Nasya, Pranayama, and the Science of Brain Lymph

Nasya, Pranayama, and the Science of Brain Lymph

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Brain Detoxification

A January 2024 study published in the prestigious journal Nature has confirmed what Ayurveda described thousands of years ago regarding how the brain detoxifies. Western medicine is limited regarding therapeutics for the lymphatic system. With regard to the brain’s lymphatics, even less is known. Ayurvedic practitioners, however, developed numerous therapies in support of healthy brain lymph drainage that will be discussed here.

About 15 years ago at the University of Virginia, the brain’s glymphatic system was declared to be a complex lymphatic system that dumps about 3 pounds of metabolic trash and toxins out of the brain each year. This occurs mostly while we sleep. This spawned new interest in the complex mechanisms of the brain’s lymphatic circulation.

Now, this new 2024 study has confirmed that the brain’s cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is carried throughout the brain via the brain’s lymphatic detox pathways, which culminate in the nasopharyngeal lymphatics in the area behind the nose. This discovery helps to further explain the mechanisms for these Ayurvedic treatments: 

The Newly-Discovered Mechanism Behind Nasya and Pranayama (Whole Brain Detox)

The layers of tissues that line the inside of the skull are called meninges. They are drained by various lymphatic vessels. The meninges include the highly vascularized outermost dura layer of the inner skull, the arachnoid space which carries cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and the pia mater which is the innermost meninge next to the brain. Numerous lymphatic vessels carry cerebrospinal fluid to nourish and detoxify these tissues.

The CSF also rinses the brain’s ventricles, which are the spaces within the folds of the brain. This latest study confirmed that the majority of these lymphatic vessels carry CSF to the paranasal lymphatics behind the nose. These nasopharyngeal lymphatics lubricate and detoxify the brain, olfactory nerves, and cranial nerves while linking these nerves to the emotional cortex (also known as the limbic system).

From there, these brain lymphatics escort the CSF (with toxins in tow) to the deep cervical lymphatic vessels in the neck, then back to the heart and liver for further detoxification. This entire detox pathway is refreshed with new CSF about 3-5 times a day. 

One of the key findings of the 2024 study was that the lymphatics that carry CSF to nasal and cervical lymphatics are not affected or degenerated by age. The function of these pathways is age-resistant, which suggests that supporting this system may hold healing possibilities for future age-related conditions affecting brain health. 

Ayurvedic Anatomy

According to Ayurveda, the main governing principle of the structure and circulation of the skull, brain, and central nervous system is called tarpaka kapha. Kapha governs the body’s structure and tarpaka (meaning ‘to record and retain’) both nourishes and detoxifies the brain. Tarpaka plays an important role in recording old emotional trauma as a species’ survival tool–so that we can remember and avoid repeating a life-threatening event. Tarpaka also records emotional impressions that may have served us as children to avert danger, but as adults, this means we may be holding on to emotional patterns linked to worry, anxiety, sadness, incessant thinking, and mental health issues.

According to Ayurveda, we first feel emotional trauma in the emotional and spiritual heart called sadhaka pitta. These impressions are then carried to the brain via prana vata, which governs the subtle movements of the body and nervous system. In the brain, these impressions are then written into and recorded in tarpaka kapha or the waxy myelin sheaths of the white matter of the brain.

See also Why Grieving is Important: Understanding Sadhaka Pitta

Ayurvedic doctors have long recognized old emotional traumas as a source of mental health concerns and their connection to the development of higher brain function. Now we have the research to better understand the link between the CSF/brain lymph to the detoxification pathway for releasing old emotional trauma. Holding on to emotional stress activates the primitive brain, which responds primarily to thoughts, emotions, and feelings. This can hold us hostage to the ups and downs of our emotions. The Ayurvedic techniques for tarpaka kapha are aimed at freeing us from primitive brain behavior and giving us access to higher brain function and consciousness-based thinking. One such method to free us from primitive brain behavior is breathwork or pranayama.

How Breathing Moves Cerebral Spinal Fluid 

There are numerous pranayama breathing techniques used in Yoga and Ayurveda. I have written about the ancient wisdom and science of many of them. While they each have their unique physiological effect, the effect they all have in common is help with neuroplasticity: the ability to change our brain and how we think. Neuroplasticity offers us the ability to let go of old trauma and rise above the stickiness of emotions and negative thinking. Studies also show that pranayama techniques shift the brainwave patterns from a stress-response beta activity to alpha or gamma patterns, which are linked to higher brain functioning and higher states of consciousness. 

One of the major mechanisms of pranayama is the ability to pump CSF within the spine, the central nervous system, and the brain. The major pump for the body’s lymphatic system and brain respiration is the diaphragm. In a study on athletes, 91% of them did not have a fully functional diaphragm, which suggests that very few of us do. Diaphragm function may be a factor related to your mental health. Without the adequate flow of CSF in the brain through proper breathing, the brain’s lymphatic vessels will accumulate toxins that are linked to cognitive decline, altered mood, inflammation, sleep concerns, and compromised immunity or auto-immunity.

Read All my Articles on Breathing and Pranayama Here 

Nasya For Releasing Old Emotions

As mentioned before, there is a direct anatomical link between the para-nasal lymphatics around the nose to the drainage of CSF from the emotional cortex (limbic system), meninges, and brain ventricles. In Ayurveda, nasya (one of the five aspects of panchakarma)is a powerful detox for the brain lymph, aimed at releasing old emotional trauma. The glymphatic system processes waste from all areas of the brain through the sagittal sinus to the para-nasal lymphatics. Your sagittal sinus follows the pattern of a mohawk haircut on your head. The sagittal sinus is a drainage pathway just on the inside of the skull in the arachnoid space (where most of the meningeal CSF flows). 

Nasya therapy is a process of sniffing warm herbalized oil deeply into the sinuses in an attempt to initiate the dumping of congested brain lymphatics. The anatomical space between the olfactory (cribriform) plate and the meninges is quite small. In order for a nasya therapy to be effective, the nasopharyngeal lymphatics and sinuses need to be vaso-dilated (opened up). This is accomplished by a warm oil massage of the head, face, and ears, followed by eucalyptus steam inhalation through the nose, and then the application of warm/hot water bottles to open the sinuses and the anatomical spaces for optimal lymphatic drainage. This preparation for the nasya oil inhalation is crucial and should take at least one-half hour for this therapy to be effective. This is followed by 3-4 rounds of nasya oil nasal sniffing with the head hanging off a bed or table. Then, if there is no discomfort, a recipe called shunta gunthi (ginger drops) is sniffed for 3-4 rounds. After the nasal sniffing therapy, the treatment ends with a saltwater gargle and rest. Please note: the nasya therapy should be done in the daytime, at least one hour before dinnertime, and not in the evening hours before sleep. If done too close to sleep, it can cause a post-nasal drip of the oil.

I administered Ayurvedic Panchakarma in our in-residence detox facility for 26 years, with my main goal being emotional transformation rather than solely physical detox. The most important therapy in this process proved to be the combination of nasya and pranayama techniques, which is why I highlight them here. The nasya can be done at home or in an Ayurvedic clinic.

Everything you need to know about Nasya! Get My Step-by-Step Written and Video Instructions on How to Perform a Therapeutic Nasya at Home Here.

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Dr. John

2 thoughts on “Nasya, Pranayama, and the Science of Brain Lymph”

  1. I’ve tried bathing my head in your massage oil and it turned my white hair brown. Not all people have dark hair or no hair to be able to do this. It did not shampoo out. Any suggestions?


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