Monthly Archives: February 2011

Back to Bikram

I realize I pretty much renounced Bikram in a previous post, but I’d like to revisit some of my words. Because while I still have some major philosophical quibbles with the guy and don’t plan to ever attend his teacher training, I’m finding it impossible to separate his yoga from my own.

I thought I’d hit on a clever cop-out, calling his style of yoga by the generic term of “hot hatha yoga.” But I was wrong. Not only is “hot hatha yoga” too general of a description–I’ve learned there are plenty of studios who heat their rooms and use a sequence different from Bikram’s–but the man deserves credit for what he created.

So even though I still prefer to avoid officially licensed and endorsed Bikram studios, I recognize that the hot yoga I want to practice is the sequence he developed. I don’t like that he claims to have proprietary ownership over a style, and I don’t like that he charges unreasonable franchise fees. But I sure do like his yoga.

Since I’ve been focusing a lot more on vinyasa lately, I’ve come to really appreciate the rare hours I’m in the hot room. After hours and hours of teaching my body new tricks, it’s a welcome relief to return to something familiar. Something I can count on for focus and release.

Not that vinyasa doesn’t allow for focus and release–it most certainly does, and in a variety of ways I’m just beginning to discover. But moving slowly in a heated room; being given the time to sink into each posture and adjust for every nuance; having to cope with the intensity of my environment…these things do a body (mind and soul) good.

So even if I don’t always understand the choices he makes, I’m grateful to Bikram for practicing his yoga and for wanting it to be popular. I admire his confidence and accomplishments, and my own teaching will inherently reflect what I continue to learn from his classes. Different as we may be, the light within me definitely honors the light within him.

Just be you

Just be you–how many times have I heard that advice? Feels like it’s a common theme of the last few years of my life, and never more reinforced than this afternoon. Plenty of books have told me how I’m entirely worthy exactly as I am, and I know I’m a unique snowflake, and I’ve heard on NPR that we’re all drops of water in one perfect ocean. One happiness blog I read even has “just be you” as a fundamental tenet of life satisfaction. So it wasn’t news when I got the same message today.

The message is that I got it. Today’s in-person communication conveyed information and cultivated understanding in a way I believe is unique to the flow of spiritual energy. I have no idea what anyone else in my class learned or experienced, though I can make some guesses based on questions asked and information shared. But as far as I’m concerned our teacher was the best of professors in that he was entirely open to inquiry and he was fully himself. He made no apologies for going on tangents or letting the subject drift. His mind works this way, as many minds work. It is okay.

And in addition to a great many insights he freely offered, he also helpfully clarified my objective/mission/aspirations as a yoga teacher: Promote the light within people.

Namaste, basically. I honor the light within me as I honor the light within you. I want you to feel nourished and comfortable and safe, to have the energy to grow. And yes, I mean YOU–I am starting to feel this way about pretty much everyone I meet, particularly people people willing to read my blog or who will be my students.

And you and I both are doing just fine, just by being us. I find that really exciting! We don’t have to do anything different and we are already okay–but if we want to change, we have the ability. The energetically unlimited potential to occupy new spaces.

It feels so good not to try so hard, not to worry so much. I was probably especially receptive to this message today because before lunch we had a very intense vinyasa practice. It was very emotional for me; the instructor seemed to know I’ve been feeling insecure and inadequate, because she encouraged us to close our eyes and let go of expectation or approval.

If your eyes are closed, you can’t see how low your arms are sagging in warrior two, nor can you critique the angle of your hips in downward dog. Nor can you see anyone around you who is doing better or worse. You simply feel what your body is, where it is, and do your best.

Be who I am and do my best. And breathe. That’s my yoga.

Facing failure

It always perplexes me when I leave a yoga class feeling worse than I entered it.

Especially because I was in particularly high spirits today. I even had an impassioned afternoon conversation with a coworker who’s considering starting a yoga practice. I (think I) helped her absorb a valuable concept, which is that loud noises, crowded classes, and other distractions can actually aid our focus instead of derail it: By accepting what is, we make it part of our experience, something to work with rather than resist.

My cheerfulness persisted throughout my commute to the yoga studio and after identifying myself as a trainee to the instructor, I happily assisted her by coaxing students to line up their mats. (Straight rows make for a calmer space.)  I was practically bouncing around the room, I was so content with life, and then when I settled back onto my own mat the girl next to me asked if I was going to be a teacher, which sparked a delightful chat about our individual experiences and preferences. (She’s new to hot yoga and me to vinyasa. I’ve been meeting a lot of people who do both lately!)

