Definition of Constipation in Ayurveda
Constipation is a major problem in modern society. With a diet that is commonly made up of refined and processed food and a stressful lifestyle that promotes being constantly on-the-go, many people think that having a bowel movement every couple of days, experiencing difficulty eliminating and feeling that a bowel movement is incomplete is not an issue. Constipation has been defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times per week1! But many Ayurvedic practitioners diagnose mild constipation when their client is only eliminating once a day. Ideally, bowel movements would happen about three times a day: once in the morning upon waking and possibly once about half an hour after eating the midday and evening meals.
In Ayurveda, the negative consequences of constipation also impact the rest of the body and mind, from the respiratory system to neuro-muscular system. If the body is not eliminating waste/toxins in a timely and efficient manner then there will be consequences. When left untreated it can escalate from occasional constipation to dry, painful eliminations to fecal impaction. Eventually the overload of toxins will spread out to other areas of the body, appearing as skin and mental disorders, cancers, arthritis, appendicitis, rheumatism, high blood pressure, cataracts… pretty much any problem you can think of1! Other problems may begin to pop up even before the constipation reaches a level as severe as fecal impaction. Hence the focus in Ayurveda on getting as regular as possible!
Causes of Constipation in Ayurveda
Basically when the colon is dry and/or the peristaltic muscles are weak, constipation is created1. When constipation is present, there are typically several factors involved. Diet is usually the main one with emotional disturbances like stress contributing along with the use of medications. Below is a list of common causes of constipation.
As an Ayurvedic practitioner, you will likely be asking your clients a series of questions when they first contact you so you can get a clear picture of their state of imbalance. Inquiring how many times they eliminate each day on average and what their bowel movement looks and smells like should be asked right away. If they are hesitant to talk about it there are other signs and symptoms of constipation that you can look for.
Practices for Relieving Constipation
The practice of Yoga asanas is a common recommendation for anyone suffering from constipation or digestive problems in general. Bhujanghasana, also known as Cobra Pose, is effective in relieving constipation that comes with a lot of flatulence and bloating1. Trikonasana, Triangle Pose, helps relieve constipation characterized by difficulty actually eliminating the bowel movements. Ardha Matsyendrasana, a seated spinal twist, is beneficial in all types of constipation. Supta Vajrasana, Shalabhasana and Paschimottanasana are three other Yoga asanas that help to relieve constipation.
But the most important change to make to relieve constipation is in what your client is eating and drinking. The following list is made up of 10 changes to recommend for your clients dealing with constipation.
Ayurvedic Medicine for Relieving Constipation
Recommend higher and more frequent doses for severe and chronic constipation. If your client experiences diarrhea cut the dose in half or decrease gradually until the symptom stops.
Strengthening digestion and relieving constipation is one of the first steps in healing with Ayurveda. Healthy stool should have several characteristics: well formed with the consistency of a ripe banana, light brown color, floats in the toilet bowl, slightly oily but not sticky and has only a mild odor. Recommend that your clients observe their eliminations – it will tell them and you a lot about their state of health!
In many cases where constipation is involved, when your clients stop doing the things that are causing the imbalance like drinking cold water and eating unhealthy food, they will notice an immediate improvement in their health before even incorporating new habits or herbs that may be challenging for them. Encourage them to keep going as healing problems in the digestive tract can take time, maybe even months or years, especially if the imbalances have been in place a long time. But the body is an incredible machine that with the proper care can come back into a state of health and ease!
Contributing Editor: Dr. JV Hebbar
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