I am a whole-foods vegetarian, so I eat plenty of fiber, but I still struggle with constipation. Why is that?
Looking at constipation from an ayurvedic perspective should shed some light on what’s happening to you. Ayurveda classifies constipation as a vatic disorder, because vata governs movement and elimination (as well as the nervous system). Therefore, anything that aggravates this dosha—stress, tension, travel, dehydration, cold wind, exhaustion, or dry, cold, rough foods—can make your constipation worse.
Because we’re all taught that fiber-rich foods (along with plenty of fluids and exercise) will ameliorate the condition, we naturally figure eating more salads should do the trick. But they don’t, especially for vatic individuals. Raw vegetables are cold and rough—two of the very qualities that unbalance vata—so piling your plate with raw carrots and broccoli won’t work. Constipation (like all vatic excess states) responds to warm, moist, moderately oily, protein-rich foods. Eating soups, stews, casseroles, cooked squash, and moist root vegetables (like turnips and yams)—all of which provide grounding nourishment for a vatic temperament—should help solve the problem. Many of my clients have actually seen symptoms improve once they change their diets.
Vata excess also causes spasms, especially in the colon and pelvis. Very narrow stools or those shaped like small pellets or balls signal the presence of a spasm in the smooth muscles that make up the wall of the colon. Chronic constipation sufferers need to learn to relax deeply enough so those muscles will remember how to let go. This won’t happen overnight: habitual holding in the pelvis often stems from long-term chronic anxiety, stress, or trauma that will take regular practice to resolve. Agni sara, twists, and forward bends, along with systematic relaxation in shavasana or a similar restorative pose, will move stagnant energy in the pelvis and help unwind chronic gripping.
4 Ayurvedic Herbs for Constipation
Specific ayurvedic herbs can help flush out the colon and large intestines. Take these purgatives with lots of water to lubricate the bowels and help the passage of dry stool. Here are four tried-and-true remedies that are even safe to take long-term, if necessary:
The best ayurvedic remedy for constipation, triphala is both a tonic and a laxative. Classically, triphala is taken upon rising and just before bed. Steep ½ to 1 teaspoon in a cup of hot water 5 to 10 minutes. If you can’t stand the taste, take 2 capsules with warm water.
These highly absorbent seed husks move through the colon like a scrub brush. Take 1 to 2 teaspoons in a glass of juice or warm water daily.
3. Flaxseed (Linseed)
Take 1 tablespoon of this “laxative without side effects” two to three times a day, followed by 2 cups of water.
4. Dandelion Root
Boil 1 teaspoon of this mild laxative in water and drink three or four times a day. Dandelion root is an acquired taste, so you may prefer to take 3 to 4 tablets daily with a cup of warm water instead.
Warning: Some of the herbs that are commonly prescribed for constipation—senna, cascara, and rhubarb—are all strong purgatives that produce a chemical irritant effect on the colon. They can create muscle cramping and watery diarrhea in their efforts to counter constipation. While they are very effective (and less toxic than over-the-counter drugs) on a short-term basis, continual use can cause dependency, or what we call “lazy bowel syndrome.”
A Yoga Solution for Constipation
Vata excess disrupts apana vayu, the downward energy that supports elimination and stability. When vata is out of balance, apana flows upward instead of downward. The solution? Go upside down. Inverted postures, such as viparita karani (legs up the wall pose), reverse the flow of prana in the body for better integration and less flightiness. Physically, these poses wake up the lower belly and settle the organs in the pelvis that may have been out of place or “stuck.”
How to Practice Viparita Karani
Place two folded blankets about three inches from the wall and sit on them so your right hip and side touch the wall. Swivel your body around and raise your legs onto the wall. Keep your buttocks close to or against the wall. Lie down so your lower back and ribs remain on your support, your tailbone descends toward the floor, and your neck and shoulders rest on the floor. Settle deeper into the pose by allowing the arms to rest above the head, with elbows comfortably bent and open to the side, and open your chest. Rest in the pose with your eyes closed for 3 to 5 minutes.
Read step-by-step instructions for agni sara here.