Think you might be constipated? For some, a bowel movement every other day is completely normal (though Ayurveda would still recommend some strategies to increase regularity). For others, just one day without a bowel movement is a sure sign of constipation. As with most things in Ayurveda, the context of each individual (and his or her experience of the situation) is far more important than any one-size-fits-all definition of what is healthy or normal.
This resource is intended to help you understand the Ayurvedic perspective on constipation and to give you some practical tools to support healthy bowel movements, if you determine that they would be appropriate for you. However, if your constipation is unusual for you in its intensity or duration, or if it is occurring more often than occasionally, it is also important that you consult with your primary healthcare provider. If your symptoms are due to a more complex digestive disorder, you might benefit from reading our more comprehensive guide to healthy elimination.
What is Constipation?
Constipation is a condition whereby the stools become difficult to pass, or stop moving altogether for some time. However, constipation is typically accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Straining during a bowel movement
- Being unable to have a bowel movement
- A sense that a bowel movement was incomplete
- A feeling of being blocked up
- The stools themselves can be dry, hard, and pellet-like (but do not have to be in order for someone to be experiencing constipation)1
The Ayurvedic Perspective
According to Ayurveda, constipation occurs when vata’s cold and dry qualities disturb the colon, inhibiting its proper functioning. The remedy is to add warmth, oil, and hydration to the system in order to counter the excess vata. The following strategies specifically counter vata’s cold and dry qualities and can be very helpful in supporting the return of normal bowel movements.
Drink Lots of Warm or Hot Water and Herbal Tea
Drink at least 80 ounces of water or herbal tea per day. Warm and hot fluids are best because they balance vata’s cold quality. It’s also important to drink the majority of these fluids away from meals—at least 20 minutes before, or 1 hour after eating.
Increase the Quantity of Organic Oils in Your Diet
High quality oils help to lubricate the tissues so that an appropriate amount of oil or fat can remain in the stool. While most oils are generally supportive, the best oils for vata include sesame oil, ghee, and olive oil.
Eat Plenty of Fruit
Fruit is hydrating, fibrous, and generally pacifying to vata. Especially supportive choices include ripe bananas, peeled apples, soaked raisins, soaked prunes, and peaches. Be sure to eat the fruit at least one hour before or after other foods and chew them thoroughly to receive the maximum benefit.
Drink Some Fruit Juice
Pineapple juice and prune juice are particularly effective at moving excess vata in the colon. It is also fine to warm or dilute fruit juices with water.
Take Milk with Ghee, or Soaked Flax Seeds
Before bed, try drinking either a cup of boiled milk with 1–2 teaspoons of ghee, or boil 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds in about a cup of water for 2–3 minutes. Cool and drink the tea and the seeds.2 Allow at least one hour (preferably 2–3) between your last meal of the day and this bedtime drink.
Take Vata Pacifying Herbs
Triphala, a traditional Ayurvedic formula comprised of three fruits, is balancing for all three doshas and has a particular affinity for the colon—making it very supportive of healthy elimination. About half an hour before bed, either take 2 Triphala tablets with a glass of warm water, or if you prefer a powder, steep ½–1 teaspoon Triphala powder in a cup of freshly boiled water for 10 minutes. Cool and drink.
If you have tried triphala in the past and have not gotten the support you were hoping for, you might try taking a larger dose of it (about 1 teaspoon) to see if that makes a difference. Each unique constellation of constitution, imbalance, and other factors dictates a specific dose of herbs, and it is not uncommon for different people with similar symptoms to require a different dose in order to accomplish the same goal.
Psyllium husk is a natural source of both soluble and insoluble fiber and serves as an effective demulcent and bulking agent in the colon, supporting healthy and regular stools.3 The husks can be soaked in either warm water or warm milk and should be accompanied by adequate hydration. Before you add this herb to your routine, you will also want to check with either an Ayurvedic practitioner or your primary health care provider, as there are additional considerations that should be taken into account. For a more complete introduction to this herb, click on the link above.
Beyond the Basics
Of course, whatever your situation, an Ayurvedic practitioner can offer more advanced therapeutic strategies and a more personalized level of support. And, if you are still hungry for more of the Ayurvedic perspective on digestion and elimination, you may find some of these resources helpful:
- Ayurvedic Guide to Healthy Elimination
This is a more comprehensive look at healthy elimination through the lens of Ayurveda; it highlights the importance of healthy elimination and offers some general tips for supporting proper elimination.
- The Importance of Healthy Digestion
Symptoms in the channels of elimination are often the result of broader imbalances with agni (the metabolic fire). As an introduction to the critically important Ayurvedic concept of agni, this resource explores agni’s role in maintaining health and vitality throughout the body, and offers practical tools for kindling the sacred fire within.
- The Importance of Agni
This article explores the specific functions of agni, as well as the signs and symptoms of both healthy and impaired agni.
- The Four Varieties of Agni
This resource compares balanced agni to the different types of imbalances that can disrupt it, and offers appropriate therapies for each type of imbalance.
- Ama: the Antithesis of Agni
This piece introduces the toxic, undigested material called ama, whose qualities directly oppose those of agni. Ama in the body can either be the cause or the result of impaired agni—and in either case, threatens our health.