So by the time the teacher called for us to get into child’s pose, I was poised for the best class of my yoga career. Little did I know, minutes later I’d be overwhelmed by a negative cyclone of self doubt, judgment, and despair.

For one thing, I couldn’t shake the desire to impress the teacher. She happened to also be one of the leaders of my teacher training–one of the ones who somehow intimidates me by her very friendliness and obvious comfort with herself and her surroundings. I know it doesn’t matter if she likes me, but there is definitely a part of me that wants to be her peer.

At any rate, during my energy high before class I’d felt confident when I approached her and offered to help, but as soon class started and I was following her dialogue, I was swamped by insecurity with a splash of self loathing.

I am not yet skilled at vinyasa. Most of my experience has been in the hot room, and I am still in the early stages of understanding the nuances–and sometimes the basics–of vinyasa poses. Usually I am pretty good about forgiving my ignorance and allowing my body to feel its way around the mat, but usually I’m not taking class from someone who will presumably evaluate me at some point. Suddenly I was extremely aware of the instructor’s presence and attention; of my aspirations to someday be like her and my body’s inability to do as she asked.

It didn’t help that the class was more psychically challenging than my yoga-sore body wanted it to be. It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right; every time I tried to move from downward dog to warrior one and failed to land my foot between my hands I felt like more and more of a hypocrite. I’d told my coworker to embrace the things that bothered her, and here I was resenting my experience. I’d told my mat neighbor I planned to teach, and yet I couldn’t even get into warrior one without physically picking up my foot and placing it between my hands!

I tried to follow my advice of just hours earlier and let my awareness of the teacher’s (imagined) judgment aid my practice instead of derail it; to be who I am in spite of (projected) disappointment or disapproval. I understood that in all likelihood she wasn’t even noticing me, and that if she was, she was of a mind to help. But the knowledge that I have so much to improve upon felt like evidence of present failure. I was a failure!

Then I tried telling myself it wasn’t true, that I wasn’t a failure, that I shouldn’t think that way. But since what you resist persists, the more I chided myself for thinking negatively, the more negative I became.

I managed to find a sense of surrender–or at least of exhaustion–by the time class wound down, but I definitely walked out feeling confused and a little grumpy. I’m so used to class lifting me up; why had this one been a buzz kill?

I still don’t have the answer, but a few hours later I’m feeling much better about my experience. For one thing, I came home and worked on my dialogue, with the aid of my teacher’s recent instructions echoing in my head. I’m pleased with the progress I made.

And another thing is that I remembered failure is part of the process. A different teacher told us last weekend that our brains love to learn from uncertainty, nervousness, fear, and failure. He encouraged us to get invested in our places of stumbling and faltering, for it will be from moving through them that we can truly grow.

I’m choosing to believe he’s right.

Words (can) matter

I’ve been thinking about language and definitions a lot lately. A big part of the challenge ahead of me lies in describing yoga postures effectively, in learning how to ask for exactly what I want from my students. It will be my responsibility to safely guide any number of people through an hour-long physical meditation, and I want to be sure we are communicating well.

That’s why they call the speech I’ll be giving a dialogue and not a monologue: Though I’m the only one talking, I’m also listening. My students are conveying understanding and giving off nonverbal energy; their actions are in direct response to my words.

We all respond to words; that’s why they’re so powerful. This became especially apparent to me over the weekend, when my training class split off into groups and attempted to define what yoga is. One thing we realized quickly is that answers depend on who is asking questions: Are we attempting to explain the basic essence to the uninformed? Are we delving into every possible subtlety as a course of philosophical debate? Is brevity of importance?

My cluster of seven or eight worked together well for the most part, though I came into conflict with another student. I am learning to be more comfortable with conflict, but in general I prefer to avoid it. However, I am passionate when I believe I’m right, and I felt strongly in this instance that my perspective was correct.

We argued over the word “can.” A portion of our group’s definition was that yoga “can cultivate balance in all aspects of one’s life.” The concept of yoga cultivating balance resonates strongly with me, so strongly that I found myself insisting that we remove the word “can” from the definition.

I was bursting with certainty: Yoga DOES cultivate balance in your life, whether you ask it to or not. Just like if you water a seed a plant will grow, if you practice yoga the balance will come. That’s the truth I have discovered for myself, and the one I want to share with everyone. And in that moment of group discussion, it felt vitally important to eliminate all doubt of possibility: “can” implies there is a “can’t,” that yoga could change your life, but it may not. I say it will, for sure.

