How often do you resist the impulse to pass gas, burp, yawn, or sleep? Or suppress the desire to pee, poo, or shed a tear?
Habitually and often unconsciously, we commonly find ourselves suppressing natural urges such as these, thinking nothing of it. According to Vāgbhata (one of the most influential classical writers of Ayurveda), suppressing natural biological and emotional urges is a major no-no. It may surprise you to learn that regularly suppressing the following 14 natural urges can lead to a host of health imbalances.
I will also describe five urges that we should suppress or learn to control in order to live a healthy and content life.
14 Natural Urges Not to Suppress (Adharaniya vega) 1
- Suppression of Flatus: Chronic suppression of passing gas will force the downward moving vata (called apana) to build up in the intestines and eventually cause upward-moving digestion, which slows down the normal downward movement of the intestines. Since apana governs urination, bowel function, reproduction, and lower extremity strength, any of these can be imbalances from chronic suppression of gas.1
Gas is a normal process of the gastrointestinal tract. The microbes in the gut literally make gas as a natural part of their metabolism. One study suggests that a healthy adult should pass gas some 14–25 times per day. While in the West, we are embarrassed by this natural process, in the East, the passing of gas is an unabashed, regular, audible event.3
Spices such as ginger, fennel, cumin, coriander, and cardamom with meals can support issues related to gas and bloat. Learn more here.
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- Suppression of a Bowel Movement: In the West, a clean bathroom is often hard to find and in office settings, it is common to resist pooping in the restroom for fear of someone following you in and blaming you for the foul smell you left behind.
The result is that holding and suppressing the urge to go to the bathroom is an extremely common bad habit.
According to Ayurveda, poor digestive function is linked to 85% of all health imbalances. Irregular bowel movements and occasional constipation top the list of causative factors for poor digestion. Suppressing this urge will not only cause vata and gas to move upwards (as with suppression of flatus), suppressing bowel movements also causes the upward movement of toxins and blockage of apana vata in the gut, reproductive system, and lower extremities.
According to Vāgbhata, suppressing this urge can cause occasional headaches, sinus concerns, abdominal discomfort, and belching, which suggests that the upward-moving digestion has risen all the way to the stomach, heart, head, and sinuses. New science does in fact link the neurons and microbes of the large intestine to the health of these systems.4
Taking triphala before bed is suggested to support healthy and regular bowel function. Learn more here.
- Suppression of Urination: We have all learned how to hold our pee when stuck in a car or other situation where a bathroom is not to be found. When we think of life in the wild or in the animal kingdom, such suppression of natural urges would just simply never happen.
In the same way suppression of flatus and feces causes apana vata to stagnate and eventually move upwards, so does suppression of urination.
According to Ayurveda, this suppression has been linked to the same concerns as suppressing flatus and feces, as well as imbalances in the bladder, penis, vagina, groin, and kidneys.1
For this imbalance, it is suggested to take both the five spices of ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, and cardamom with meals as well as triphala before bed, which will support health urinary function.
- Suppression of Belching: While belching is a normal phenomenon after a meal, excess belching can be a sign of indigestion, liver concerns, and gall bladder concerns.
Chronic suppression of belching has been associated with issues such as poor tasting of foods, nerve issues, heart concerns, and lower intestinal gas.1
If you believe you have excess belching, you may want to look for an underlying concern related to the stomach, liver, gall bladder, and pancreatic digestive function. Learn more here.
- Suppression of Sneezing: Everyone has found themselves holding back a sneeze in certain situations, but according to Ayurveda, if this becomes a habit, it can lead to imbalances such as headache, neck tension, dullness of the senses, and tiredness.1Support this imbalance with nasya. Learn more here.
- Suppression of Thirst: Chronic suppression of thirst can cause dehydration, dryness, coldness, weight loss, fatigue, heart, and kidney concerns. Such an imbalance can cause further lack of thirst, which can further exacerbate these imbalances.1
Ayurveda suggests sipping hot water throughout the day for two weeks to remedy this.
