A yogic practice for communal care in the time of COVID

By A. G. Kozak

No matter what you call the force behind the pandemic—COVID-19, the ‘Rona, or SARS-CoV-2— almost everyone now knows and practices the self-care trifecta:

  1. cover both your nose and mouth with a mask;
  2. keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others; and
  3. wash your hands with soap and warm water for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”

However, many yogis are also regularly washing out their noses!

For those not already familiar with the practice, cleansing the nasal passages and sinuses is known as jala neti, and it’s performed as a part of a traditional yoga practice. You might be surprised to learn that in addition to the more commonly known physical exercises, breathwork, and meditation, yoga includes many cleansing practices. These purification steps, traditionally considered to be preparatory for other practices, are mentioned in ancient texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Jali neti uses a simple saline solution and may be an effective tool in combating community spread of the virus. Modern scientific literature supports the general usefulness of this nasal-wash technique: The virus that causes COVID-19 is often spread through coughs and sneezes and eventually finds its way into the nose of its next victim, where it can proliferate, so researchers reviewed the available scientific knowledge base and suggest that a simple saline solution may interrupt this process of community spread.

Another aspect of this practice you might find surprising: The sensation and clear feeling afterward can be quite pleasant, especially once you’re accustomed to it!

Take care

One should of course always consult their healthcare provider before proceeding with any complementary intervention, especially if they have any specific medical concerns. For example, if you have recently had a tooth extracted, your doctor may need to clear you for adding this practice into your daily self-care regimen.

Another caution arises from the potential for bacterial infection due to improperly cleaned neti pots, which are commonly used to deliver the saline solution. This problem, however, is easily avoided through proper cleaning of the neti pot and using distilled water or water that is first boiled and then cooled to approximately a healthy body temperature.

We can’t force others to change their behavior, nor can we wear a mask or wash their hands for them. We can, however, step up our own self-care practices for the good of all. So in honor of Audre Lorde’s popularization of the more radical aspects of this notion, let’s all cultivate all our self-care practices! After all, saucha (cleanliness or purification) is a key tenet of yogic philosophy.

A. G. Kozak, C-IAYT, is a Kripalu-trained yoga therapist and a board-certified health and wellness coach. They are now enrolled in an MPH program with the Milken Institute at George Washington University.