I have received requests lately for more information about dealing with constipation. In today's blog we will dive in to why constipation happens, and in next week's newsletter I will provide easy-to-implement solutions.
Although WebMD states, "There is no right number of daily or weekly bowel movements," the general rule in Ayurveda is that every person should have at least one bowel movement a day (this will vary depending on your constitution). Ideally elimination should happen in the early morning before you eat anything. It should be easy to pass, well-formed (like a ripe banana), about 14-18 inches long, and it should feel complete, not stick to the toilet, or leave much on the toilet paper when you wipe. It's important to "take out the trash" every single day, otherwise waste sits in the system and stagnates, creating toxins (what we call Ama in Sanskrit). Over the long term, Ama hanging out in the body results in disease (specifically autoimmune issues and inflammation) .
As someone who was chronically constipated (meaning I had 1-3 bowel movements per week and they often required straining or help from herbal laxatives) for over 20 years, I cannot even begin to tell you how much better every aspect of my life is now that I have a complete bowel movement every single day. Becoming a pooping champion is one of my most proud personal achievements. We need to be learning about healthy elimination and I am happy to talk poop!
Why does constipation happen? From an Ayurvedic perspective, constipation comes from too much Vata (Air and Ether elements) in the body, specifically the digestive tract. This means that the dry, rough, and cold qualities are elevated. Common causes are: A Vata-aggravating diet, stress, a build up of toxins in the colon, or lack of routine.
A Vata-aggravating diet consists of foods that could be categorized as dry, rough or cold. Chips, crackers, pop corn, granola, salad, raw veggies, and frozen foods or cold drinks are some examples. Dry and rough foods need to be hydrated in the gut for happy and healthy digestion to occur. If there isn't enough hydration available in the gut to make them easy to digest, these foods create a blockage or backup. Cold foods require our bodies to heat them up before we can digest and assimilate them. This is exhausting to the digestive system as the cold temperatures put a damper on the digestive fire.
Stress can also play a huge roll in constipation. Stress is tension carried in the body; relaxation is required to have a bowel movement. Whether it is that you don't feel like you have the time to poop, feel rushed, don't feel comfortable having a bowel movement in certain bathrooms, or you simply are too wound up to relax, learning how to create ease in the nervous system is key for creating consistency.
A build up of toxins in the gut can make elimination sluggish. Again, in Sanskrit, the word for toxins, or undigested food stuff, is Ama. Ama is created when we have a diet containing a fair amount of processed foods, we are taking medications like antibiotics, statins, pain killers, or we eat late in the evening which requires the body to try to keep digesting while we are sleeping. In this case food becomes a burden to the digestive system which has slowed down for the night. The undigested food creates Ama (toxins) that. over time, wreak havoc on our health.
Lack of routine affects us because the body likes regularity. When there is consistency in our daily schedule, like when we wake up, eat each meal, exercise, and go to bed, the body can get on a schedule. We can train, or retrain, our bodies much like we train a puppy. Stay consistent, provide clear boundaries, and celebrate when the objective is accomplished.
Constipation is often experienced when traveling, in Fall or Winter, or in the elder years of life because those are all Vata-elevating. If constipation is an issue for you, Summer is a great time to treat it. Pitta energy (fire and water elements that govern Summer) helps keep the digestive fire strong and generally increases motility.
Do you, or someone you love, struggle with constipation? Which of these factors plays the biggest role in your life? As you await next week's article for solutions, think about and try some of your own solutions. Feel free to let me know about your experience and thoughts. I am obviously not shy about talking about poop.
If you want to have some individual help with getting your digestion and elimination on track, reach out for an Ayurveda Consult. I can work with you over the phone, no matter where you are. Your health and happiness are totally worth it! Take it from a newly qualified Pooping Champion!