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Constipation

What is Constipation?

One of the most common symptoms related to the gastrointestinal tract, constipation takes place when a person’s stool becomes difficult to move to the point of causing pain and discomfort or is too hard and dry to eliminate at all.

There are many causes of constipation as citedby the Western medical community, including low fiber intake in the diet, dehydration, ignoring the urge to eliminate, significant biological developments such as pregnancy and aging, excessive amounts of travel, emotional distress, medications, and certain medical conditions such as colon cancer or irritable bowel syndrome.  When not addressed, constipation can lead to other, more significant medical complications such as hemorrhoids.

Western medicine considers it ideal to move bowels anywhere between a few times a week to a few times a day.  To accomplish this task, it is recommended to consume between twenty and thirty-five grams of fiber per day, properly hydrate, have an active lifestyle, and follow the urge to eliminate as readily as possible.

The Western approach to treating constipation includes modifying the diet to consume greater amounts of fiber, having enemas or colonics to flush out the colon and rectum, taking one of several different types of laxatives that numb the colon and make the stool loose for evacuation, and other therapies.  It is not recommended for constipation sufferers to take laxatives on a regular basis, given the inherent riskof developing a dependence on the substance.

How Does Ayurveda View Constipation?

Vata energy sits in the colon because it is in this part of the body that Vata’s health and balance impacts everything else.  It is characterized by downward movement and change and is primarily identified with the act of moving the stool out of the body.

When we are constipated and challenged to move our stool in a timely and healthy way, our Vata energy moves up through the body instead of down and out.  Hence, the toxic matter reverses its direction and travels into the blood, which in turn transports this pollution to the organs.  This leads to diseases in other parts of the body as based on this imbalanced Vata energy (e.g. nervous disorders) and in relation will aggravate our Pitta (e.g. liver and stomach disorders) and Kapha energy (e.g. respiratory disorders) as well.

On the flip side of this, however, is the role that Vata energy plays in creating the onset of constipation because when it is balanced, it’s responsible for facilitating movement both of and within our body.  When movement becomes excessive in our organs, our mind, our extremities, or through some other derangement, we dry our body out.

It is this drying of the body that leads to our colon lacking the lubrication and muscular control to facilitate healthy, regular bowel movements.

In other words, our Vata energy fosters healthy elimination and it’s that excretion that fosters healthy Vata energy.  The causes of constipation as cited by Ayurvedic practitioners include eating difficult-to-digest foods, suppressing natural urges to move the bowels, sex in the morning, excessive anxiety and fear, excessive sleeping, or as a result of another ailment like a fever or infection.  Thinking and talking excessively also dries out the body as these activities curb digestion.  Undigested food is slow to move and this dawdling also leads to dryness.  Nervous and stressed people are big sufferers of this ailment as are people who move and travel a lot.  Ayurvedic tradition suggests that it is ideal to move our bowels twice to three times daily, depending on the amount of food we consume.

How Does Ayurveda Treat Constipation?

Generally, Ayurveda recommends consuming healthy amounts of ghee, oils, digestive herbs, and Vata-reducing foods to decrease the incidence of constipation. Ayurveda also suggests using natural purgatives like the herbal concoction triphala and/or castor oil to facilitate bowel movements. A constipation sufferer benefits from avoiding dry foods including raw vegetables, chips, and other types of packaged snacks.

They can also receive oil enemas and other treatments that stimulate activity in the colon. Given how excessive talking, thought, and travel can also lead to constipation, slowing down is also key to resolving this issue.

Lifestyle Changes for Constipation

 

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 list of tasks will help you to avoid constipation and create greater regularity in your bowel movements:

  • Take one of several remedies before going to bed:
    • Take 1 to 2 teaspoons of Triphala with between a half and full cup of warm water. This can also be taken in the morning as well, but then do not eat until it has digested 1 to 2 hours later. This can be taken daily for colon health.
    • Boil 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds in 1-2 cups of water and drink this at bedtime
    • Combine 2 teaspoons of ghee and a little cinnamon into 1 cup of hot milk and drink this at bedtime. Be sure not to boil the ghee with the milk; melt it in afterwards.
    • For a particularly strong laxative before bed, take 2 teaspoons of castor oil in a cup of boiled water, or adjust the amount to be more or less as needed. If the stool comes out with a lot of pressure and gas, lessen the dosage as needed each day. This should be taken a few times a week until the issue has been resolved, but then stop the regimen. Castor oil can be taken once a week for colon health.
  • Obey all urges to move bowels as soon as possible.
  • Favor cooked foods over raw foods, and add oil or ghee to foods after cooking them to increase lubrication of the colon.
  • Avoid dry foods such as chips, cold cereals, cookies, crackers, and nutrition bars.
  • If possible try to get into a squat when defecating so as to emulate a more natural position for passing stool. This would mean the feet would need to be lifted onto the rim of the toilet.
  • Enlist the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner to administer oil enemas and other treatments so as to stimulate the functionality of the colon.

Better Foods For Constipation

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 choices 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.  The following foods will help to balance Vata energy and encourage regular bowel movements:

 

Milk (warm)
Sesame oil
Pineapples
Mangoes
Peaches

Asparagus
Apricots
Grapes
Oats (cooked)
Rice (white basmati)

Fresh figs
Ghee
Carrots
Olive oil
Sweet potatoes

 

Foods To AVOID In Response To Constipation

 
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 constipation:

 

Apples
Tomatoes
Pears
Watermelon

Cauliflower
Broccoli
Celery
Eggplant
Oats (dry)

Corn
Barley
Avoid raw and cold foods
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans

Beverages For Constipation

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 and first thing in the morning.
  • Herbal teas of ginger, cardamom, and fennel
  • 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.

 

Herbs For Constipation

 
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 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.

 Ginger
Cardamom
Castor Oil
Flaxseed

Fennel
Psyllium
Aloe
Senna
Triphala

Vidanga
Kantkari
Guduchi
Sesame (seeds, oil)

 

Yoga Postures For Constipation

 

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 build up from there once the body becomes more flexible. The following postures will help facilitate movement of the bowels:

Spinal twist
Corpse

Forward bend
Knee to chest
Camel

Shoulder stand
Easy seat (while leaning forward a bit)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Aromatherapy For Constipation

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.

  • Constipation can be treated with basil, camphor, cedar, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, lavender, lily, lotus, musk, myrrh, patchouli, sandalwood, or cinnamon oil.
  • Use a sesame oil base.
  • Apply oil on the skin between the eyebrows and below the belly button.

Mantra Therapy For Constipation

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.

  • To help resolve constipation, repeat the syllable “Ram” (pronounced Rahm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
  • As a Vata-related disorder, it is helpful to inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced and not say it out loud.

 

Breathing Practices For Constipation

 
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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