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Digestion and Constipation
Constipation and incomplete bowel movements can be one of the most frustrating experiences imaginable. Luckily, one of Ayurveda’s primary areas of focus is digestion.
Trouble eliminating regularly affects about 20% of people and those numbers go up as we get older.1 Common solutions include more exercise, eating more fiber and vegetables, and drinking more water. When these fail to support regular and complete bowel function, laxatives are often prescribed.
Most laxatives work by irritating the intestinal wall, which results in contraction, peristalsis, and a bowel movement, but not without a consequence. Bowel irritation with laxatives may stimulate a better bowel movement, but over time can desensitize the intestinal wall, resulting in the need for more aggressive bowel stimulation, frequency, and dependency.
Before you attempt laxative therapy of any kind, make these changes.
4 Tips for Better Poos
- Daily exercise for 30 minutes minimum
- Drink half your ideal body weight in ounces of purified water each day
- Take 1 tbs organic ground flax and 1 tbs chia seeds in 12 ounces water each day
- Six servings of fruits or cooked vegetables each day
Read my article on healthy alternatives to laxatives here.
Could the Cause be This Simple?
According to Ayurveda, one causative factor listed next to almost every health condition is the suppression of natural urges. Have you ever found yourself holding back the urge to move your bowels? Do you choose not to poo in public toilets, at your office, or at your school lavatory?
We are the only mammal that suppresses natural urges. Ayurveda describes 14 urges that humans regularly suppress.1 Holding back an urge here and it is likely no big deal, but a lifetime of repressing the urge to evacuate can cause a digestive issue that Ayurveda calls upward-moving digestion or udvartina. Over time, chronic suppression of this natural urge to eliminate can make the urge disappear.
Ideally, the urge to have a bowel movement should happen first thing in the morning within one hour of waking. Next time you have an urge for a bowel movement, challenge yourself to use a public or office restroom and let us know if you lived through the experience. I get it—it is hard, office toilets can be embarrassing, public toilets can be gross, and clean public toilets are generally hard to find. But addressing this type of psychosocial constipation must start with a change in the suppression of the urge to eliminate.
Read my article 14 Natural Urges We Shouldn’t Suppress.
The large intestine is the seat of vata and thus the seat of the nervous system. 95% of serotonin and other neurotransmitters are made and stored in the large intestine.3 We all process stress through the large intestines via the gut microbiome that regulates the relationship between gut and brain.
Gut microbes respond to stressful situations and send messages to the brain via the vagal nerve and other pathways still not yet fully understood.
Is My Constipation a Vata Imbalance?
According to Ayurveda, the primary cause of occasional constipation is a vata (air) imbalance linked to excessive dryness in the gut. When we’re under excessive stress, dryness can ensue, making complete and regular bowel function more difficult.
Excessive stress can cause the downward-moving aspect of vata—apana vata—to become aggravated, resulting in intestinal dryness and then the more complex imbalance udvartina (upward-moving digestion), described in Western medicine as when intestinal waste reabsorbs back to the liver via the enteric cycle. This can slowly compromise liver and gallbladder function, which play a major role in the healthy regulation of normal bowel function.2
Learn how to support healthy liver and gallbladder function here.
Balancing vata with diet is typically the first line of care for occasional constipation. A diet of dry, cold, raw, processed, and refined foods contribute to vata imbalance. To balance vata, eat warm, fall-winter harvested, moist, oily, well-cooked, and somewhat heavier foods that trend towards sweet, sour, or salty.
Find a list of vata-balancing foods here.
Classic Vata-Balancing Therapies
- Meditation or prayer twice a day. No time? Learn my One-Minute Meditation for free.
- Practice yoga first thing every morning for at least ten minutes.
- Go for a walk or exercise daily for at least 30 minutes.
- Start each day with a large glass of warm water and if tolerable, add a squeeze of lemon.
- Drink licorice and slippery elm tea to provide a lubricating, downward vata balancing effect (see Slippery Elm Prebiotic Formula).
- Drink a cup of warm milk with ghee before bed (See Ojas Nightly Tonic).
- The juice of raisins and prunes soaked in water overnight will provide both a mild eliminative and unctuous effect.
- Take two capsules (or one tsp) Triphala or Elim I (with slippery elm and licorice) three times per day for vata-type constipation.
- Make a tea of ginger, cumin, cardamom, cumin, and coriander with or before meals (see Gentle Digest).
- 1 tsp ghee, coconut oil, or olive oil with each meal.
- Take 1-2 tsp lemon juice and 1-2 tbs olive oil before bed for one month to exercise your gallbladder, which regulates bowel function.
Let us know if you try any of these remedies and how it goes for you. Here’s to happy bowels!