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  • Writer's pictureGeetanjali Chakraborty

Navigating Constipation: A Holistic Perspective

When I was 26, I found myself struggling with something I never thought would be a big deal: constipation. It seemed like such a common issue, nothing to worry about, right? So, I did what many people do—I reached for over-the-counter laxatives, thinking they would provide quick relief. But boy, was I wrong. Instead of easing my discomfort, those laxatives caused even more trouble. They didn't just fail to help me; they actually made things worse by giving me bouts of diarrhea. It was frustrating—I thought I was doing my body a favor, but it seemed like I was just making things harder for myself.

What I didn't realize at the time was that those laxatives were dehydrating my digestive system, making my constipation even more stubborn. It was like a vicious cycle—I'd take more laxatives to try to fix the problem, only to end up feeling even worse. Desperate for relief, I turned to conventional medicine when I developed eczema. The doctor suggested steroids, but the idea of relying on medication didn't sit right with me. So, I started looking for other options.

That's when my husband suggested Ayurveda during a holiday in Grass Valley, California. Despite my initial doubts—and the hefty price tag—I decided to give it a shot. The consultation was unlike anything I'd experienced before. The practitioner asked about everything from my sleep patterns to my bowel movements, and I couldn't help but feel a bit annoyed by all the questions. But as she explained the connection between my constipation and my other health issues, I began to see things differently. She convinced me that we needed to address my constipation first before tackling anything else. So, I dove into an Ayurvedic treatment plan, committing myself to herbs, dietary changes, and lifestyle adjustments for three months. To my surprise, it worked! Not only did my constipation disappear, but my eczema started to improve too. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders—I finally had relief without having to rely on medication.

Now, 17 years later, I'm grateful for that journey. I've learned so much about my body and how to take care of it, all thanks to Ayurveda. It wasn't an easy road, but it was definitely worth it. And who knew that a simple suggestion from my husband could lead to such a life-changing experience?

Significance of Constipation: Unraveling the Doshas and Digestive Process

In Ayurveda, poor digestion serves as a precursor to future major ailments, with constipation being a direct consequence of impaired digestion.

Charaka Samhita, Chapter 15, 9-11 describes the three states of digestion and the doshas they provoke:

अन्नस्य भुक्तमात्रस्य षड्रसस्य प्रपाकतः| 

मधुराद्यात् कफो भावात् फेनभूत उदीर्यते||९|| 

परं तु पच्यमानस्य विदग्धस्याम्लभावतः| 

आशयाच्च्यवमानस्य पित्तमच्छमुदीर्यते||१०|| 

पक्वाशयं तु प्राप्तस्य शोष्यमाणस्य वह्निना| 

परिपिण्डितपक्वस्य वायुः स्यात् कटुभावतः||११||

When food is consumed and only the sweet taste is dominant, kapha arises, manifested as foam.
When food is being digested and the sour taste predominates, pitta arises, manifested as bile.
When the food has reached the colon and is being dried up by the digestive fire, vata arises, manifested as a pungent taste.

In essence, it explains how the dominance of different tastes during the stages of digestion correlates with the aggravation of specific doshas - kapha, pitta, and vata.

According to Ayurveda, the process of digestion unfolds in several stages. Initially, upon consumption, food enters the madhura (sweet) stage, where kapha is produced.  Subsequently, during further digestion and in its partially digested state, food transitions into the amla (sour) stage, representing pitta. Finally, as nutrients are absorbed and reach the pakvashaya (colon), the drying influence of agni (digestive fire) solidifies the previous stages into a cohesive mass. This phase is characterized by the katu (pungent) taste and the vata stage. It's important to note that the strength and efficiency of agni plays a crucial role in this digestive process, and any imbalance in agni can contribute to constipation.

Hence, addressing constipation is not just about relieving discomfort; it is essential for maintaining overall well-being and promoting digestive health.

Spotting the Red Flags: Signs of Digestive Distress

How can we recognize good digestion? While there's much to delve into on this topic, for simplicity's sake, here are four key indicators to consider:

  1. Feeling hungry during regular meal times.

  2. Experiencing regular bowel movements.

  3. Waking up with good energy levels in the morning.

  4. Absence of bloating or flatulence.

If any of the above signs are lacking, it's a clear indication that your digestion may be compromised.

Rekindling Digestive Harmony: Unblocking the Path to Wellness

How can we restore proper digestion? One of the primary causes may stem from poor dietary habits and leading a sedentary lifestyle, hindering proper digestion. Therefore, the initial step often involves fasting. If we liken the digestive system to a plumbing system, it can become clogged, leading to a slowdown or complete blockage of flow. When it halts entirely, attempting to force more waste into it is futile. Instead, we must adopt methods to facilitate digestion. In today's hurried lifestyle, where quick and convenient foods take precedence over mindful digestion, this issue becomes more pronounced.

Practitioner Insights: Seeing Through the Lens of Yukti

I once had a senior client grappling with chronic constipation. Through a blend of dietary adjustments, lifestyle modifications, and herbal remedies, we managed to restore bowel movement regularity within two weeks. However, despite the progress, he struggled to refrain from snacking, so his chronic condition eventually returned. According to Ayurveda, the koshta (alimentary tract) can be classified as mridu (soft), facilitating smooth and effortless bowel movements; madhyam (requiring occasional support such as warm water due to intermittent dryness); or krur (constantly necessitating support due to persistent dryness). If left untreated, a krur koshta can escalate into chronic constipation.

The role of vata in relation to constipation is currently being investigated in scientific research. Emerging evidence suggests that constipation could potentially serve as a clinical biomarker for the early detection of non-specific symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease. (Reference journal article: Constipation: an emerging risk factor for Parkinson's disease?)

According to Ayurveda, constipation is defined as "stambhana," which refers to a condition that freezes or restrains the movement of substances within the body that are inherently mobile. In Ayurvedic terms, constipation involves a lack of steady or firm movement, characterized by trembling or agitation. It's considered a vata condition and is seen as a precursor to other diseases.

Charaka Samhita, Verse 22 explains the causes of constipation:

सन्धारणादत्यशनादजीर्णाध्यशनात्तथा| वर्चोवाहीनि दुष्यन्ति दुर्बलाग्नेः कृशस्य च||२१||

सन्धारणात् अत्यशनात् अजीर्ण-अध्यशनात् तथा  वर्चः वाहीनि दुष्यन्ति दुर्बल-अग्नेः कृशस्य च ||२१|

Due to holding back urges for defecation, overeating, and eating before the digestion of the previous meal,
the faeces (varchas) get obstructed in the intestines, especially in those with weak digestive fire (agni) and in the emaciated (krishas).

The pathways responsible for transporting faeces become disturbed due to the suppression of the natural urge to defecate, excessive food intake, and consuming meals before the previous ones are fully digested, particularly in individuals who are lean and possess weakened digestive capabilities.

In conclusion, constipation remains a prevalent and often underestimated issue in our modern society. While laxatives may offer temporary relief, their prolonged use can lead to further complications and harm to the body. It's imperative to recognize that true healing lies in addressing the root causes of constipation through dietary and lifestyle changes. Consulting with an Ayurveda practitioner can provide invaluable guidance and personalized solutions on this journey to digestive wellness. By embracing holistic approaches and prioritizing long-term health over quick fixes, we can effectively manage and overcome this chronic affliction, restoring balance and vitality to our digestive system.

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