by Stephanie Chambers
According to Ayurveda, it is beneficial to regularly apply oil to the various orifices in our body (mouth, nose, ears, anus, vagina, eyes). Toxins are thought to accumulate in the channels of the body, so it is important to keep them clear. In this blog, we will look at oiling the nasal passages. Some research has confirmed the benefits of these practices. Sometimes, these oils can be herbalized using essential oils to achieve specific effects.
Unlike Western approaches for clearing stuffy noses, this approach is inexpensive and free of side-effects if practiced correctly. Some people have also reported that these Ayurvedic practices helped with sleep apnea, which is a far more serious condition where people actually stop breathing.
According to Ayurveda, the nose is the doorway to the brain and the doorway to consciousness, so it is of vital importance.
Nasya is the Ayurvedic method of administering herbal oils and medicines through the nostrils.
Nasya oil is also sometimes called “nāvana”. Generally, sesame oil is used for Vata and Kapha body types, although other oils such as ghee, which is good for Pitta, or olive oil are sometimes used. Herbs are sometimes infused into the oil. Tea Tree or Lavender essential oils can also be added to it, however the Tea Tree should be diluted to a maximum of 5% (25 drops per tablespoon) and Lavender should be diluted to 1% (5 drops per tablespoon).
When appropriate, heating herbs like Fenugreek and Turmeric can be added to the infusion or added as essential oils. Cooling oils like Sandalwood can also be added to balance the heat. Litsea Cubeba or Melissa (Lemon Balm) essential oils can also be added, but they should be diluted to 1% (5 drops per tablespoon). According to need, the oils used can be infused with Brahmi, Calamus, Skullcap, Ginger, Ghee, oils, decoctions, onion, garlic, Piper longum, Black Pepper, Curry Pepper, Rose, Jasmine, Mogra Flowers, Neem, Guduchi, Licorice and Henna. Whenever an essential oil is added, it should be diluted to 1% (5 drops per tablespoon).
Doing this can help relieve stress-related emotional imbalances, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, dryness of the nose, sinus congestion, hoarseness of voice, migraine headache and convulsions.
According to Ayurveda, lubricating the nasal passages and decongesting the sinuses helps carry “Prana” (vital life-energy) to the head and other parts of the body, thus enhancing breathing. Some believe it also has a positive effect on the higher cerebral functions such as mental clarity, concentration, intellectual activities, memory, and intuition.
Prana enters the body through the breath taken in through the nose. When Prana is deranged, it can result in headaches, convulsions, loss of memory and reduced sensory perception. Nasya treatments are recommended to reduce Prana disorders, sinus congestion, migraine headaches, convulsions and certain eye and ear problems.
Some even claim that when done regularly, it can help the prostate and also prevent (and reverse) premature greying of the hair and wrinkles.
How should you use the Nasya oil?
Don’t drink any water before you apply the oil to your nose, and wait a while before drinking or eating after you do it. Otherwise, it can feel terrible.
You should wait for at least 30 minutes after meals before applying the oil. You should not do it within 20 minutes of when you intend to go to bed.
You should not use the Nasya oil immediately after using a neti pot (another Ayurvedic practice in which saline solution is washed through the sinuses). You should wait at least 24 hours.
It should not be done during sinus infections, pregnancy, nursing, during menstruation or after sex, bathing, eating or drinking of alcohol. It should not be done by children younger than 7 years or by people over 80 years of age.
It isn’t good to do Nasya if you have just contracted a cold or cough, but it can be very helpful mid-way through the cold cycle. It helps to remove toxins and phlegm and to open up the channels.
When you are first beginning this practice, start by just using your clean little finger to put 3-4 drops into each nostril. Rotate your finger so each nostril becomes coated in oil. Sniff a little as you do it. Once you have the drops in your nose, pinch your nostrils together while inhaling through the nose, and then suddenly let go of your nostrils. This will cause you to breathe in deeply and get the oil to reach higher up in your nose.
After doing this, you can blow your nose if needed. But if you do, you should repeat the process. Once you do it regularly, you should not find this happens as much.
You can do this several times a day as needed, up to 10 times daily.
Later, when you are used to this, you can tilt your head back and add 5-10 drops into your nose. Some people find lying on their back with their head tilted upwards helps. If you don’t tilt your head back enough, it can irritate the throat.
Using the Nasya oil can also be used when you are traveling on planes. Keeping your nasal passages oily helps stop any irritation from the dry air in the plane. But be very careful when you are transporting this oil, as it can be messy if it leaks – believe me, I know this from personal experience.
