This abnormal functioning of the bowels can manifest in three distinct ways:
1. The defecation may occur with insufficient frequency
2. Stool may be insufficient in quantity
Any of these definitions could be classified as constipation. However, we must emphasize that each person is different, so that one healthy person empties his bowels after each meal while another will do so once a day. There are also some people who defecate only once a week yet are considered healthy.
It is popularly believed that one must have a good motion every day or be overwhelmed by dire consequences. This is totally incorrect and has caused more constipation in itself by making people worry without reason. If you are constipated then you will know it, for the symptoms will clearly manifest; that is, mental depression, loss of appetite, dull headache, possibly nausea, foul smelling breath, thickly coated tongue and a general feeling of heaviness and discomfort in the abdomen.
Much has been written about the constipated artist who is unable to create and the constipated scientist who is unable to think. We quote the following from the book, A Mencken Chrestomathy by H. L. Menchen: "There has never lived a poet in the whole history of the world, ancient or modern, near or far, who ever managed to write great poetry, or even passably fair and decent poetry, at a time when he was suffering from stenosis (restriction) at any point along the thirty odd foot, via dolorosa, running from the pylorus to the sigmoid flexure (near rectum)... He is stumped and helpless. The more he tries, the more vividly he will be conscious of his impotence. Sweat will stand out in beads upon his brow; he will fish patiently for the elusive thought; he will try coaxing and subterfuge; he will retire to his ivory tower; he will tempt the invisible powers with black coffee, tea and alcohol and the alkaloids - but he will not write his poem or iron out his syllogism, or find his way into . . . Striving in the face of such an interior obstacle is the most cruel of enterprises - a business more nerve-wracking and exhausting than reading a newspaper or watching a bad play."
While one is constipated, it is so tempting to strain the bowels, which can easily lead to haemorrhoids, hernia, prolapse of the rectum and a number of other undesirable yet common ailments. So if you are constipated, be careful that you do not overstrain.
There are two types of constipation - colic and dyschezic. Colic constipation is caused by delay in the movement of the faeces to the rectum. This is often the result of a diet that contains little or no indigestible residue. In other words, it is necessary to eat food that contains a sufficient amount of roughage or material which the digestive system is unable to digest. It is this waste product that partly stimulates movement within the large intestine. Without this, the relevant muscles become lazy.
Other intestinal ailments and pain can also curtail the normal muscular movements (peristalsis) of the intestines. Another common cause of colic constipation is obstruction within the large intestine, which slows down the rate of movement of the faeces. This is often caused by masses of hard, dry faeces. There are various yogic practices which are of great help in this type of complaint. The most important ones are shankhaprakshalana2 and basti3.
The second type of constipation, namely dyschezic, is caused by difficulty or inability to defecate completely. In other words, the rectum is always filled with faeces even immediately after defecation. This is caused either by insufficient functioning of the defecation reflex and muscles or by an obstruction in the region of the rectum. This obstruction is often a foreign object; in fact such strange things as spoons and forks and cigarette lighters have been found to be the cause of this form of constipation.
Probably the most common cause of inefficient defecation is an habitual tendency to ignore the natural urge to go to the toilet, which may be caused by lack of time or privacy and by unpleasant surroundings. Under these circumstances one should make efforts to change their habits or environment if possible. There are many other causes of constipation, but the ones we have mentioned are the most frequent.
Constipation is aggravated by fear of its consequences. Also some people if they fail to defecate strictly according to their normal routine immediately start to take steps to remedy what they think is a serious state of constipation. Both these situations encourage the excessive use of laxatives. Though the use of laxatives may be necessary they should be avoided as much as possible. Laxatives in general tend to violently empty the bowels and in the long run detract from its natural functioning. Try to use mild laxatives in preference to more drastic types, if you must use laxatives at all.
If you are or have been an habitual user of laxatives and you suddenly stop, don't expect to have the same movement that you obtained through the use of laxatives. You must almost expect no bowel movement for a few days since the bowels are totally empty; don't immediately assume that you are once more constipated. There will be a normal movement only when the bowels are sufficiently filled.
In conclusion we can say that constipation can arise because of various f actors. The most common are incorrect diet, insufficient exercise, mental and emotional upsets, inconsistent toilet habits, weak abdominal muscles and consumption of too many laxatives. Here are some suggestions which may help you prevent or remove constipation.
• Don't listen to too many so-called experts. They tend to create more problems than cures, by assuming that any slight inconsistency in your toilet habits is the sign of impending doom - the onset of chronic constipation. Many people who previously did not suffer from constipation eventually do so because they are persuaded or worried into it.
• The volume of stool and the frequency of defecation can be regulated in a more normal manner by adding cereal bran and vegetables to the diet. These foods contain cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin which stimulate intestinal movement. Furthermore, cellulose and hemicellulose are partly digested by bacteria in the colon with the formation of fatty acids. These act as natural laxatives. Prune juice is useful for it contains the natural laxative diphenylisatin.
• Drink plenty of liquids.
• Reduce your dependence on commercial laxatives as much as possible.
• Try to establish a regular bowel habit at a suitable time during the day. In the morning before breakfast is to be preferred, for this is the time when you are most likely to be relaxed physically, emotionally and mentally.
• Practise asanas every morning to help in emptying out the bowels. Many asanas are useful for constipation but the following are particularly recommended: supta pawanmuktasana, utthanpadasana, kawa chalasana, surya namaskara, bhujangasana, marjariasana and shalabhasana4. There are many more - in fact we can say that most asanas are helpful for treating constipation.
• There are various yogic practices that are specifically designed to clean out the digestive system. As such they are very useful for relieving constipation. The most important practices are shankhaprak-
shalana2, basti3, nauli, agnisar kriya and moola shodhana5.
There are many people who have turned to yoga in order to rid themselves ofconstipation. Often this was as a last resort, every other method having failed. They have usually found great improvement in their condition.
The last point to remember is that chronic tension plays a vital role in constipation. One of the basic aims of yoga is to bring mental and emotional peace into one's life. As such, all practices of yoga including asanas, prana-yama and meditational practices make an indirect contribution to removing constipation. Most commercial cures aim at removing the manifestation, namely physical constipation, whereas yoga aims at the root cause - mental and emotional constipation. If this more subtle form of constipation is removed, then the physical by-product will automatically disappear.
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A complete guide on Eastern practices of breathing, mental, psychic and spiritual development. The book teaches that Yoga is divided into several branches, ranging from that which teaches the control of the body, to that which teaches the attainment of the highest spiritual development.