Vastra dhauti is one of the six purification techniques of hatha yoga called the Shatkarma. It is specifically aimed at cleaning the stomach and esophageal tract with the help of moist cotton cloth.
A cloth is needed for this practice which should be clean and new. A finely woven, unstarched, undyed cotton such as white muslin is preferable. Synthetic material should be avoided. The fabric should be about 2 cm wide (no wider than the tongue or it will fold as it passes down the throat) and 3 meters long. After few months of practice the width may be increased to 5 or 6 cm and the length up to 6’/2 meters. Any ragged edges or loose threads should be removed. The cloth should be thoroughly cleaned and boiled in water before using. It should then be placed in a mug or bowl of warm water. Salt can be added to the water but is not essential. The water keeps the cloth wet and moist, so that it goes smoothly down the esophagus into the stomach. The cloth may be soaked in milk or even sweetened milk if it makes it pleasant to swallow.
The same cloth may be used multiple times. After the practice, boil it thoroughly in hot water as it will be heavy with mucus. Dry it well, preferably in direct sunlight, and store it in a clean and dry place.
Squat with the heels flat on the floor and the buttocks raised or sit on a low stool. Place the mug containing the cloth on the ground between the feet. Relax the entire body. Take hold of one end of the cloth, leaving the other end dipped in the water. Fold the two corners of the end of the cloth so that it is slightly pointed; this will allow it to pass down the throat more smoothly. Place the pointed end as far back on the tongue as possible and then hold the cloth outside the mouth with the index fingers and thumbs.
Begin to swallow the cloth. If it catches in the throat and will not pass down, take a sip or two of warm water, but just a little bit, as the stomach is to be filled with the cloth and not with water. The cloth should be chewed slowly as if it were food; this will induce copious secretions of saliva to allow the cloth to slip down with ease. The cloth may stick in the lower part of the throat and a vomiting sensation may be induced. Halt for a few moments until this passes and then resume swallowing.
Once the cloth passes a slight further down, past the junction of the windpipe and the esophagus, the problem will end and it will slide easily into the stomach. Slowly feed more and more of the cloth into the mouth as the end slips down the esophagus, but do not feed it too rapidly or it will bunch up in the mouth and make the practice tough. Do not swallow the entire cloth; allow at least 30 cm to protrude from the mouth.
Stand up. Practice dakshina (right) and vaman (left) nauli in starting, then perform rotations. Finally practice madhyama (middle) nauli. 3 to 5 minutes of nauli is optimum for cleaning the stomach. Beginners should only perform for 1 minute. As a substitute to nauli, agnisar kriya may be practiced. The cloth may be left in the stomach for 5 to 20 minutes but no longer or it might start to enter the intestinal tract.
Removing the cloth:
Now the cloth must be slowly withdraw from the stomach. Sit back in the squatting position one more time. Take hold of the cloth and gently but firmly pull it. Do not pull too harsh or it may damage the delicate walls of the stomach and esophagus. There may be some resistance to the removal of the cloth at first, but this will vanish after a few seconds and the cloth will be easily extracted. Withdraw the whole cloth and let it fall into the mug or bowl.
Time of practice:
This practice should be practiced in the morning before any food or drink are taken. The stomach must be entirely empty before commencing.
Do not talk while performing this kriya. Do not try this practice without expert guidance.
This kriya should not be practiced by people suffering from hypertension, heart disease, stroke, during a time of general illness or when the body is in a weakened state. It should not be performed until two or three months after surgery.
Vastra dhauti induces strong reflexes in the throat and chest area. The practitioner has to wilfully restrict the urge to vomit which, as a result, tones the autonomic nervous system. The mucus from the chest is loosened, separated and expelled, while the muscles of the bronchial tubes relax, alleviating the symptoms of asthma.
According to Ayurveda, the chest and stomach are the main site of the mucus element or kapha dosha. Cleansing these areas with a cloth removes excess kapha, relieving all associated diseases. This karma also balances the pitta dosha, bile element, alleviating biliary disorders and improving the function of the upper gastro-intestinal tract.
It may take some practice before being able to swallow the whole cloth. Try to remain relaxed, do not stress and the process will become easier. Do not hurry; just swallow the cloth slowly. Once the mind receive the idea the technique will soon be mastered. After swallowing the cloth, the stomach should be massaged by the churning process of nauli so that the cloth rubs and cleans the entire stomach walls.