When you have Nasya treatment in an Ayurvedic clinic, there are six specialized Nasya treatments that can be used depending on need, such as:
- Pradhamana (virechan) Nasya (cleansing nasya): In this treatment, dry powders such as Brahmi are blown into the nose with a tube (e.g. a rolled leaf). This treatment is mainly used for Kapha types of diseases such as Kapha-type headaches, heaviness in the head, cold, nasal congestion, sticky eyes, hoarseness of voice due to sticky Kapha, sinusitis, cervical lymph adenitis, tumors, worms, some skin diseases, epilepsy, drowsiness, Parkinson’s disease, inflammation of the nasal mucosa, and even for emotions such as attachment, greed and lust.
- Brimhana Nasya (nutrition nasya): This treatment involves ghee, oils, salt, shatavari ghee, ashwagandha ghee and medicated milk, and is used mainly for Vata disorders. It is said to help Vata imbalances such as Vata-type headaches, migraine headaches, dryness of voice, dry nose, nervousness, anxiety, fear, dizziness, emptiness, negativity, heaviness of eyelids, bursitis, stiffness in the neck, dry sinuses and loss of sense of smell.
- Shaman Nasya (sedative nasya): This treatment involves the application of herbal decoctions, teas and medicated oils appropriate to whichever body type is aggravated, but it is mainly for Pitta-type disorders such as thinning of hair, conjunctivitis and ringing in the ears.
- Navana Nasya (decoction nasya): This treatment is used in Vata-Pitta or Kapha-Pitta disorders and is made from decoctions and oils mixed together.
- Marshya Nasya: This treatment involves ghee or oil Nasya.
- Prati Marshya: This is the ongoing daily oil Nasya (as described above) that should be done even after leaving the Ayurvedic clinic. Doing Nasya regularly helps to open deep tissues and release stress.
Other Ayurveda nose treatments
Dhoomapanam is a treatment in which herbalized smoke is inhaled for various sinus and respiratory diseases such as sinusitis, asthma, sneezing, infections of the lower respiratory tract, cough and more. Removing mucus toxins is thought to rejuvenate a person’s mental status. The smoke is said to help to dry excessive mucus, and lowers pain-causing inflammations of the sinus cavities and respiratory tract.
There are various types of Dhoomapanam treatment. For example, in Ksheera Dhooma, herbs or herbal powders are burnt in fire and the smoke is inhaled. It can be repeated over one to seven days. It is said to help relieve bronchial asthma, sinusitis, upper and lower respiratory tract infections.
There is also a treatment called Dhumapana which involves the smoking of medicinal cigars for certain conditions.
Ayurveda also recommends steam inhalations for certain purposes. For example, for a cold, you can remove congestion by adding powdered Turmeric or a few drops of Turmeric essential oil to water, bringing it to the boil, removing it from the stove and waiting for it to cool a little, then breathing it in with a towel over your head for as long as you notice an effect (taking breaks when you need to, to blow your nose, so that you can absorb it even more fully).
What is the research showing?
A research study1 on Nasya and cervical spondylosis (also known as cervical osteoarthritis or neck arthritis) showed when Nasya is done in conjunction with other Ayurvedic treatments and herbs, it does help to reduce the clinical signs and symptoms of cervical spondylosis better than conventional management without it. Pain and neck stiffness and tenderness are reduced. Pain doesn’t radiate as much, and numbness is reduced and the range of movements of the cervical spine is improved. Brimhana Nasya, in particular, appears to decrease the rate of degeneration.
A study2 on the Vata condition of Apabahuka (frozen shoulder) in which specific herbs were given using Nasya showed encouraging results.
Another study3 on myopia (shortsightedness), showed that overall clarity of vision, visual acuity and clinical refraction were improved more when Nasya was used in conjunction with Tarpana (Ayurvedic herbs for this condition) rather than when just Tarpana alone was used.
Research4 has shown that Pradhamana Nasya is useful in the treatment of chronic sinusitis. Other research5 showed that when Nasya was combined with other Ayurvedic treatments, the benefits were substantial to patients suffering from this condition.
Given the encouraging research on the use of Nasya, maybe you should give it a try! I know that whenever I do it, it feels like I am giving my brain a wake-up call. What has been your experience with Nasya or with using diluted essential oils in your nose? Please add a comment below so that we can all learn from your experiences.
Disclaimer: The statements made on this page have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.