One of the most common gastrointestinal complaints we encounter in our lives is diarrhea. This is a condition in which we suffer from a loose, watery stool accompanied by other symptoms like cramps, abdominal pain, and even blood in the stool.
When functioning properly, our body produces stools in response to the digestion of food that it then eliminates through the colon. The colon is meant to absorb the water from the stool, leaving the stool in a solid form, but a dysfunction of this process can result in this water not getting absorbed and leading the stool to be loose and liquid-like.
Like many other conditions, diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors, including viral infections, bacterial complications (like with salmonella and E. coli infections), parasites, as a reaction to the intake of lactose or other substances that a person may be unable to properly digest, and other digestive complaints. Diarrhea can also be caused by the intake of medications. For example, antibiotics actuallydestroy the good bacteria in the colon that is beneficial to a healthy elimination of the stool.
Though most incidents of diarrhea resolve on their own, serious cases can lead to dehydration which in turn can cause significant complications. In countries without proper resources, these complications can even lead to death.
Diarrhea is often the body’s response to the invasion of foreign substances and is simply eliminating them through the watery stool. Given this, Western medicine suggests that most conditions of the disease should be allowed to resolve themselves on their own. To treat parasitic and some bacterial infections, apatient is prescribed antibiotics.
Those afflicted are also instructed to hydrate themselves, take in proper electrolytes that might have been lost, and avoid foods and other substances that might trigger symptoms. Over-the-counter medication is also available to lessen symptoms, but reversing the nature of the loose bowel movements may inhibit the body’s ability to rid itself of whatever infection that may be causing the condition.
Ayurveda considers diarrhea to be the result of a buildup of toxic matter in the gastrointestinal tract that then must be flushed out. The Vata energy in the body, which is responsible for elimination and sits in the colon, can become aggravated and affect the moist, watery qualities of Kapha energy, which in turn creates the onset of a watery stool.
Much like in Western medicine, diarrhea is considered by Ayurveda to be the result of a variety of different causes including bacterial infections, changes in lifestyle, poor reaction to fatty, hot, hard, cold, or other types of indigestible foods, as well as other causes like drinking water that is in poor quality and suppressing natural urges. Ayurveda suggests that diarrhea can be triggered by the imbalance of one or more of the three doshas, or even as the result of emotional imbalances such as nervousness.
Vata-based diarrhea tends to be watery, thin, scaly, brown, and gassy when expelled.
Pitta-based diarrhea tends to be yellowish, green, or even mixed with blood. It is particularly putrid in smell and can lead to burning sensations.
Kapha-based diarrhea is more solid than the others, can be white and contain mucus, and can be heavy.
Some diarrhea can exhibit qualities of all three doshas. Other instances can be the result of emotional distress in the form of feelings like fear, or can be the result of improper digestion of food.
Ayurveda considers diarrhea to be a much more serious an ailment than other intestinal issues like constipation (which can be tolerated for many weeks or even months) and requires resolution of the illness if it continues past a few days. The muscles of the colon rely on solid material passing through it, to remain toned as it pushes the feces out of the body. When this solid matter is not there, the colon loses elasticity and its strength to function on a healthy level.
Again, like its Western counterpart, Ayurveda considers diarrhea to often be an effort by the body to rid itself of toxins, and it is therefore not recommended to prematurely end the course of the symptoms. Otherwise, more serious conditions could manifest. In some cases, the symptoms are even encouraged with herbal therapy to ensure that the body has expelled the toxic matter.
Beyond this basic practice, treatment focuses on balancing whatever doshas happen to be triggering the diarrhea through certain herbs, foods, and treatments. When diarrhea is emotionally induced, it is recommended for the sufferer to partake in psychotherapeutic tools to help alleviate distress.
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. To avoid incidence of diarrhea, it’s important to avoid habits that buildup excessive amounts of toxic matter in the body.
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 from more than a few hours before. The following foods will help the digestive fire restore itself to a healthy level and allow the body to relieve itself of toxins:
General Food Recommendations
Vata reducing foods like asparagus and carrots
Pitta reducing foods like broccoli and cauliflower
Lassi (one part yogurt and three parts water)
Kapha reducing foods like Brussels sprouts and spinach
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 should be avoided in response to whichever type of diarrhea manifests in the body:
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
Avoid raw and cold foods
Sour foods (like yogurt, sour cream, and pickles)
Sweets and candies
Dairy products (except goat milk, in moderation)
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.
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.
General Herbal Recommendations
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.
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.
Diarrhea can be treated with ginger, cloves, fennel, or cardamom oil.
In case of Vata-diarrhea, use a sesame oil base.o Apply oil on the forehead or on the back of the neck.
In case of Pitta-diarrhea, use a coconut or sunflower oil base.o Apply oil in the chest center in front of the heart.
In case of Kapha-diarrhea, use a canola or mustard oil base.Apply oil on the skin between the navel and pubic bone.
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.
For Vata diarrhea, repeat the syllable “Lam” 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.
For Pitta diarrhea, repeat the syllable “Aum” (pronounced ohm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Pitta-related disorder, it is helpful to both outwardly chant and inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
For Kapha diarrhea, repeat the syllable “Ham” (pronounced hahm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Kapha-related disorder, it is helpful to outwardly chant this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
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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