An Ayurvedic Take On Constipation: The 5 F's

An Ayurvedic Take On Constipation: The 5 F's
Constipation. It's not something that we like to talk about typically. Unless, of course, you happen to find yourself in the world of Ayurveda, in which case elimination is a frequent topic of conversation. Why? Because digestion is at the center of Ayurveda's understanding of health and wellness, and elimination gives us a very good gauge as to the quality of digestion.

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What Is Constipation? 
According to Allopathic (Western) Medicine, the definition of constipation is an adult who has not had a bowel movement in three days or a child who has not had a bowel movement in four days. In Ayurveda we refine that definition considerably and look for at least a daily bowel movement, preferably shortly after waking, as a sign of healthy digestion and elimination. This bowel movement should also come easily, without straining, and be well formed, not too hard and dry and not too loose and liquid.

Regularity ... 
Regularity is important, as a daily bowel movement ensures that wastes and toxins that the body has worked hard to prepare for removal from the body, are actually removed. Waste (as feces) that stagnate in the colon mean that these toxins can be reabsorbed by the mucous membrane lining of the colon, as well as block mineral and water absorption, which is one of the main functions of the colon.

How To Relieve Constipation Naturally

This type of regularity might seem like a stretch for some, but Ayurveda offers many supports to help you arrive at and keep regularity. J. Kashyapa Fisher of the Ayurvedic Institute offers a nice short-hand for these tools, the 5 F's.

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The 5 F's of Regular Elimination

1. Fluid
The easiest and often most effective way to increase elimination is to make sure there's enough water coming in to keep the gastrointestinal tract hydrated. We are a chronically dehydrated society, and many of us could see a plethora of benefits by simply increasing the water (not soda, tea, coffee, kombucha, or other liquids, but WATER) we intake daily. If the mucous membrane of the GI Tract is dehydrated it will make for a dry, rough, and sticky passage for any waste material. I have had many clients start to have a daily bowel movement simply by increasing their water intake.

2. Fiber
It's true, we need fiber to assist peristalsis in the Gastro-Intestinal tract. While 'fiber' might lead you to think of a fiber supplement, we're primarily talking about whole foods here. Fiber comes exclusively from plant-based foods, meaning whole grains, vegetable, and fruits. Upping the amount of plants in your diet, and thus your fiber, is a wonderful way to support proper elimination.

3. Fire
Fire here refers to agni, the Ayurvedic view of metabolic fire. Agni is your power of digestion and transformation, not only of physical food substances, but of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. A balanced metabolic fire will mean that we fully digest our food, keeping that which nourishes us, and eliminating that which does not serve us. A weak fire will mean that we have a hard time fully digesting our food, and the undigested food-stuff that remains putrefies in the GI tract, creating a mucoid plaque that Ayurveda calls āma. Working Ayurvedically to balance agni is a step not only to overall health, but to healthy elimination.

4. Fat
Western medical thinking has finally caught up to Ayurveda's understanding of the benefit of adequate amounts of healthy fats. In Ayurveda we view fat as the second component of hydration after water. If you're taking in enough water, but lacking fats, you'll still be dry. As we already discussed, a dry GI tract will have a hard time smoothly moving waste through. Dry, rough, or pellet-like stools are all signs that you're lacking hydration in the system, and bringing in enough fat is an important component in balanced hydration.

5. Fitness
Our bodily systems were made to be supported by regular movement. Everything functions better when there is enough movement to keep the body from stagnating. Digestion and elimination are no different here. Regular movement like yoga asana, walking, swimming, and tai chi will assist circulation; help tone the musculature of the body, including the muscles of the GI tract (how did you think it moved food through?). If your daily routine has you stationary or seated for a good portion of it be strategic with planning some daily movement. A pre or post lunchtime walk, a few rounds of Sun Salutation in the morning, or other whole body exercise will help to keep digestion and elimination moving.

Schedule
Not an F, but the final "s" in the 5 F's is schedule. The more regularity you create for yourself, the more the body will respond by being regular. Our brains are wired with a circadian rhythm, and while we can certainly disrupt it, we'll be healthiest and usually happiest when we play by the rules of the diurnal clock. By establishing regular times for sleeping, eating, and eliminating we're allowing the body to partner with us in establishing a rhythm. Often just establishing a regular elimination time in which you spend some time seated on the toilet, relaxing, and breathing is enough to cue the body that it has permission to eliminate.

