Dear Ask Ayurveda:
I am a relatively healthy man in my early 40’s. I eat well, hold an active job and overall feel pretty good most of the time. Although I am fairly health conscious, I have been dealing with this issue of constipation for as long as I can remember. I began to improve my diet in my mid 30’s but the irregularity still continues. It has gotten to the point that I typically miss 2-3 days each week. The days that I can go to the bathroom, it is a lot of work with little reward. I rarely ever feel “complete” after having a bowel movement. The constipation is the worst of it, but about 5 years ago I also began to get gas, bloating and cramping that will occur a couple times a week and seems to keep getting worse. It is really embarrassing and causes me anxiety. It has even gotten to the point that I chose not to date as much as I would like to (I am 5 years divorced).
Just to give a little information about myself, I am 5’10 and 145 lbs. I have lived in New Mexico most of my life and work as a manager at a fast paced restaurant and bar. I work about 50 hours each week, all different shifts (sometimes until 11 or 12 at night). I have had some issues with anxiety, irregular sleep and severely dry skin for about 5 years now as well.
I have tried many different over-the-counter laxatives and have even seen a couple Western doctors, with no answers or results. I sometimes take magnesium at night which does help at times, but not regularly. I have recently learned of Ayurveda through a friend, and I am happy to have discovered your site! I am more than willing to make changes, but I do not even know where to start. I am very curious as to what Ayurveda has to say about these uncomfortable issues and what I can do to overcome them? Thank you in advanced! Stuck in the Gut
Dear Stuck in the Gut:
I am so very happy you have found Ayurveda, as this is one of our specialties! In fact the story you have so beautifully shared with me is a classic book picture. According to Ayurveda this would be considered something called “chronic Vata derangement in the colon”. In English terms, this simply means a longterm condition of excessive air and space in the colon.
You see, Vata is the energetic force that is comprised of the Air and Space elements. By nature it is dry and irregular, and hence when someone has increased Vata (or Air and Space) in the body, one will have a tendency towards irregularity and dryness (such as constipation and gas). Vata’s “home base” is in the colon and therefore, when Vata is increased, one of the first areas that will be effected is the colon.
Since this is a lifelong issue, it seems as if you already have a tendency towards excessive Vata by nature. The fact that you are 5’11 and 145 pounds (tall and skinny) with tendency towards sleep issues, dry skin and anxiety reveals even further that there is definitely a strong amount of Vata in your system, as these are all Vata tendencies.
You also state that these issues either manifested or became worse 5 years ago, which happens to be the same time as your divorce. As you probably know first hand, divorce is one of the most stressful and Vata deranging events one can go through. Since your tendency was these issues already, once stress became high, the constipation, gas, anxiety, etc became worse. Even your job as a restaurant manager is a bit Vata-provoking, as the shifts are irregular and the energy is high-paced and high-stress by nature. Finally, the external environment in New Mexico is also very Vata-provoking, being dry, windy and high in elevation.
Now that we can see the issue at hand (Vata in the colon), we must discover the areas in which we can pacify the Vata and relieve the constipation, gas, etc. In Ayurveda, general treatment for constipation and gas would typically begin by following a Vata pacifying diet and lifestyle. In general this would include internal and external application of oil; eating warm, well-cooked meals; using lots of warming spices and taking Vata pacifying herbs.
For such a chronic issue, I would definitely recommend getting a full Ayurvedic consultation so you can receive more in depth treatment, but here are several recommendations to begin in the meantime.
How to Treat Constipation:
1. Eat mainly simple, warm, well-cooked foods.
Constipation is a Vata disorder and therefore one must follow the main rules of a Vata diet. The top rule for Vata is to eat mainly well-cooked foods; keeping it simple, warm, oiled and spiced. Click here to read more tips for a Vata Pacifying Diet.
2. Avoid raw foods and cold drinks.
Vata imbalances such as constipation only get worse with anything cold and/or raw. This includes raw veggies, raw juice, cold/raw smoothies, cold milk with cereal (instead use oatmeal or porridge), and cold or iced beverages.
3. Do not suppress natural urges.
Suppressing natural urges such as passing gas, burping, sneezing, urination and defecation, all increase Vata in the body and create blockages in the system. Especially suppression of gas and/or defecation will create further blockages in the colon and worsen the constipation.
4. Follow a healthy daily routine (Dinacharya).
Routine is a mandatory necessity for treating any Vata issue. Make sure you are eating and sleeping at healthy, consistent times everyday. Click here to view a chart for the Ayurvedic Daily Routine.
5. Take 1 tsp of Rasayana Ghrita 2-3 times daily.
This medicated ghee is infused with the top Vata-reducing herbs that are soothing, healing and lubricating to the gut and colon. Take 1 tsp of this herb-infused ghee in 1/2 cup of hot water. Take 2-3 times daily before meals. Click here to read more on Rasayana Ghrita.
6. Relieve stress and anxiety.
A HUGE cause of constipation is chronic stress and anxiety. Take some Self-care measures to reduce the stress and balance the emotions. Some great examples are ginger baths, self-oil massage, weekly sauna or steam room, hiking or being out in nature, walking each day, journaling, sleeping enough and avoiding excessive work.
7. Gentle Yoga.
Performing a gentle Yoga routine at least one day each week will help to ground the energy (and Vata), reduce the stress, balance the emotions and clear the blocked channels in the GI tract. Most styles of Yoga are good, but the gentle or restorative is best for Vata imbalances.
8. Alternate nostril breathing.
Also called Nadi Shodhana. This gentle breath work is beneficial for all imbalances, especially when rooted in Vata. Alternate nostril breathing is soothing and calming to the Nervous System, reduces stress and anxiety, and also helps to open the blocked channels in the system. Click here for full instructions on Alternate Nostril Breathing.
9. Take one cup of Bone Broth Soup, two times daily.
Bone broth is a great way to lubricate the colon and relieve constipation. It is also very healing to the gut and the intestinal wall. Take at least one cup of warm bone broth soup, 2 times daily for chronic constipation. Click here for my Ayurvedic Bone Broth recipe.
10. Take 1/2 tsp of Triphala Churna each night before bed.
Triphala is the Ayurvedic panacea for many disorders including constipation. Best of all, it is non-addictive and non-habit forming. Take 1/2 tsp of triphala in 1/2 cup of warm water each night before bed. This will help to promote healthy elimination in the morning. Click here to read more about Triphala Churna.
So Stuck in the Gut, I hope you will try a couple of these recommendations. These will definitely bring you some relief. Although as I mentioned before, when dealing with chronic, long-standing issues you often have to go even deeper. Therefore is may be necessary to see an Ayurvedic practitioner one day for an individual consultation.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and in turn helping others with similar issues. Constipation is such a common disorder and needs to be remedied in order to obtain optimal health. I hope others will also find inspiration in this article and find the relief that they need as well.