of your nose with the middle channel ending behind a spot of the lower part of your forehead. In fact, it is the reason we have two nostrils in the first place! Lots to take in here, and I don’t completely understand it myself.  Yoga, at this level, is something to be experienced not explained.  All we can do is observe how we feel and how we are affected.  This is what yoga is really about – as the book says – how it works!

Jala Neti 12.1.16So what did those “sages of old” suggest to clear the nasal channels?  Our study book doesn’t say that but I’m guessing the reference is about the kriyas (cleansing practices) – Jala Neti being the relevant one for the nasal passages.  The practice involves pouring salt water through one nostril and out of the other.  OK I admit it’s a bit strange and I certainly didn’t fancy it before I tried it – but believe me it works.  It shouldn’t be done too often or while you’re actually suffering from a cold but it’s brilliant to clear your head afterwards.  I wrote about it in my Post column a couple of years ago – instructions are duplicated below if you want to give it a go yourself.

What else does Friday advise the captain do to clear the channels in his head?  This is even weirder!  “And when these go up, I pulled the corners of my own mouth into a smile, “then it loosens the end points of the two side channels, up alongside the nose…”  So smiling actually sets off a flow of nice thoughts in the middle channel.

“… and so a little smile, while you’re doing your poses, is one of the most important poses of all,” I grinned.  He grinned, and finished his poses trying to grin, and then I returned to the old woman who never grinned at all.”

Why not try Jala Neti yourself and let me know how you get on?  And smiling too!  What makes you smile?  On Thursday we decided it was sunshine, yoga and friendship.  I’d like to add animals, friendship, chocolate and Yogi Bear.

Worksheet 8 (and all previous worksheets) available for download now from the Yoga Club page of  The Yoga Club meets Thursday lunchtimes (12.30 to 1.30pm) in Bedfords Park Visitors’ Centre over coffee and cake (no charge for chat or worksheets).  Hatha/Dru Yoga class in Bedfords Walled Garden classroom from 11.00 to 12.30 (£5 First Class, then £7 drop-in or £20 for four weeks) 


Jala Neti is a wonderful detox for your nose and, once you know how, easy to do.  It removes mucus and pollution from the nasal passages and sinuses allowing air to flow freely.  You can buy a neti pot online – I use the Nose Buddy because it has an extra long spout making it easier to direct up your nose.  Boil half a litre of water, mix with one teaspoonful of pure salt (Himalayan Crystals are ideal or buy pre-mixed sachets from NeilMed) and cool to body temperature.

Standing over a sink or in the garden, breathe through the mouth and tilt head to one side, insert the nozzle into your uppermost nostril and allow the water to run into the nostril and out of the other.  If any water gets into your mouth tilt your head further to the side.  Blow your nose gently to remove any mucus before repeating with the other nostril.

Dry by closing each nostril in turn and blowing gently (taking care not to force surplus water into your ears) through the other.  Don’t over use Jala Neti, weekly is usually enough.  Jala Neti isn’t advised if you suffer from chronic nose bleeds or have an ear infection, cold, flu or sinusitis when the nose is totally blocked.


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