- Suppression of Hunger: Restricting food for purposes of losing weight or avoiding digestive distress can breed a chronic tendency to avoid food. This has been linked to loss of appetite and taste, weight loss, and abdominal concerns.1
Small portions of easy-to-digest food like kitchari and sweet potatoes along with ghee is suggested to restore normal desire for food.1 Learn more here.
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- Suppression of Sleep: It is hard to imagine anyone choosing to suppress sleep, but with an imbalanced lifestyle, the urge to sleep can be replaced with a lack thereof. This can cause further fatigue and a state where you are wired and tired to the point of being too tired to sleep.
Sleep is rejuvenative and ironically, we all need energy from sleep to help calm the body to be settled enough to sleep. Ayurveda suggests an oil massage before bed to help reset normal sleep cycles in sync with circadian rhythms.1 Learn more here.
- Suppression of Cough: It is suggested in Ayurveda that suppressing a cough (which is commonly recommended over the counter) will actually cause the cough to increase. Chronically suppressing a cough has also been linked to issues with taste, breathing, and even heart concerns.1
Slimy herbs such as licorice, marshmallow, and slippery elm are suggested. Learn more here.
- Suppression of Heavy Respiration: During heavy exercise or heavy labor, breathing naturally becomes labored. Luckily, today it is not culturally expected to hold back deep exertional breathing as it may have been in the past.
Nasal breathing exercise is the way to restore full efficiency of breath during labor or while exercising.1, 5 Learn more here.
- Suppression of Yawning: Yawning is a natural response to the body’s demand for more oxygen. Chronically suppressing yawning can lead to chronic lack of oxygenation of blood moving toward the brain.
According to Ayurveda, such suppression imbalances vata and all aspects of the nervous system.1 Learn more about yawning here.
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- Suppression of Vomiting: Kapha or undigested food, called ama in Ayurveda, can build up in the stomach. The body’s natural way to remove ama in the stomach is to vomit.Suppression of this urge can cause ama to migrate into the lower intestines and lymph, causing health issues in these areas. The remedy is to reduce ama with calorie restriction, fasting, and improving digestive strength.
Learn more here.
- Suppressing Semen (Ejaculation): The practice of holding back ejaculation is discussed as part of Tantra Yoga. The mastery of such practice is rare and many force or hold ejaculation back, thinking they are redirecting energy inward to create a deeper inner bond during lovemaking.
This is a very specialized practice, which if done incorrectly, can easily cause urinary tract imbalances in the prostate, urethra, and genitals.1
Learn more here.
- Suppressing Tears: Have you ever wondered why we all resist shedding a tear in a movie theater or while reading a novel? These tears are the tearing down our emotional armor—something we all have trouble letting go of, but underneath awaits your more sensitive, vulnerable, and powerful self. Holding back tears is akin to holding back emotion. It is important, according to Ayurveda, to practice expressing one’s emotions rather than holding them back.
The mind is quick to replace true emotions with reactive emotions, which can take us further away from experiencing our true selves and a deeper sense of fulfillment.Learn more about emotional health and Ayurvedic psychology in my emotional health articles here.
Head massage, eye support such as netra tarpana, and listening to uplifting stories can facilitate the release of tears and emotion. 1
Urges We Need to Learn How to Control (Dharaniya vega)
- It is suggested in Ayurveda that to be happy and content in this life and the afterlife, we must learn to control the following urges:
- Desire for Sex
The technique to accomplish this in Ayurveda and yoga is called pratyahara. Learn more about pratyahara here.
As we enter this new year, it is a great time to reflect on these lists: are there some healthy urges that you habitually suppress or some unhealthy urges which you consistently indulge in?
Becoming aware of how we unconsciously suppress healthy natural urges while not suppressing the unhealthy ones can offer a whole new perspective on how to make the long-term health gains we all seek.