A common condition for many, Constipation can wreak havoc to your system. Evidence suggests yoga, as an alternative therapy, is useful in preventing and managing constipation. There is evidence that even Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be managed with yoga. Other common symptoms like anxiety and depression, which affect digestion, can also be managed with regular practice. Many yoga practices, like the shat kriya (six cleansing practices) work predominantly on the digestive organs, helping relieve constipation and clearing out toxins.
Constipation is common, yet painful at times. The causes might vary, however, the condition leads to dry, hard stools that are difficult to excrete and lesser bowel movement in a day. In extreme cases, a person might go through chronic constipation which causes lasting damage to the excretory system.
Causes of Constipation
The causes might vary from diet to lifestyle, exercise and even change in environment (like when traveling). Hypothyroidism is another factor. The thyroid gland controls metabolic activities in the body. Hypothyroidism (an uder-active thyroid) is related to problems like constipation.
A poor diet that consists of processed and refined foods also causes constipation. When a diet lacks leafy greens, fruits and fresh vegetables it impacts digestion greatly. Stress, anxiety and depression are also factors that make the system sluggish and cause hormonal imbalances which affect the digestive organs. Not consuming enough water or liquids leads to dehydration which causes constipation too. When you don’t drink enough water, the intestines absorb more water from the body which leads to dry and hard feces. Overuse of medication and supplements, as well as resisting the urge to excrete when traveling etc. can cause constipation. Inconsistent work hours with less time to rest also affects digestion and leads to constipation.
Symptoms of Constipation
Symptoms of constipation include difficult or painful bowel movements, no movements for more than 3-4 days, dry or hard stools, feeling bloated or experiencing a swollen abdomen. One might feel lethargic or even experience pain in the lower abdomen as well. Headaches, cramps and stomach aches are also common symptoms.
How does Yoga help with Constipation
Yoga consists of asanas, breathing exercises, cleansing practices and meditation/ relaxation. All of these contribute towards keeping your system balanced and healthy. Each practice provides relief from constipation. Yoga also enables you to adapt a holistic and balanced routine and lifestyle. Consuming the right diet, warm water and being mindful also helps.
Yoga postures for constipation
Taking out a little time to practice yoga regularly is very helpful. It will prevent infrequent bowel movement, straining and bloating. It improves the flow of blood and oxygen in the system. Here are a few yoga postures for constipation:
Half lord of the fishes pose
This spinal twist puts pressure on the abdomen while also strengthening the digestive organs. Known as Ardha Matsyendrasana it is extremely useful in relieving constipation.
How to do half lord of the fishes pose:
- Sit in Dandasana with your feet together and spine straight.
- Now bend the left leg and place the left foot flat beside the right hip.
- Take the right leg over the left knee and place the left hand on the right knee and the right hand behind you.
- Now slowly twist the waist, shoulders and neck to the right and look over the right shoulder.
- Ensure your spine is straight.
- Now look over the right shoulder while taking slow deep breaths. Now repeat this on the other side.
Vajrasana is the only posture you can do right after a meal. It increases blood circulation in the abdomen, stimulates the digestive fire and invigorates all the abdominal organs. It’s one of the best postures to do for any digestion related conditions.
How to do thunderbolt pose:
- Come onto your knees and kneel down.
- Now place your buttocks on your heels. Make sure your knees are close together.
- Keep the spine straight and place the palms on the thighs facing upwards.
The cobra pose massages the digestive organs and cleans out the digestive tract. Twisting in the cobra pose is extremely beneficial in releasing particles from the digestive tract and the intestines.
How to do cobra pose:
- Lie flat on the stomach with the legs straight, feet together and the soles of the feet facing upwards.
- Place the palms of the hands flat on the floor, below and slightly to the side of the shoulders, with the fingers together and pointing forward.
- Position the arms so that the elbows point backward and are close to the sides of the body.
- Rest the forehead on the floor and close the eyes.
- Relax the whole body, especially the lower back. Now slowly raise the head.
- Straighten the elbows, using the back muscles first, then the arm muscles to raise the trunk further and arch the back.
- In the final position, the pubic bone remains in contact with the floor and the navel is raised a maximum of 3 mm.