It was right about the time I was wielding my professional copyediting experience as leverage to get my way when our instructor interrupted all the discussions and asked us to “go inward.”  He’d already done this a few times that morning and I was getting the hang of instant meditation. Sort of like the yogi version of a pop quiz. This time, the instructor asked us to pay attention to what we were feeling:

Do you feel the same as you did five minutes ago? Did you want the discussion to continue? Were you relieved to have the discussion stop? Did you feel strongly about convincing the others to agree with you on any points?

A sheepish wave of awareness crashed over me at that last one. Because I was a hundred percent definitely trying to convince anyone who’d listen that my point was correct, and that everyone in the group should agree. The instructor didn’t offer further insight, only suggested that we observe our feelings, and then reminded us that we didn’t have to do anything about the feelings we were having unless we wanted to.

Like a good therapist, the instructor got me thinking about my own motivations, and it felt good to pull away from my ego and remember that my viewpoint is a subjective perspective–it’s necessarily true that everyone else in the group experienced our interactions differently. And though all of us have gathered with the shared desire to grow and learn through yoga, we all have individual reasons for going through training, and that is a beautiful thing.

I love how yoga provides a common path for individual improvement. Whether you would just like to be able to touch your toes or you are striving for inner peace, the flow of postures will take you where you want to go. And while the specific wording of the dialogue I teach will differ from that of my peers, we share the intention of nurturing personal evolution, and that’s what really matters.

(Though I still felt satisfied when we eventually decided to drop the “can.”)

Thank goodness it’s only yoga

So my goal with this blog is to share an honest account of my journey. Which is pretty easy to do when I’m feeling positive, as I have been lately. Of course I didn’t think the roses and rainbows mentality would last forever, but I also didn’t expect to feel so overwhelmed after, um, the first day.

Sure, yesterday was technically the beginning but it was also basically a pep talk whereas today we got down to business. I was in my element during the morning session, taking copious notes as a special presenter reviewed the history of yoga and touched upon several ideas I’ve already begun to explore in this blog, so I felt encouraged and extremely engaged.

But even though the talk ran forty-five minutes into our lunch hour we weren’t given extra break time–nor was that fact communicated–which meant that although I only left the room for seventeen minutes, I still missed roll call and found myself in the uncomfortable position of defending my tardiness. (The staff is big on punctuality, which I totally support, hence me taking a seventeen-minute lunch.)

I guess since I’m supposed to be finding my voice I should have spoken up about the injustice but to be honest I am a little intimidated by my instructors. They said not to be, just like they said it doesn’t matter what clothes you wear–but all four of the ladies who led the afternoon session wore Lululemon and I couldn’t help but notice.

I am well aware that my insecurities alter my perception; in particular I have had past struggles with wanting to be like the pretty popular girls. But I am trying to focus on the present. These women seem like genuinely wonderful people, and someday, maybe even soon, I will feel close and connected to them (though I can’t imagine spending $70+ on stretchy pants).

In the meantime, after hearing their confident assertions all afternoon and then having the chance to try my hand at instructing a partner through a basic flow of poses–and instantly realizing how hard it is–I am feeling inadequate and discouraged.

Because I still think I’ve got potential, but I’ve also got a loooong road to travel before I’m true teacher material. I am undeniably challenged, and so it makes sense that doubt would surface. So I will accept my feelings and understand that they will pass. And I know what to do in order to gain confidence: my homework. I need to learn the sequence and create my dialogue and I need to attend class and improve my practice.

I will certainly do all those things and felt pressured to begin immediately–but if I had stayed for the vinyasa class I am sure I needed, I would have missed connecting with a dear friend who is visiting from another country. So instead I went to my dinner and allowed myself to enjoy it, and then I came home and listened to an online dialog while taking notes on favorite phrases for future use. I’m relieved to remember that tomorrow is a new day with fresh opportunity for learning and growth, and, as the online instructor said, “sometimes it’s good to remember that it’s only yoga.”

A true teacher

I’ve read that when you start to follow your own inner compass and live toward your life purpose that things fall into place with synchronicity. My personal experience in the last few months confirms this assertion, and it’s exciting to feel confident that things will work out, that it’s safe to have faith in the universe.

I’ve only had three hours of teacher training and they were definitely introductory. But already I can tell I am in the right place, that I have expansive opportunities at my fingertips and my own efforts will factor heavily into what I accomplish.

