Vamana dhauti is a cleansing kriya, a method the ancient yogis used to purify their physical bodies and thus, in resonance, purify all energetic levels of their being. For this practice, every morning aspirants swallow water and then, with the aid of a finger at the back of the throat, make themselves throw up.
The dhauti is said to remove excess phlegm and mucus from the stomach, but from a medical perspective, there’s rarely too much there.
We need mucus to line the stomach to protect it from extremely acidic juices the stomach cells release to digest food. Mucus producing glands are found in the esophagus, the long narrow tube which runs from the mouth to the stomach. Without the mucus they produce, food doesn’t slide down the passage so easily, a condition which is frustrating and painful.
Those glands are also found within the stomach itself. Nature put them there to coat the walls and prevent their contact with food particles, acid, and invasive pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Mucus is composed of water, electrolytes and a mixture of several types of a special kind of protein called glycoproteins. The glycoproteins have amphoteric properties and as such are capable of buffering small amounts of either acids or alkalies as needed during digestion.
Bicarbonate ions in the mucus also act to neutralize an overabundance of acid.The mucus produced in the gastrointestinal tract is a gift of nature, and it functions in the overall balance and harmony of physiological processes. Sometimes though, people swallow mucus into the stomach that comes from the respiratory tract.
It happens when they’re over producing it there because of a cold (or other viral or bacterial infection) or because of nasal allergies. An excess of swallowed respiratory mucus can cause nausea, but there are no serious consequences.
The best way to treat nausea from swallowed mucus is not to throw up but rather to prevent it from getting there in the first place. Avoid allergens and practice good hygiene to prevent infections. Cough up mucus collecting in the back of the throat into a tissue. Do neti every morning when suffering from excess respiratory mucus production during an infection or allergic response.
Don’t practice vamana dhauti on a daily basis. It’s not good for the health of your physical body. For cleansing and purifying the energy body, there are better techniques, things like pranayama.
There’s a question regarding the true yogic basis of this technique, and from a physiological and medical perspective, vamana dhauti does little to help an aspirant and can do much to hurt.
The medical literature citing harmful effects from repeated vomiting comes mainly from studies of bulimic patients who may throw up more than once a day. Habitual vomiting and repeated contact of the teeth with acidic juices from the stomach can cause ugly erosions of tooth enamel and cavities.
A progressive decalcification occurs that leads to a loss of enamel and dentin, wearing away the teeth slowly over time. Habitual vomiting leads to an increased number of cavities and a higher dental fracture rate as well as increased sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures of food and air.
Another feature occasionally observed in self-inducing vomiters is swelling of the parotid glands intermittently. That gives the cheeks a chipmunk like appearance, similar to those suffering from the mumps. Heartburn and chest pain occur in many people due to the high acid content of the stomach juices (pH of 2) burning the esophagus.
Repeated vomiting can cause esophagitis which can be a precursor to esophageal cancer, and it can lead to abnormal oropharyngeal swallowing patterns and achalasia. That means that repeatedly dousing the esophagus in acid can disrupt the motor movement of the muscles so they don’t function properly and therefore you can’t swallow your food properly.
Another thing that we are seeing medically from increasing amounts of acid regurgitating from the stomach are lung problems. It only takes a tiny amount of stomach acid “going down the wrong tube” into the lungs through the trachea. Acid in the lungs destroys them. Asthma and trouble breathing from scar tissue formation are the result, and tiny amounts of stomach acid in the lungs has been postulated to be the cause of death in the mysterious illness, BOOP.
An article in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported on five patients who developed pancreatitis from frequent vomiting. Pancreatitis is a disorder is which the pancreas becomes inflamed and begins to digest itself with the enzymes usually meant for digesting food.
One of those five patients died from her pancreatitis. Death is a pretty serious complication to risk from doing a kriya that hasn’t shown any benefit. There’s another way that death can occur, too. It’s called Boerhave’s Syndrome, and it’s caused by repeated, forceful retching and vomiting.
All that force and pressure can lead to simple tears in the esophageal mucosa which leads to a little minor bleeding, a condition called a Mallory-Weiss tear. For heaven’s sake, if you see blood in your vomit, stop!
If vomiting stops, that Malloy-Weiss tear will heal nicely on its own. But if it gets out of control with further vomiting, then the full thickness of the esophageal wall can rupture, spilling acid and stomach contents into the surrounding chest tissue.
That’s often more than the body can take, and it succumbs to infection and death. While it’s true that a lot of things in life involve a little risk, the benefit to risk ratio has to be high enough to make it worth it. There’s not much benefit obtained from the practice of vamana dhauti.
There are other, better ways to cleanse and to sublimate energy. Some risks are worth it for the fun of it, but I can’t imagine too many people get a rush from vomiting. If you are someone who does, um… well, maybe you need some help.
1. Gavish D et al. Bulimia. An underlying behavioral disorder in hyperlipidemic pancreatitis: a prospective multidisciplinary approach. [Arch Intern Med. 1987 Apr;147(4):705-8.] 2. Stacher G. Gut function in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2003;38:573–587. [PubMed]