Four million Americans experience constipation, and untold numbers more never report the condition. Many suffer in silence. Or they turn to the over-the-counter laxative market, which booms with more than $700 million in sales annually. Yet laxatives, which relieve the symptoms without addressing the cause, can be a dangerous band-aid on which the body becomes dependent and stops functioning properly on its own. As interest in natural medicine increases, many people are seeking natural constipation remedies and other organic ways to attain long-lasting digestive health. The thousands-year-old medical system known as Ayurveda holds that proper digestion is a foundation for good health. Its wisdom offers many solutions.
From the Sanskrit words ayur, meaning life, and veda, meaning knowledge, Ayurveda originated in India where 80% of the country’s population still uses the holistic and complete medicine system. Many ayurvedic cleanse techniques such as specialized diets, the use of herbs, and therapeutic massage have made their way into conventional medical practices. Like other holistic systems such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda views mind, body, soul, and the universe as interconnected. All of these factors are considered in understanding an individual’s prakriti, or constitution. And within the prakriti, the three forces known as doshas need to be in balance in order to achieve wellness and happiness. The vata dosha controls breathing, movement, and bodily function. Pitta is the dosha that regulates the metabolic and hormonal systems. And kapha energizes biological structure, cells and growth. Constipation is believed to be an imbalance of vata.
As digestive waste moves through the colon, its liquid is reabsorbed into the body. Constipation occurs when the remaining solids, the stools, move too slowly toward elimination. The stool hardens and dries, which, in turn, causes infrequent elimination or stools that are difficult to pass. Typical reasons for this are insufficient fluid intake or lack of exercise. An ayurvedic cleanse technique would be obviously to increase fluid intake, but specifically to drink warm water. A full cup should be taken upon rising in the morning with small sips throughout the day, as frequently as every 30 minutes. Drinking warm water is one of Ayurveda’s natural constipation remedies by helping dislodge digestive toxins, called ama, which may be interfering with proper bodily function. Caffeinated drinks are thought to be dehydrating, so avoiding them or compensating with additional water is recommended.
Physical movement is important to bowel function. Agni, which translates as digestive fire, is warmed by gentle exercise and deep breathing. Short walks several times a day can greatly improve digestion. Abdominal self-massage is another ayurvedic cleanse technique; the abdomen is rubbed in clockwise circles, traditionally with the use of warmed oils. And meditation is prescribed to invigorate the cells and quell stress that can manifest as body malfunction.
Diet plays an enormous role in proper digestion. People often become constipated when they do not eat enough fiber. Fibrous foods move waste through the body, and help form soft and bulky stools that are easy to pass. Because vata controls bowel movement, ayurvedic medicine recommends certain foods to pacify that dosha. Foods that are warm, heavy, and oily will be digested better than those that are cold, dry, and light. Rice and wheat are good grains for vata as are healthy oils and ghee, or clarified butter. Oranges, bananas, stone fruits and melons are vata fruits. Beets, asparagus, carrots, squashes and sweet potatoes are good vegetables. Vegetables should be eaten cooked rather than raw. Poultry and fish are preferable to beef or beans. The use of prunes, known the world over as a constipation remedy, may have its roots in ayurvedic teachings.
As part of the concept that all things are interconnected, certain times of day are affiliated with the doshas. Vata time is in the morning. Therefore, it is recommended that in the early morning, after drinking warm water, a bowel movement be attempted. While Western medicine defines constipation as fewer than three bowel movements a week, Ayurveda teaches that elimination of waste products should occur every day for optimal health. By making the attempt a daily habit, the body eventually trains itself. Ayurveda even incorporates mind/body connections; activities such as reading should not be done while attempting bowel movements because it confuses the mental functions that are concentrating on the downward flow.
Should constipation become severe or if blood detected in the stools, a physician should be consulted. For natural constipation remedies and good digestion in general, Ayurveda has many recommendations. Meals should be fully digested for three to six hours before the next food is eaten. Lunch should be the largest meal of the day. Iced foods and drinks should be avoided. Meals should be taken sitting down in an unhurried and quiet atmosphere. Food should be eaten slowly. A brief rest should be taken after eating followed by a short walk. And not surprisingly, food should be fresh, unprocessed and include a variety of tastes.
An ayurvedic proverb: When diet is wrong medicine is of no use. When diet is correct medicine is of no need.
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