I am allowing myself to go with the flow–a particularly apt metaphor since I am learning a vinyasa flow sequence. If I don’t feel like teaching what I learn, I can simply benefit from personal knowledge. Some people do that and its perfectly fine; everyone in the room shares a passion and respect for the yoga, and that’s what matters most.

But I want to teach. The idea scares me but not as much as it thrills me so I’m pursuing it. I’m going to do my homework and listen with care; I’m going to be attentive and malleable. I’m going to give myself a whole chance to become what I am only beginning to envision.

One of the leaders told us tonight that the key to being a good teacher was to find our true voices. I’ve heard the same advice in writing classes, and I don’t doubt the essence of it. Voice is vital. In a yoga class, you can tell almost right away–from the first few spoken words–whether you connect with a teacher, how receptive you will be to what they are offering.

Because people can sense energy and frequencies, you can feel whether or not a teacher is speaking from the heart or by the book. And if the instructor is not leading from the soul, their voice will not ring true. It doesn’t mean they can’t adequately teach a class, but they won’t be the kind of teacher whose students feel empowered to reach into their own souls for guidance and peace.

I want to be a true teacher.

 

This is where the training begins

I get my first taste of teacher training tonight, and I am so excited! I am keeping my heart open and my expectations flexible, but after planning for this since November, it’s hard not be tingling with anticipation. What will it feel like to officially be taking yoga seriously? Who are the other people in my training group, and how will we change together over the next ten weeks? I am eager to learn, and looking forward to sharing my experiences.

In honor of the official start of teacher training, I did something today that was decidedly out of my comfort zone: I self-promoted this blog. And I don’t mean that I told my close friends and family; I’ve been doing that gradually for a month now. I mean I emailed, facebooked, and twittered everyone remotely connected to me and told them to check out this blog–and to tell anyone and everyone all about it. As a result, I’m hopefully attracting some new traffic (Welcome!), and am using all my yoga tools not to feel pressured or judged.

I realize there will be people reading this post who may not necessarily know me or care about yoga, and that’s cool. I’m hoping to make both topics seem interesting, but mainly I’ve come to really enjoy sharing my thoughts on a subject that I find endlessly fascinating, and so I’m going to continue exploring and reporting. (For some brief background on why I started this blog, see my post Getting Personal.)

I have so much effort to give and so much potential for growth, and, most importantly, I’m willing to transform. I’m also willing to face my fears and to be vulnerable, and I can’t think of a better way to become fearless than to express my personal insights in a public forum. So thanks for coming along on the journey and giving me the chance to share my practice, and I hope you’ll benefit from my experience. Namaste!*

*I am trying to be conscious of tossing around yoga lingo so that unfamiliar or cliched words don’t put people off, but “namaste” (pronounced “nah-mah-stay”) belongs in every vocabulary because it is an awesome greeting and/or farewell. There are a few different ways to translate it, but my favorite interpretation is “The light within me honors the light within you.” Many yoga classes end with an exchange of “namaste” and, though it does unfortunately fall into the cliched category of yoga words, I always use it sincerely.

YouTube yoga

Tonight I found myself in need of some asanas but without the willingness to attend a yoga class. I’ve spent the last three days with my immediate and extended family, celebrating the 100th birthday of my great-grandmother, and I was awhirl with emotions by the time I returned home. One of the best ways I know to soothe myself is to expend some energy through yoga, but I didn’t feel up for the intensity of power vinyasa, which is the moderately athletic style I’m currently learning to teach.

Fortunately for me, power vinyasa is just one facet of the gem that is yoga, so I decided I’d find a low-key video on YouTube and take it easy with some basic hatha poses. I clicked on the first video that appealed to me and was immediately rewarded by a peaceful demonstration of some very accessible postures. The session didn’t force me to break a sweat but my breathing definitely picked up the pace, which is exactly the balance I was looking for.

Because as much as I value yoga for its physical benefits, and thus appreciate working up a good sweat, sometimes I’m more in need of the psychological benefits. I still need the structure of the exercises to guide me, but a gentle approach where I can move slowly lets me focus on my breath and pay attention to the smallest details of each asana. Relaxing through deep breathing provokes a calm concentration that seems to reduce mental chatter and dislodge feelings, allowing me to process my thoughts and emotions with patience and understanding.

I was surprised to notice that the instructor included poses that I have previously found challenging, but the way she introduced them into the sequence, they simply felt like a natural progression. I wasn’t tempted to push or strain, only to feel my body and to pay attention to nuance. I also noticed that this sequence included modified versions of poses I am already familiar with, and I noticed that the modifications made my attempts easier and more confident–but they did not diminish my effort or the felt effects.