Put it into practice
Ayurveda is a science with a wealth of tools for optimizing digestion and elimination, all based on your unique constitutional balance. As you explore the 5 F's, try making one adjustment at a time so you can really observe the changes that take place. You might want to journal daily the shifts you're making and how they are affecting your digestion, elimination, energy level, sleep, etc. Using Ayurveda is a beautiful way to find more balance in the physical body, making us better able to be present for our work in the world. May these teachings be of benefit.

About The Author

Kara Aubin
Kara Aubin was called to the path of yoga in 1998, and has been a dedicated student and practitioner since. A lifelong lover of movement, she was drawn in by the intention and pranic wisdom of yogic movement, and the profound and challenging nature of yogic stillness. As a ParaYoga Certified teacher and NAMA Certified Ayurvedic Health Counselor based in Kalamazoo, MI and Albuquerque, NM she weaves the teachings of yoga and Ayurveda into group classes, private sessions, workshops, and retreats. Her mission is to guide students toward their bright inherent potential, as well as their right to radical wellness and balance.

Want an Ayurvedic consultation with Kara Aubin? 
Contact her at Kara Aubin


Āma - An Ayurvedic Perspective Of Indigestion

 

Āma - An Ayurvedic Perspective Of Indigestion
Ayurveda sees good digestion and its opposite, indigestion, as the foundation of wellness. When we're digesting well, we're keeping our internal environment balanced, well nourished, and relatively free from toxicity. When we're not digesting well, and experiencing indigestion marked by symptoms like gas, acidity, bloating, constipation, or loose stools, it's a signal that the body is not reacting well to the nourishment you're providing it.

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Agni & Āma:
From the Ayurvedic perspective on digestion there are two primary concepts to be familiar with: agni and āma. Agni in a general sense is the principle of transformation in the body. There are many types of agni, that fulfill many duties of transformation in the body, but for our purposes lets understand Agni as our digestive fire or capacity. When agni struggles to completely and fully digest and assimilate the food you eat, the undigested food particles begin to putrefy creating a morbid, mucoid plaque that Ayurveda calls āma.

Āma coats and congests the channels of the body, from the main channel of the digestive tract, to the more subtle channels of the circulatory system and lymphatic system. Āma can disrupt flow, block nutrient absorption, and cause cellular immune system confusion. You may feel the results of internal coating and congestion as fatigue, heaviness, cloudiness, confusion, stiffness, or general body ache. Want a quick āma check? Upon rising, look at your tongue in the mirror. See a whitish, yellowish, greenish, or dark coating on the tongue? That's āma that the body is working to expel.

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Ready to clear that toxicity?
So what to do to begin to clear out that toxic plaque from the body? Luckily there are many things we can to help the body balance clear this plaque. The first thing to do it to support your digestive fire. I think of this like tending a campfire. You have to develop a relationship to the fire you're tending. If you don't give the fire any fuel, it goes out, and then takes considerable time to rebuild. If you dump a bunch of wet wood and soggy leaves on the fire, it smothers, and leaves you with a bunch of unburned (undigested) coals. However if you regularly feed that fire with the type of fuel that's appropriate for where it is in its burn cycle, it will burn brightly and efficiently for you.

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What fire-tending looks like in the body:

Establish a regular rhythm of meal times (3 is typically recommended)

  • Start your morning off with foods that will kindle your fire, a lighter breakfast with warm, easy to digest foods.
  • Your digestive fire is strongest at mid-day, make this your biggest meal.
  • Make your evening meal one that is nourishing but lighter, again so you don't have too much undigested food in the GI tract when you go to bed. (That's a sure recipe for ama.)
  • Make meals a meal. Sit down, breathe, un-plug and focus on the nourishment you are about to receive. We know that when the stress-response in active we are physiologically incapable of digestion - so take a moment to de-stress before you eat.
  • Have ~16oz of room temperature or warm water ~30 minutes before your meal. This helps to prepare the protective bicarbonate layer of the stomach for the acid production that will happen with digestion.
  • You can have a little warm water to sip on during a meal, but no chugging large amounts. You don't want to dilute the hydrochloric acid and digestive enzyme balance your body has worked to hard to create in the stomach for proper digestion. This would be like throwing water on a fire when you want it to burn it's brightest.
  • Eliminate or minimize the snacking. Snacking doesn't allow the body to move through a full digestive cycle without interruption. This creates undigested food-stuff in the GI tract, which leads to ama.