- The arms may or may not be straight; this will depend on the flexibility of the back.
Seated forward bend
Paschimottanasana is a great posture for constipation and digestive problems. It massages the abdominal organs, aids in weak digestion and strengthens the organs.
How to do seated forward bend:
- Sit up with the legs stretched out straight in front of you (Dandasana). Keep the spine straight and toes pointing upwards.
- Inhale, raise both arms above your head and stretch up. As you exhale, bend forward from the hip, chin moving toward the toes. Keep the spine erect. Focus on moving forwards towards the toes, rather than down towards the knees.
- Place your hands on your legs, wherever they reach. Do not try to force yourself closer to the thighs if it is difficult. If you can, grab hold of your toes and pull on them to help you inch forward a little. You can also grab your calves if that’s where you’re comfortable.
- Breathe in, keep your head straight and lengthen the spine. As you exhale, gently try to take your naval closer to the knees. Engage your core and try to use your breath to go deeper into the posture.
The bow pose puts pressure on the abdomen, massages the abdominal organs and strengthens them. It helps with elimination and clearing out the system.
How to do bow pose:
- Lie flat on the stomach with the legs and feet together, and the arms and hands beside the body.
- Bend the knees and bring the heels close to the buttocks. Grip the ankles with the hands.
- Keep the knees and thighs firmly on the floor and the arms straight throughout the practice.
- Place the chin on the floor.
- Tense the legs and lift the feet backward while raising the head and chest as high as possible from the floor without straining.
- Use the backward movement of the legs to assist the raising of the body, allowing the back muscles to remain passive. In the final position, the gaze is upwards without compressing the neck.
This posture is effective in releasing gas associated with constipation. It gives significant relief from flatulence by improving movement and expulsion from the intestines. It is helpful in chronic constipation and sluggishness.
How to do wind-relieving pose:
- Bend both legs at the knees and rest the thighs against the abdomen, keeping the knees and ankles together.
- Wrap the arms around the knees grabbing the opposite elbows.
- Bring the forehead or chin on the knees (wherever you can reach).
- Stay here for a few breathes.
Breathing practices for Constipation
This practice infuses the body with energy, removing lethargy and sluggishness. It releases toxins and stimulates digestion, releasing blockages as well.
Practicing deep abdominal breathing strengthens the abdominal and digestive organs and muscles. It removes sluggishness from the organs, stimulates the digestive fire and releases blockages. It also improves the flow of oxygen.
Cleansing practices for Constipation
Laghoo Shankhaprakshalana (Colon cleansing)
This is the smaller version of colon cleansing which can be practiced at home. There are often particles of food that get stuck to the inside of the intestinal lining and lead to a build up of toxins. This cleansing technique pushes out the leftover particles, completely cleansing the system. This complete cleanse leads to a clean, smooth and balanced digestive system and process.
Kapal Bhati (Frontal lobe cleansing)
This is another effective cleansing technique which cleanses the system of toxins, restores balance, releases stress and stimulates the digestive organs. It also improves oxygen supply by pushing out carbon dioxide.
Agni Sar (Igniting the digestive fire)
The name of this practice itself tells us a lot. This cleansing technique stimulates the digestive fire, massages the internal organs, improves blood circulation and oxygen supply, and cleanses the system of toxins. When practiced regularly, it helps remove sluggishness of organs like the liver.
Diet and Lifestyle
Making changes to your diet, routine and lifestyle will greatly help in overcoming digestive issues. Be mindful of what you are eating and how much you are consuming. Avoid packaged, processed, refined food. Replace it with fibrous fruits, leafy green vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Replace tea and coffee with green tea or herbal tea. Follow a routine that works well for you. It should be balanced with physical activity, some time for meditation and breathing exercises, as well as rest. Sleep and wake up at the same time everyday as this will help establish a proper bowel routine too.
Meditation and Relaxation
Develop the practice of meditation and relaxation as this will help you release stress, anxiety and worries. It will balance your nervous system, relax the mind and body and improve mindfulness. All you have to do is take out 15-20 minutes a day.
While medication can solve the condition, it can also be fixed with a few changes to your diet and lifestyle. Create a routine, try to follow it daily and it will soon become a habit that works positively for you.