As I go through teacher training, I’m learning about many styles of yoga and could see myself teaching gentler, restorative classes in addition to motivating more active yogis to exercise in power vinyasa classes. Because not everyone needs to go fast, and humans have varying energy levels and physical abilities. I’m so pleased that people at sites like yogayak.com provide online classes and information about yoga. Like them, I’m passionate about making yoga accessible to everyone, and I’m deeply appreciative that tonight’s experiment left me feeling relaxed and refreshed, full of gratitude and with an open heart.

A glimpse of Light

Reading about yoga requires attention and concentration. I have the Grammys on in the background in my living room and I really like music, so it’s a struggle not to skim Light on Yoga, even though light reading it is not. And although I may give it more study later later, I suppose my current purview is sufficient for the stirrings of enlightenment; I’ve already learned at least a little.

I’ve confirmed my belief that yoga means union. It is also means communion. The word Yoga is derived from the Saknskrit root yuj, meaning to bind, join, attach, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply.

The previous paragraph is basically the first couple sentences of Light on Yoga, one of the most respected texts on yoga; it’s been around since 1966. I don’t know much about B.K.S. Iyengar but I have heard that he values the headstand and the shoulder stand as the parent poses of yoga, and I am not yet comfortable with those postures. We were given time to try them both during Friday night’s midnight yoga class, to the melody of a live jazz bass that fell eerily silent when it was time to try out our headstands.

Our teacher was so nice about it, no pressure thank goodness because despite her demonstrations my first attempts at balancing the crown of my head either between my elbows or against the nook of my enlaced fingers were both failed and frightening.

Still, I fared better in shoulder stand and can see how mastery of both poses would make me feel pretty great about myself, and require a certain degree of strength and focus I would appreciate acquiring. So I am open to what Iyngar has to say.

So far (p.37, about halfway through the introduction) I am very interested. I am liking the thoroughness, the forthrightness, the calm sureness of its tone. The information feels humble and honest if foreign and complicated.

I ordered Light on Yoga along with the other books from my training’s recommended reading list more than two months ago, but this is the first time I’ve felt a genuine desire to read this particular book. It had previously seemed dense and intimidating, so I am pleased to find myself curious, and to realize that if I pay attention, I can translate the general ideas enough to interpret them and benefit myself and others.

But for tonight, I’m just getting an overview–I’m allowing myself to be distracted by the Grammys because I have really been enjoying the quality live music, and, after all, yoga does teach us to appreciate the present moment!

What’s your frequency?

I like to be high and some seem to prefer low but all of us have set points. Weight, happiness, tolerance for bullshit–everyone’s internal thresholds are hard-wired into our neural networks. It’s not that we can’t change the patterns, but have you ever tried rewiring a home? It’s a lot of work.

Of all the things I work at changing, raising my frequency is the most immediately rewarding. I like to feel good as often as possible, and that is hard to accomplish if I’m being negative or sinking into sadness. Thankfully, I’m learning how to spot my own descent, how to recognize pain and allow it to heal.

Yoga is not supposed to hurt, and yet people do get injured. I have strained a muscle before. It happened because I was listening to the teacher more closely than to my Self, and I wanted to do exactly what I was told, and so I told my body to stretch more than it was prepared to, and the pain was sharp and sudden. I backed off right away but the damage was done: For the next month or two I had to be exceptionally aware of how postures affected my injured muscle. Failure to pay attention meant more pain.

When my frequency is low awareness eludes me. I am caught up in myself and not my Self. It hurts. When my frequency rises, I feel lighter, illuminated. My heart opens, and I want to listen, to learn and connect. I believe I can raise my set point of awareness, and maintain a frequency that exudes and attracts love. It just takes patient practice.

Loving discipline

I struggle with discipline. I don’t like to be told what to do and I have a hard time sticking to new routines. I have no trouble indulging.

It’s not only children who benefit from structure and discipline, but ever since becoming an adult I’ve taken far more pleasure in pleasing myself than I have in exerting control. But yoga helps me change.

Yoga is a kind teacher but a firm one: If you disregard its recommendations to practice on an empty stomach, to be hydrated, you may find yourself with nausea or a headache. You learn through experience that it feels much better to be prepared, to care for your body in advance of class.

