A lot of people go to the toilet once a week and think that’s perfectly normal. You want to be moving your bowels at least once, or even twice a day. The perception of what you think is normal may not actually be healthy.
When looking at healthy bowel motions, it’s not only how often you go, but also what the form, shape and consistency is like. The occasional bout of constipation or diarrhea is normal, but when symptoms recur frequently it’s time to look at finding (and addressing) the deeper root cause. This is because your body is responding to what you’ve eating and it’s a sign your digestion isn’t working efficiently.
People often think that increasing fibre, or taking laxatives is OK for a short-term solution, but in Ayurveda there are many better ways to solve the problem naturally. Even more important, is understanding why there are these issues with elimination – and restoring balance in the body.
Why is elimination so important?
In Ayurveda elimination is a key indicator to your overall health because this means a healthy agni (digestive fire), which is one of the cornerstones of health and wellbeing. Also, the digestive tract is the first place where imbalances come into play – so when you notice something isn’t right with your elimination, the quicker it is addressed, the better you’ll be.
Going to the toilet regularly is also important in keeping the digestive channels flowing. Healthy elimination carries out the critical functions of absorbing water and glucose, forming stools, eliminating solid waste and clearing heavy metals and toxins from the body.
What is healthy elimination?
When things are working well, you’ll go to the toilet a few minutes after waking up – ideally before sunrise. Often there will be a second bowel movement during the day, and generally this will be after a meal.
You can also tell how healthy a person is, by the formation of their stool – I’ll keep this quick and to the point. A good number two will be well formed and have the consistency of a ripe banana, it will keep its shape, it won’t be too sticky, the colour will be light brown-yellow, it will float and only have a mild odour.
If yours aren’t fitting that description it can mean any number of things – especially in our busy, fast paced lives where we are often eating on the run, over-eating processed foods and not having enough fibre and vegetables in our diets.
Often when there is an issue with elimination we can break those down into three different issues (vata, pitta and kapha) which also makes them easier to understand – and treat.
Vata imbalance: When there is excess vata there will often be constipation. Bowel motions may be small in size, often they will be dry and hard – even pellet like – in the toilet, they will sink to the bottom, be dark brown in colour and quite irregular.
To improve this condition, we need to look at balancing vata’s cold, dry qualities. Instead of crackers, potatoes, potato chips, fizzy drinks and raw food like salads, it’s better to have more foods which produce warmth as well as oil and lots of fluid. Increasing the amount of oils in the diet is the first step – good ones are ghee, sesame oil and olive oil. It’s also important to drink a lot of fluid, warm herbal teas are great. Avoid cold icy drinks Eating more fruit (at least an hour before you eat) and increasing fibre like oatmeal, whole grain and cooked vegetables like pumpkin has a lot of fibre , can all help as well.
Other things that can help are setting up a structured daily routine where three meals are eaten each day (ideally around the same time each day), allowing time for plenty of vata-pacifying exercises – this might be walking, swimming and pilates and tai chi. You can read more about that in this article I wrote about exercising for your body type. Yoga can be great for improving agni and calming the mind – there are special poses which are most suited to your body type, which you can read about in another article I wrote.
Pitta imbalance: When there is a pitta problem with elimination the amount of times you’ll be going is often – at least two- to three-times a day and it will tend toward loose or diarrhea, the look will be oily, liquidity and hot; consistency will also be semi-solid or loose and it will often fall apart in the water; it will either float or sink, It can look yellow-green or red in colour and be sour, pungent and acidic in smell. If there is a lot of imbalance then there can be blood in the stool, if that’s the case, it needs to be checked out.
Too much pitta can also cause an insatiable appetite, acid indigestion, heartburn or bleeding haemorrhoid.
Balancing a pitta issues is best with cooling, nutritive, heavy and dense properties. This is hot and spicy, fried and oily, processed food, cheese, and too much fermented food like soy sauce. This can be achieved through a diet and lifestyle which reduces pitta aggravation. For starters make sure to avoid exercises in the heat of the day, and enjoying less strenuous exercises like walking, light jogging, swimming or cycling in the morning or evening..
In terms of diet stick with cooling foods like cucumber, zucchini celery, apple, watermelon, and drinks – like coriander, coconut, peppermint tea, fennel and mint. Drink your water mainly at room temperature and introduce cooling oils like ghee, sunflower oil and coconut oil as well as aloe vera juice or gel.
Kapha imbalance: Excess kapha will be apparent in your bowel movements – elimination will be plentiful, it will also be oily, slimy and sticky; it will be well-formed but often sticky or with mucus; it generally will sink (or due to the mucus, may float); the colour will be pale yellow; the smell will be mild and you’ll probably be going one- to two-times a day, while occasionally skipping a day. You may notice it is sticky and difficult to clean – you might use a lot of toilet paper this is usually because you need to do a detox as the toxins are getting stuck. Start to have more soup at night to give your digestion a rest.
To return balance, we need to keep warm and dry, avoid daytime napping or sleeping in and stay active. A kapha-pacifying diet will help restore balance. This includes reducing processed foods and sugar, bread and pasta as well as eating only two meals a day – with lunch being the main meal – and smaller amounts at breakfast and dinner; using a wide variety of spices in cooking and chewing a piece of raw ginger about half an hour before a meal, to get the digestive fire working.
Lifestyle moderations include getting plenty of exercise suited to kapha body types – so movement which is fun, vigorous and stimulating, for example walking, hiking, running, cycling and high intensity interval training. This body type must move.
Home remedy: constipation
If you’re not going at least once a day, here are some easy to find options which will help restore balance. Psyllium husk 1-2 teaspoons, one hour before eating with two glasses of water. Castor oil is also great for moving the air out of the body. Start with using a teaspoon before bed in warm water. Another option is castor oil – one teaspoon at night. You might also want to increase ghee in your diet as an ongoing measure.
With the increasing number of people suffering inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and unknown gut problems, it’s really important to get any elimination issues under control before they become a problem.
If you want to clear up elimination issues and give your body a bit of re-boot, check out our 28-day re-set detox, starting next month.