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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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