And foresight requires discipline: If I know I am going to yoga at ten p.m., I cannot eat after seven p.m. (Some people can but it’s like sleep–everyone needs a different amount of time to balance energy.) I should not chug water after nine–which won’t be an issue since I plan to sleep until then, in order to be rested and relaxed.

I will turn down an afternoon cupcake if I know I am going to yoga after work; any other day I’d most definitely partake. And I choose hummous over happy hour because I know what the payoff will feel like, and because I genuinely believe that two hours of yoga accompanied by live music and followed by post-midnight tea and cookies will be a wonderful way to spend my Friday night.

I’m beginning to understand that discipline doesn’t have to feel like punishment. I’m not forcing myself to adopt healthy patterns; I’m getting used to living well. Thank goodness yoga gives me the framework to do that without deprivation.

Sometimes yoga is music

I can’t believe I’ve only known about Snatam Kaur, or, more accurately, her entrancing and soothing song “Ong Namo,” for only a week or two. I haven’t heard anything so beautiful since Donna DeLory’s “He Ma Durga” or maybe my first taste of Enya.

But this track is the best of both worlds because the beat is present but slow, and the words are few and worth repeating. (I suppose that’s why it’s a chant.)

Even someone who, contrary to what the last two paragraphs imply, is not super familiar with the “new age” music scene, much less able to understand Sanskrit, I can groove along to “Ong Namo” with confidence.

“Ong namo, guru dev namo.”

“I bow to the subtle divine wisdom, I bow to the divine teacher within.”

Could there be a better prayer?

And this one’s set to music that compels me join in. Which means I am connecting with spirit without really thinking about it. Bonus! The beauty of chanting a mantra is that, similar to an affirmation, you don’t have to fully understand or believe it for it to be helpful. It’s more beneficial if you believe, because belief summons additional energy–but the lack of belief has no power to diminish the energy of what is true. You can tell when you hear this song that Snatam Kaur believes, and her energy radiates audibly.

As I said on Facebook the first time I ever heard “Ong Namo,” I am so grateful for this music and want to share its peace and beauty. Listen up: This is what love sounds like.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Td4fqW41Qms&feature=related]

 

Your nose needs a neti

Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip-drip-drip-drip.

I try to be patient as I wait, my head tilted slightly to the  left, my chin tucked into my chest. I have the spout of what looks like a gray plastic genie lamp wedged into my right nostril. The genie’s lamp is halfway full of salt water that I’m pouring into and through my nose. As I wait, the slow drips from my left nostril increase in speed, until they are a trickle and then a thin steady stream of liquid. When there’s no water left in the genie lamp, I set it down and blow my nose.

I’m not going to describe what comes out, but I am going to encourage you to use a neti pot on a regular basis. It’s a simple and effective way to keep your nasal passageways clear, and they’re a huge part of breathing. Since breathing is the primary way we receive energy for life, it’s important to do it well. Breathing through the nose is the best way to get oxygen into the lungs, because the nose does an exceptional job of filtering and regulating the flow of air. As long as it’s not clogged, of course.

Nasal congestion is never comfortable and can even be painful (sinus infection = shudder), but using a neti pot/genie lamp at least once a day can go a long way to relieve symptoms and prevent problems. This is partly because the salt water reduces the swelling of nasal tissues, which allows more air to pass between them, and partly because the gravitational force of the water flushes out whatever gunk has been blocking your nasal passages.

Using a neti pot is simple, and it can easily become part of your routine–just do a rinse every time you brush your teeth. It only takes a couple of minutes and in addition to improving your quality of breath, you’ll learn patience and discipline. Because unlike brushing your teeth, you can’t control how fast you go: Either the water flows through freely, or you wait till it does.

What you can control is how pleasant your experience is–you won’t enjoy using water that is too hot or too cold, and it’s important that you add the right kind of salt as well as the right amount. The right kind is non-iodized, so no table salt. Stick with natural sea salt, which is easily (and cheaply!) found in most grocery stores. And the right amount is whatever doesn’t sting–usually less than a teaspoon. (Most neti pots come with packets of dressed-up sea salt; they’re good guides for how much salt to add and are useful for when you travel.) If you ever feel any stinging, stop, pour out the brine, and try again with less salt.

The refreshing feeling that follows a good sinus cleanse is invigorating, and there’s no easier, more natural and affordable way to promote respiratory health. After lapsing my neti habits for a few months and finally picking up the pot again, I am more convinced than ever that all of us should be rinsing every day.

Just make sure you’re alone before it’s time to finish off with a hearty nose-blowing….