 

What toxicity clearing looks like in the body:

So you've begun to tend to your internal digestive fire, but what about the āma that's already in the system?

  • Drink a warm cup of water, or lemon-water first thing, upon rising.
  • Drink room-temp or warmer water away from meals. Cold and iced water are Ayurvedic no-nos.
  • Drink enough water. The calculation is pretty simple. Take you ideal body weight in pounds, and divide it by two to get the number of ounces. So a 140 lbs person would drink 70 ounces, and a 180 lbs person would drink 90 ounces. Use a container you can measure so you can track it daily.
  • Lighten the load. The body can digest ama if given the opportunity. This could look like single day of fasting each week, a short mono-diet, or a seasonal cleanse. Consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner to find out what option would be appropriate for you.
  • Get moving. Gentle movement will help the body naturally detoxify. Go for a walk, do some yoga asana, have a dance party in your living room - whatever it takes to get some movement in.
  • Align your diet, your food-combing, and your schedule with your unique constitution. An Ayurvedic Practitioner can help you create a diet, lifestyle, and herbal practice that will be a customized approach for your digestive fire (agni) and digestive plaque (ama).

 

About The Author 

Kara Aubin
Kara Aubin was called to the path of yoga in 1998, and has been a dedicated student and practitioner since. A lifelong lover of movement, she was drawn in by the intention and pranic wisdom of yogic movement, and the profound and challenging nature of yogic stillness. As a ParaYoga Certified teacher and NAMA Certified Ayurvedic Health Counselor based in Kalamazoo, MI and Albuquerque, NM she weaves the teachings of yoga and Ayurveda into group classes, private sessions, workshops, and retreats. Her mission is to guide students toward their bright inherent potential, as well as their right to radical wellness and balance.

Want an Ayurvedic consultation with Kara Aubin? 
Contact her at Kara Aubin


You Are Only As Healthy As Your "Agni"

 

You Are Only As Healthy As Your Agni
Agni is the fire of transformation. It is responsible for the digestion, absorption, assimilation, and transformation of what we take in (food and experiences) into energy. The well-known ayurved Dr. Lad, defines "Agni" as:

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Your agni can be balanced, too low, too high, or irregular.

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What we feed the agni, and as David Frawley says, "Everything in the universe is food", determines how our agni burns. Imbalanced agni can mean weakness, poor digestion, poor elimination, internal coldness, compromised immunity, fatigue, or generally a lack of bright, shiny, vitality. Balanced agni looks like strength, vitality, immunity, clarity of perception and mind, proper digestion and elimination, normal body temperature, and a healthy glow that permeates all parts of your being.

The Ayurvedic Connection Between Agni & Ama

So, what are the things that balance and imbalance Agni?

What balances agni:

  • meal times according to the ayurvedic clock
  • dosha appropriate foods
  • warm, well cooked, well seasoned foods
  • fresh, whole, seasonal foods
  • warm beverages, digestive teas
  • adequate rest
  • healthy energetic/emotional expression
  • spinal twist asana
  • agni sara

 

What imbalances agni:

  • over or undereating
  • eating at the wrong time of day
  • snacking
  • inappropriate food for your dosha
  • incompatible food combining
  • cold beverages
  • toxins, intentional or unintentional (drink, smoke, other)
  • seasonal shifts
  • sleep not aligned with the ayurvedic clock
  • energetic/emotional imbalance

 

Ayurveda is clear, if you're experiencing the symptoms of imbalanced agni, there are many practices available to you to rekindle and balance your fire. Someone versed in ayurveda can help you determine how to best bring your agni back into balance. Make your choices an offering to your fire, swaha!

About The Author
Kara Aubin

Kara Aubin was called to the path of yoga in 1998, and has been a dedicated student and practitioner since. A lifelong lover of movement, she was drawn in by the intention and pranic wisdom of yogic movement, and the profound and challenging nature of yogic stillness. As a ParaYoga Certified teacher and NAMA Certified Ayurvedic Health Counselor based in Kalamazoo, MI and Albuquerque, NM she weaves the teachings of yoga and Ayurveda into group classes, private sessions, workshops, and retreats. Her mission is to guide students toward their bright inherent potential, as well as their right to radical wellness and balance.

Want an Ayurvedic consultation with Kara Aubin? 
Contact her at Kara Aubin