Get regular with yoga for breakfast!
Looking after your bowel health sometimes requires more than just watching what you eat. WellBeing offers some yoga poses that will help you keep things moving along nicely.
The modern diet of meat, eggs, cheese and refined starch products such as cakes, pastries and bread offers our bodies little else but excessive protein and requires a lot of energy for digestion.
Can you imagine how toxic and polluted our suburbs would become if the garbage collectors decided not to come for a few weeks? While our suburbs can get away with a weekly clean-out, our bowels require more regular cleaning, preferably daily. For us to have good health, high vitality and freedom from disease, it’s essential that the waste products from our bodies be expelled regularly and efficiently.
According to Ayurvedic practitioner, Raman Das Mahatyagi, while the Western system says if you don’t go to the toilet for three days, you are constipated, Ayurveda (the ancient science of life) says if you don’t go once a day, then you’re constipated. “So many clients who come to me have constipation and many don’t realise they have it,” he says.
Constipation is a chronic disorder of the lower digestive system. Decreased mobility of the intestines makes the elimination of solid wastes from the body difficult, infrequent, slow and inefficient. When faeces remain in the colon for prolonged periods of time, excessive water is absorbed from them, making them dry and hard.
If the bowel is not working effectively, the body becomes toxic from the build-up of digestive and metabolic wastes that accumulate in the large intestine. This can lead to the intestine becoming flaccid and losing its muscular tone. As this gets worse and rotting wastes are held in store for long periods, undigested foods that are stuck in the intestine move upwards, toxifying the rest of the body.
“Constipation can agitate and block the mind,” says Ayurveda expert, Dr Rama Prasad. “In fact, a relaxed colon is responsible for a relaxed mind.” Whatever happens to the body affects the mind. The digestive system, surrounding tissues and organs suffer when your digestive system is not working efficiently. Additionally, your physical energy level is reduced and your mind becomes dull and listless.
What causes irregular bowel movement?
In the West, it’s believed that constipation is caused by any of the following:
- Insufficient fibre in the diet
- Inadequate fluid intake
- Lack of exercise
- Emotional disturbance (grief, fear or worry)
- Spasms of the colon
Dr Prasad adds a few extra angles to the issue. “Constipation can be triggered by lack of exercise, dehydration, the intake of certain oils and fats, lack of fibre, mucus and enzyme problems as well as psychological issues.”
Whatever food we put into our bodies affects the quality and quantity of what is expelled at the other end of the digestive tract. The modern diet of meat, eggs, cheese and refined starch products such as cakes, pastries and bread offers our bodies little else but excessive protein and requires a lot of energy for digestion.
Raman Das says constipation is mostly due to eating processed foods such as pasta, pizza and processed white bread and not getting enough fibre. “Eating meat can also cause constipation,” he says. Fibre attracts and absorbs water and helps to prevent constipation. The body needs fibre in order to be regular and foods of animal origin do not contain dietary fibre.
“If you eat 40 per cent meat and 60 per cent other foods, the likelihood of you being constipated is very high,” he says. While vegetarian food takes 2–6 hours to digest, meat takes 36 hours to digest and 72 hours for most of it to pass through the digestive system.
“In young women or menopausal women, constipation can also be due to hormonal imbalance,” says Raman Das. “This type of constipation causes dryness and wrinkling in the skin and is treated differently from other types of constipation.”
According to Ayurveda, people with kapha (water and earth) constitution suffer most from constipation, followed by people of vata (air and ether) constitution. Kapha-type people have slow movement and a lot of mucus build-up in the intestines, and with vata types, air easily becomes trapped and this can obstruct movement and cause constipation.
Yogis (people who practise yoga as a way of life) consider that constipation is not merely a physical ailment but also a mental state. Your chances of being constipated are higher if you:
- Are uninspired and listless about life
- Have fixed ideas
- Are unable to graciously accept the changing nature of life
- Are referred to as being “anally retentive” by those who know you well
If any of the following symptoms apply to you, you may need to do something to improve your regularity:
- You don’t go to the toilet daily
- You feel bloated
- You feel fatigued and toxic if you don’t have a bowel movement every day
- You have discomfort in the intestinal region
- You have excess flatulence
- You have pains in your body
- You suffer from headaches
- You have bad breath
The usual treatment for irregular bowel movement is a mild laxative, such a milk of magnesia, which induces defecation. However, laxatives can have detrimental side-effects, weakening the colon and preventing it from functioning properly in the future. It’s also easy to form an addiction to these drugs and to become dependent on them for bowel movement.
