Updated: Nov 30, 2019
This is the second of a two part series on constipation. If you missed the first part about WHY you get stopped up, please check it out the previous BLOG.
Constipation is one of the most widespread, chronic health issues facing people in the US. Although most folks don't like to talk about it, sales of laxatives shed light on the enormity of the issue hiding behind closed bathroom doors. For instance, over-the-counter sales of laxatives alone were $1.3 billion in 2017 (www.statista.com).
In Ayurveda, we honor digestion and elimination as the seat of health - a reflection of the inner state of vitality or dis-ease. Chronic constipation sets you up for other health issues such as allergies, migraines, Parkinson's, and osteoporosis. With this in mind, here are some simple ways to help alleviate constipation.
Eat a Vata-pacifying diet. This means avoiding the Vata aggravating foods I discussed last week. Focus on warm, cooked, easy-to-digest foods, warm drinks, and well-cooked vegetables. Think soups, stews, grain bowls, etc. Remember that although fiber is known to be helpful for healthy elimination, raw vegetables can actually cause constipation if the digestive system isn't strong enough to break them down.
One helpful food remedy for constipation is stewed prunes with ghee. Put 10-12 prunes in a small pot and cover with water, add 1 T. of ghee. Cover and boil on low for 30 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed into the prunes. Heat and eat 2-3 prunes every morning, add to a warm cereal like oatmeal, or have them as a dessert after lunch or dinner.
Decrease Stress. When we are stressed, the body contracts and normal functions get off track. Some people find that stress makes them have loose bowels (Pitta imbalance) while others notice that stress means constipation (Vata or Kapha imbalance). Make sure that you allow plenty of time in the morning to relax and have a complete bowel movement before heading into your day. Yes, this means getting up earlier, but it is totally worth it! Meditation, yoga and breathing practices can also be helpful in creating more relaxation in the body and mind.
Clear the digestive tract of toxins. Look in the mirror and stick out your tongue. If you have a coating on your tongue, this is an indication of Ama, or toxins, in your gut. Ama is essentially undigested food that hangs out for too long. Clearing out the digestive tract is best done by eating a whole food, organic diet. and avoiding medications, additives, and environmental pollutants. Taking Triphala can also aid in clearing the gut of toxins and aiding healthy elimination. Triphala is a tridoshic formula made of three Indian fruits that has a subtle scraping action on the intestinal lining. Start by taking two tablets of 1/2 t. of triphala powder before bed each night. If you need more help, gradually increase the dosage each night until achieving the desired effect. Triphala works best in conjunction with drinking up to 1 quart of warm water upon rising each morning.
Keep a routine. The body likes predictability and routine. The more it can count on certain things happening at certain times, the more it will be relaxed, aware, healthy, and responsive. Some people who have very sporadic schedules have a hard time recognizing their body's cues of digestive distress or even the need to have a bowel movement. With patience and persistence, you can train your body to have a bowel movement at the same time every day.
Hydrate! Hydration is essential for healthy elimination, which needs to be addressed through both water and oil. Drink up to 1 quart of warm lemon water first thing in the morning. Over time this will eventually initiate a bowel movement, ideally before having coffee or eating breakfast. Drinking at least half your ideal weight in ounces of water each day is essential for basic hydration. Beneficial fat is also key (ghee, coconut oil, avocados, etc), especially if your constitution is Vata predominant. Fats and oils lubricate the gut to help move waste through more easily. Cook with them, add them to your food, or just eat a spoonful.
Good reminders (repeated from last week): 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.
If you, or someone you love, struggles with constipation it can be challenging to figure out how to navigate all the variables. It can be complex. That is where working 1:1 with a professional to understand your unique constitution can help. If you want individualized assistance 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!