Ah, constipation, a lovely topic, I know. Too much information for some, but constipation is no joke. Healthy elimination is extremely important to overall health and, according to Ayurveda, is a precursor to further disease.
Ayurveda is traditional Indian medicine. It's at least 5,000 years old, making it the oldest form of medicine. Ayurveda, also known as the science of life, first looks to digestion and elimination patterns to observe imbalances in the body and mind. The practice believes that three doshas — vata, pitta and kapha — govern the physiology of every person. The blend of these doshas within each person is completely unique and specific.
If you're unsure if you may be experiencing constipation, begin to become aware of your daily elimination pattern. Daily elimination is considered regular and healthy. If you skip a day, you're experiencing constipation. When you do eliminate, what's the quality of your stool? Is it small and hard? Do you strain to pass? If so, you may be experiencing constipation.
Ayurvedically speaking, constipation manifests when there is imbalance in the body. Although constipation can occur through a long-term pitta imbalance or lack of peristaltic action due to kapha, the light, dry and mobile qualities of the vata dosha is most commonly at play. Vata dosha dries out the mucous membranes of the body and the colon. The body then holds onto stool to reabsorb the water held within it. Remember, our stools are predominantly made of H2O!
What we eat is the most important factor in relieving and preventing constipation. Excess amounts of light, dry and astringent foods like legumes, raw greens (spinach, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts), pretzels, chips, corn and corn products, pomegranate and cranberries can cause dryness in the body.
You might say, “Hey, but raw greens are packed with fiber which can ease constipation!” But think of the AMOUNT of raw greens you must consume to get a large amount of fiber. You would have to graze all day like the horses in order to get the amount of fiber from spinach that you can get from a teaspoon of chia seeds, for example. Now, I'm not trying to say you need to eliminate these foods altogether if you are experiencing constipation. However, think about how you can counterbalance their light, dry, or astringent effects.
A simple, effective way to nourish and build rasa (fluids) in the body is to add more healthy oils to the diet. If you're in the mood for greens, why not cook some kale briefly in some ghee or olive oil? You can garnish these greens with almonds, bringing in yet another healthy oil into your diet.
Beyond unctuous oils, chia seeds are an excellent superfood to bring relief and feed the body. Chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats, being composed of 60% omega-3s. They're also packed with antioxidants. Simply add ½ teaspoon chia seeds to a cup of water and let rest until there's a jelly-like casing along the seeds. You can squeeze fresh lemon into the water or even blend chia seeds into coconut water for double the hydration.
Organic ground flax seed or oil is another way to counterbalance dryness and increase fiber in the diet. Sprinkle ground flax or oil into your morning oatmeal or smoothie, for example. Just remember to rehydrate the ground flax seeds; you don't want to consume them dry.
Ayurveda believes in healing the root of disease rather than merely masking the disease through symptomatic relief. Thus, rather than first look to sometime habit forming laxatives, Ayurveda looks to unctuous, heavy, grounding and warming foods, demulcent herbs like slippery elm and marshmallow and a traditional Ayurvedic formula called triphala to balance the doshas and eliminate the true cause of constipation.
To learn more about the Ayurvedic perspective on constipation, please consult your local Ayurveda practitioner to get things moving again. Here’s to relief!