“Isolating the exact causes of someone’s constipation is the first step in Ayurvedic healing,” says Dr Prasad. “Introducing sufficient cardiovascular and abdominal exercises and postures is very important, as is attending to dietary needs.”
Triphala churna: This Ayurvedic medicine, containing a mix of three fruits, is good for improving regularity and can be purchased through an Ayurvedic practitioner. Take 2–3 tablets at night with warm water to help clear the stomach and encourage good elimination the next morning.
Enema (basti): An Ayurvedic enema treatment, where medicines such as sesame oil, or herbal decoctions in a liquid medium, are introduced into the rectum, can effectively alleviate constipation. The oil or decoction should be retained for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer if possible.
Castor oil: Castor oil is an effective purgative. For chronic constipation, one tablespoon of castor oil can be taken with a cup of ginger tea. This tonic is safe enough to use even when treating small babies and has no side-effects. To treat an infant, dip your little finger into the oil and let the baby suck on it.
Metabolic tonics: These include herbs such as myrrh, dandelion, gooseberries and shatavari.
Ghee: Mix a teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter) into a cup of hot milk and drink at bedtime.
Flaxseed oil: Add a tablespoon of flaxseed to a glass of boiled water and drink at bedtime.
Hot milk: In the morning or before bedtime, drink hot milk with a ¼ teaspoon of ginger (fresh or powdered), five black peppercorns and a teaspoon of honey.
Lemon juice: Mixed with warm water and drunk two or three times a day, lemon juice helps cleanse the bowel.
Abdominal massage: A massage of the abdominal muscles, known as udavartana, can be used if constipation is chronic. This helps strengthen the intestinal muscles so they can work better in dispelling the wastes.
The Asian countries got it right when they made toilets level with the ground, which require anyone using them to adopt a squatting position. Our Western-style toilets are not conducive to optimal bowel evacuation, while Asian toilets allow full relaxation of the lower colon and pelvic muscles and therefore an easier and more complete bowel evacuation.
With the more sedentary lifestyle many of us lead today, constipation is more and more prevalent. Those who exercise regularly are far more likely to have strong bowel health. To keep your bowel healthy and happy, make sure you’re getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
The following routine is a powerful yogic practice designed to improve regularity and overcome constipation, encouraging normal functioning of the intestines. This should be practised under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher and should not be practised if you are pregnant. Before undertaking it, inform your yoga teacher if you are suffering from any medical condition.
This one-hour yoga practice should be undertaken first thing in the morning when the stomach is still empty, before eating or drinking.
Start by preparing two litres of lukewarm salt water (add two teaspoons of salt per litre). Now drink two glasses of the warm water and then do the following yogic routine, synchronising each movement with the breath, as described below. The routine will be most effective if you do it at a steady pace, breathing slowly, fully and mindfully.
Alternative upward stretch: Stand on your toes with your arms in the air, stretching each arm into the sky alternatively. Inhale each time your arms are parallel to each other; exhale as you stretch up on either side. One round is a stretch on each side. Complete eight rounds.
Alternative side stretch: Breathe in as you raise your arms above your head. Interlock your fingers in the steeple position and then breathe out. Once again, breathe in and, as you exhale, bend sideways to the right. Inhale as you come back to the centre, stretching up, and then exhale to your left side. This is one round; complete eight rounds.
Standing waist twist: Place your right hand on your left shoulder and your left arm behind you, along your waist. Breathe in, and then as you exhale, twist to your left side and look back over your left shoulder. Inhale as you come back to the centre and then exhale to the other side. This is one round; complete eight rounds.
Twisting cobra: Lie on your tummy with your hands beneath your shoulders. As you inhale, raise your head and chest off the ground. Then, as you exhale, turn your head to look back over your left shoulder, towards your heels. Breathe in as you come back to the centre, keeping your head and chest raised, and then exhale, twisting to the other side, keeping your toes and hands on the floor. This is one round; complete eight rounds.
Crow walking: Crouch down in a squatting position, placing your hands on your knees. Now walk around like a crow! Inhale each time you take a step and then exhale as you look over your shoulder.
After drinking two more glasses of water your first round is complete. Now repeat this whole process two more times. At the end of your final round, give yourself a long relaxation period, at least 30 minutes, before eating or drinking anything, but don’t sleep as you may end up with a headache or cold.
You may find you need to run to the toilet. Of course, never resist this — go as many times as you need to, relaxing in between, until 30 minutes have passed. Also, don’t try to force a bowel movement. If you go it should be completely natural.
If you are constipated, this whole procedure can be practised every day until your condition improves; otherwise just once a week for maintaining general digestive health and wellbeing.