Gina, one of my students, does yoga for almost three years. Gina does quite an intense yoga practice and tries to be vegetarian (her words!). Recently, she confessed that even yoga hasn’t yet helped her with constipation. In addition, Gina admitted she finds it hard to wake up in the morning for her yoga practice and is feeling constantly lethargic during the day. My guess was that Gina’s exhaustion and sleepiness were primarily due to constipation.
Well, Gina is not alone as modern lifestyle wreaths havoc to our digestive systems, turning constipation into a major disease in most households. I bet most of you have experienced it at least once and know how awful that can be. Not being able to empty your bowels isn’t a nuisance, it is a serious disease.
But constipation isn’t only about hardly passing stools and the following bloating. It has several other associated symptoms too, such as headaches, bad breath, acne, loss of appetite, irritability, hemorrhoids, acidity, ulcers in the mouth, disturbed sleep, mood swings, dullness and lack of enthusiasm. Though all of these symptoms may not appear together, constipation is associated with most of these symptoms.
Ayurveda believes that constipation is the result of indigestion, which leads to the accumulation of faeces in the intestine. This produces Vata and since Vata is mostly the air element, its dry and cold quality interferes with the functioning of the colon and manifests as heaviness, stomach pain, and increased thirst.
Of course, people with the Vata constitution are most prone to dryness and constipation, but the real causes for that are lifestyle-related. Skipping meals, eating fast, eating junk foods or eating under stress, anxiety and the pressure of deadlines, being on the run all day long and not having the time to relax properly are just some of those poor lifestyle choices that can lead to your guts shutting down on you.
Some other causes include travel, age, pregnancy, lack of exercise and even poor breathing patterns.
Back to nutrition. Insufficient water intake is the major cause of dryness in the body and constipation is one of the ways your body is telling you you need more water. The food in your intestinal tract needs water to move and reach its final destination.
Drinking sufficient water is the number one remedy that is easy to get and is free.
Processed food, meat, alcohol, and low fibre foods add to the dryness so they come second as causes of constipation. Drinking excess tea and coffee can aggravate the problem and even cause chronic constipation. Yes, some people say that coffee helps them in the morning to go to the toilet, yet coffee, like alcohol, tends to dehydrate the body even more so in the long run and with existing constipation they are more likely to make things complicated.
The final nail is sedentary lifestyles with too many hours sitting and too few hours moving. Oh, and moving from the office chair to the office kitchen for coffee doesn’t count as exercise. Brisk walks, jogging, dancing, and yoga should become part of your daily routine if you want good digestion.
What you can do:
The nutrients in leafy veggies help in muscle contraction, while
fibrous fruits increase the bulk of the faeces. One best way out is to follow a vata-pacifying diet, by keeping away from cold foods and drinks, dried fruits, salads, and most beans. Instead, opt for warm foods/ drinks and well-cooked veggies.
Triphala is one of the most trusted and effective remedies for curing constipation. Have it in the form of tea. Else, grind together with a quarter teaspoon each of triphala, cardamom seeds and coriander seeds and have twice a day. The glycoside present in Triphala has laxative properties, while coriander and cardamom seeds help treat flatulence and indigestion.
On consultation with your Ayurvedic physician, you can take a teaspoon of powdered licorice root, and mix it up with warm water, adding a teaspoon of jaggery to it. This helps in improving bowel activity.
The high fibre content present in figs and plums makes these fruits the ideal remedy for constipation, particularly in kids. Figs and plums also help keep your digestion strong. They could be included as part of a daily diet.
Ginger, being a warming herb can help generate more internal heat, thereby activating the process of digestion. The menthol present in peppermint has an antispasmodic effect that helps relax the muscles in the digestive tract, making it easier for the stool to pass through. Dandelion tea has a mild laxative effect too.
Since ancient days, people have believed in the power of castor oil, which is a popular natural laxative. This oil stimulates small and large intestines. On consuming 1 to 2 teaspoons of the oil on an empty stomach, one can pass stool within 8 hours.
Drinking sufficient quantities of water is a remedy by itself, as water hydrates the body and helps the food move along the digestive system. It helps soften the stools too. Ideally, you should drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day. However, do not replace it with any other artificial or sweetened beverage. There is really no substitute for clean and pure water. Also, ensure that you exercise at least half an hour a day to stimulate bowel activity.
As mentioned earlier, Ayurveda believes that excess vata disrupts the downward energy that supports elimination and stability. So what is the solution, you ask? Go upside down with inverted postures! Postures such as ‘viparita karani’ (legs up the wall pose) can help reverse the flow of ‘prana’ in the body and aid better integration. They stimulate the lower belly and help settle the pelvic organs that may have been disrupting the whole process.
If these simple measures do not work for you, maybe you need your doctor’s advice on any internal medications, and the appropriate dosage and course of treatment to help you find relief from constipation.
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