The punch line of many jokes and the source of continued embarrassment in meetings and classrooms; flatulence has been a staple of our species’ history for as long as bodily functions have been documented. Flatulence is the release of gas from the intestinal tract as a result of fermentation of certain carbohydrates. We can experience flatulence when we eat certain things like beans and high-fiber foods, consume items we have an allergic reaction to like dairy and wheat products, drink gassy substances like carbonated beverages, eat too quickly, ingest problematic food combinations, or have diseases of the gastrointestinal tract that trigger it as a symptom (such as inflammatory bowel diseases).
Unless it is an indication of other, more serious diseases, flatulence is considered to rarely be a problem beyond the embarrassment it creates in social and professional situations like those mentioned above.
Everyone experiences flatulence, and it has been estimated that the average person passes gas between ten and twenty times a day.
The Western medical community advises sufferers of flatulence to determine which foods have caused the symptoms and to experiment with removing them from and possibly replacing them in their diet. Sufferers are also advised to eat slowly, avoid chewing gum and hard candies, avoid smoking, and to exercise on a regular basis. Certain over-the-counter medications, such as Beano and Lactaid, also claim to help reduce flatulence in response to the intake of specific foods.
As flatulence is the result of a build-up of gas in the colon, addressing its occurrence through the lens of Ayurveda requires consideration of the Vata dosha. Vata energy sits in the colon, as its source of balance or imbalance depends upon the colon eliminating the stool in a healthy way.
When the stool isn’t properly eliminated, a person can experience a buildup of toxicity throughout the body and Vata-related symptoms appear such as constipation, insomnia, and anxiety. Additionally, this can lead to Vata-related diseases like those of the nervous system.
This means that not only are people with imbalanced Vata energy more likely to be susceptible to flatulence, but people without such imbalances might experience flatulence when they partake in Vata-aggravating activities such as repressing the urge to move bowels,
eating incompatible combinations of foods with conflicting enzymes, mixing too many food groups together in one meal, and falling victim to excessive Vata-related emotions like anxiety and fear. Ayurveda also considers flatulence to be the result of consuming difficult-to-digest foods such as meats, fried foods, processed foods, leftovers, and raw foods.
Furthermore, there are times when headaches, migraines, stomach cramps, and feeling faint can also be due to air or gas, which is trapped and cannot be released. This gas is trying to find a way out, and by forcing its way to be free, aggravates the entire system and the various functions of the body. Many aches and pains of the body are just trapped gas.
Ayurveda suggests that a flatulence sufferer should avoid difficult-to-digest foods like those noted above, avoid unhealthy food combinations, eat slowly, consume foods like ghee and oils that help facilitate the elimination of bowels, and avoid the repression of natural bodily functions like bowel movements and urination. If another, more significant disease is causing the flatulence, then that ailment must be addressed and treated. It is also helpful for the sufferer to utilize the various remedies outlined in the following section.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future. The following lifestyle changes and remedies can help to resolve flatulence:
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over for more than a few hours. Though avoiding foods and practicing other eating habits are often more significant when resolving flatulence, including the following foods will help to prevent symptoms from taking place:
Light soup with a mild amount of spice
Vegetables that are less dense and have higher water content
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha.Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha.Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods can aggravate Vata energy, and should therefore be avoided in response to flatulence:
Raw and cold foods
Fried and fatty foods
Improper food combinations, as noted above
Microwaved foods (these can hardly be called food)
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire. The following beverages will help create regularity along with the bedtime remedies listed above:
Hot water, especially during meals, first thing in the morning, and a few cups during the day.
Herbal teas of ginger, cinnamon, and peppermint.
Avoid cold and frozen drinks
Avoid sugary or fizzy drinks that blend with the digestive juice and make it weak.
Avoid alcohol, coffee, and black tea.
Avoid acidic fruit juices like orange juice.
Avoid artificially flavored drinks.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list together by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and buildup from there once the body becomes more flexible. The following postures will help facilitate movement of the bowels:
Knee to chest
Easy seat (while leaning forward a bit)
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
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