Contipation: Does Yoga Help?

Constipation is surprisingly common. About half of my clients have struggled with some degree of constipation. I have had some trouble with it myself.

Common indicators of constipation are:

  • straining to pass motion
  • being unable to pass motion
  • a feeling of incomplete bowel movement
  • hard and dry stools

A combination of these factors can lead to bloating and cramping of the abdomen too.

Apart from being extremely unpleasant, chronic constipation is not good for health. It can cause haemorrhoids, anal fissures, fecal impaction, and rectal prolapse. It can also cause mental distress from the discomfort of not being able to pass stools easily, reducing quality of life. It can get better though, and yoga can help in the process.

The potential causes of constipation are many. It can be caused by dehydration, not enough motility of the large intestine, lack of fibre in the diet, lack of physical activity, and some types of medication. It can also be caused by other health conditions. Examples are neurological conditions like MS and Parkinson’s, intestinal blockages, other digestive conditions like IBS, conditions involving hormonal imbalances like hypothyroidism and diabetes, and chemotherapy.

From a yogic point of view, constipation is also associated with emotions. The intake of sensory information from the surroundings is linked to the ingestion of food. Processing of that information and emotions is linked to the digestive process that take place in the stomach and small intestines. And the final stage of elimination of residual emotions is linked to elimination of waste from the digestive system, that is, excretion. Constipation, therefore, is seen as holding onto emotions tightly and not letting them go. Countering constipation on the emotional level would involve learning to manage and express emotions.

From an ayurvedic point of view, difficulty in passing stools usually indicates an excess of vata dosha. Vata is one of the three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. The qualities of vata are cold, dry, and hard. So to manage constipation, we need to counter them with the qualities of warm, oily, liquid, and heavy. This would mean warm soups, herbal teas, root vegetables, heavy grains, ghee, etc. In terms of yogic practices, balancing vata dosha involves stabilising practices.

Stress is a well known factor that worsens constipation. High levels of stress can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and changes in bowel movements. Stress hormones like adrenaline cause blood flow to be redirected from the digestive system to the heart, lungs and brain, causing digestive issues in the long run. Stress also increases the chances of people living an unhealthy lifestyle.

So yogic practices to help with constipation are directed primarily at:

  • grounding and stabilising the body and mind to calm vata dosha
  • moving the body with dynamic practices like suryanamaskaras
  • generating heat in the body with asanas like twists to improve digestive fire
  • relaxing the body and mind and facilitating a sense of letting go

Relief from chronic constipation can take time, regular practice, and a healthy lifestyle. However, despite these practices, if you are still struggling with constipation, or if you suspect that something else might be amiss in your digestive system, do not hesitate to consult a medical professional to get it checked.


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