Here’s what Ayurveda says about the cause of hiccups. Plus, how breathing exercises can help get rid of them.
Can You Cure Hiccups?
There is no shortage of suggested cures for hiccups, but do any of them really work?
Try drinking a glass of water through a napkin, and if that doesn’t work, try drinking it while upside down. If that doesn’t work, drink from the far side of the glass, and if that doesn’t work, have someone scare the bejesus out of you.
Often, the hiccups stop on their own, while you prepare the next miracle cure.
For most, hiccups are a comedic nuisance, but for others, they can severely impact quality of life, which has prompted a serious scientific search for a real hiccup cure.
In June, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Network Open) reported on a hiccup technique that was 92% effective for the 249 hiccup sufferers that tried it.
The Western and Ayurvedic Science on Hiccup Treatment
In the JAMA study, hiccup sufferers used a device called a forced inspiratory suction and swallowing tool (FISST), which stimulates the phrenic and vagus nerves by inducing a diaphragmatic contraction and epiglottis closure. The epiglottis is the flap that closes your throat at the base of your tongue.
The key to the FISST device used in the study is in the forced suction during the inhalation. It’s like drinking aggressively through a hard plastic coffee straw, which is super narrow and engages the diaphragm more strongly. After this forceful inhalation, swallowing forces the epiglottis to close, which stops the hiccups.
Before I describe this study, let’s look at the ancient medical wisdom related to hiccups. According to the Caraka Samhita, Ayurveda’s main text from some 2,500 years ago, there are five types of hiccups, called hikka. Three are severe, requiring medical attention, and two are the type we see most commonly.
The two most common types of hiccups in Ayurveda are called ksudra hikka, caused by physical exertion, and annaja hikka, caused by overeating or overdrinking.
In Ayurveda, hiccups are prevented by avoiding the following:
- Cold drinks
- Carbonated drinks
- Excessive alcoholic consumption
- Eating too fast
- Excessive fasting
- Excessive physical exertion
- Exposure to dusty, dry air
- Eating meals at irregular times
- Excessive intake of raw foods
- Excessive intake of spicy foods
Hiccups are a vata imbalance that blocks kapha—the seat of the lungs. When vata energy puts undo pressure on the diaphragm, the diaphragm can go into spasm, causing hiccups. In most cases this does not affect normal respiration, but it can in more severe cases.
The Major Cause of Hiccups in Ayurveda (Udvarta) + Hiccup Solutions
Poor digestion often starts with the stomach holding onto to food longer than it should, which is called gastro paresis.
A delayed emptying of the stomach after overeating, overdrinking, or eating foods that aren’t good for your constitution can cause upward moving digestion, called urdvarta, in addition to upward moving vata. When a full stomach begins to put undo pressure on the diaphragm, the diaphragm will be unable to fully contract and relax—a very common occurrence.
2 Strategies to Get Rid of Hiccups
- To remedy this, a specific Ayurvedic breathing technique called pratiloma is suggested. This pranayama is designed to strengthen the diaphragm. A technique similar to this is used in hospitals around the world under the name Inspiratory Muscle Training for heart failure, lung failure, recovering from COVID, and reversing digestive reflux.
2. The second strategy used to address underlying digestive isvsues related to pesky hiccups is doing a thorough evaluation of every aspect of your digestive process.
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