For many of us, unhealthy elimination is somewhat of a routine occurrence. If we are completely honest, most of us have suffered from constipation, diarrhea or some other affecting bowel imbalance. Yet, generally, we are afraid to talk about our elimination health. Fortunately, Ayurveda is not afraid and has a lot to say about it, and the truth is, for all of us our bowel habits and stools show us a great deal about what our bodies are going through and what we need to return them to balance.
Ayurveda recognizes that the digestive tract is the very first place imbalances arise in the body. According to Ayurveda the digestive system is the root of all disease. Ayurveda places great importance on the digestive system and its abilities to transform foods properly. Without the proper digestion, foods cannot be broken down and absorbed in the body for the use of tissue renewal, instead more waste is created leading to toxic build up and eventually disease. This being the case, our stools tend to offer us very early warning signs that something is amiss in our physiology.
If an emerging imbalance is not properly addressed, it will either take root in the digestive tract and become a more serious condition, or spread to other tissues and create imbalances there. If we can learn to understand the early indications of disharmony in our bodies, and respond appropriately, there is the ability to self-correct and heal. It is a wonderful tool Ayurveda has given us to maintain health by paying attention to the habits of our bowels and stool.
According to Ayurveda, healthy elimination occurs one to two times every day. Generally, the fist bowel movement should happen in the morning, with in a few minutes of waking up. It should not be stimulated by food intake and should be well formed, about the consistency of a ripe banana and should maintain its shape after being eliminated. The color is a light brownish-or yellow color, it should float and has slight oil to it and does not stick to the sides of the toilet. It should only have a mild order, not strong or pungent.
Most people fall short of this. With the kinds of lifestyle we lead, it is difficult to maintain perfect digestive health, but this is why talking about elimination is so important, so we can foster balance in our lives, in our stool and in the body as a whole.
In Ayurveda, the physiological systems in the body, such as reproductive, digestive or urinary systems are called channels. All channels have important overall functions to maintain whole health in the body. Ayurveda accentuates the importance of proper movement in all the channels to preserve health with a body free of disease. The regular movement of the bowels is a fundamental part in keeping the digestive channels following correctly.
The foods we ingest undergoes the process of digestion and absorption through the action of agni, or digestive fire. An individual’s agni largely determines how well or poorly food is digested and eliminated. When agni, is in balance, it supports strong immunity and a long, healthy life. Balanced agni also adds emotional health and makes the experience of life more enjoyable. The strength of agni is inevitably affected by a poor diet, improper food combinations, and un-supportive lifestyle, emotional disturbances and even damp, rainy weather. With a weaken state of agni, the bodies resistance to disease is weakened. Strengthening the agni and understanding the individual is the key to finding a truly balanced diet
In general, the qualities of foods are similar to the qualities of the doshas. The intake of food that has the same quality of a dosha will tend to aggravate that dosha, such as when a Vata (dry) personal eats popcorn (dry), will create more dryness in the body. Opposite qualities tend to be balancing, such as when a pitta (hot) person drinks mint tea (cooling). This fundamental principle can help you select foods that are balancing to your own unique constitution. While there are certainly many things we can do to generally foster healthy elimination, identifying which dosha(s) are involved in a specific imbalance allows us to pursue deeper, and enables us to create a more focused therapeutic strategy.
Sometimes it is very easy to identify personal bowel movement tendencies at a glance- if so, you can find more specific support to help you return to balance. If you remain uncertain, please see a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner to offer a more personalized assessment of your needs. It is also important to know that longstanding imbalances in the elimination channel often involve more then one dosha, and can easily lead to more complex disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. These conditions are more serious and should be treated by a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner.
In Vata elimination imbalances the excess Vata in the channel tends to cause dry, hard, scanty stools, that can be painful or difficult to pass. Vata can also cause gas, bloating, colicky pain, gurgling in the intestines, irregularity in movements and constipation. Some people tend to alternate between constipation and diarrhea. The symptoms are usually accompanied by an irregular appetite and variable digestion. Other related ailments caused by excess Vata include low back pain, sciatica, non-bleeding hemorrhoids, prolapsed rectum and fissures or fistulas.
When Vata is eminent, you must balance Vata’s cold and dry qualities with warmth, a lot of fluids, along with healthy oils to return it to balance. It is also influential to slow the pace of life down, essential to keep warm and to stay hydrated. Support your digestion and elimination with Triphala or Hingvastak or consider taking Haritaki instead of Triphala if Vata is the true primary concern. Focus on the below diet and lifestyle suggestions.
- Focus on eating Vata pacifying foods that favors the tastes of sweet, sour and salty.
- Eat three solid meals a day, ideally at about the same time each day, vata needs consistency. Also eating three solid freshly cooked meals increases the digestive fire and helps with weight control and burning of toxins in the body.
- Increase sources of fiber in you diet such as oatmeal, wheat brain, oat brain an other whole cooked grains and cooked vegetables.
- Increase the amount of good quality oils in your diet such as ghee, sesame oil and olive oil.
- Eat more fruit, at least one hour before and after other foods, and do not eat it cold, room temperature fruit is the best.
- Drink at least 60-80 ounces of fluid each day. Warm water and herbal teas are the best. Stay away from ice and cold liquids. Hot water is the best.
- In addition chew on a slice of fresh ginger about the size of a nickel with a pinch of sea salt, a few drops of lime juice and a 1/4 teaspoon of honey 30 minutes before lunch and dinner.
- Focus on establishing a Vata pacifying daily routine; consistency in the structure of the day is especially pacifying to Vata. Focus on calming the mood and energy, and nurturing the body.
- Get plenty of Vata pacifying exercise: Make sure that your exercise routine is not over stimulating, but gentle and grounding instead. Favor activities like walking, hiking, light jogging, swimming, or gentle cycling.
- Practice Vata pacifying yoga or a handful of slow and purposeful sun salutations each morning.
- Practice 5-15 minutes of Alternate Nostril Breathing every day on an empty stomach.
- Daily oil massage with sesame oil after warm shower or bath.
Excess Pitta in the elimination channel tends to cause frequent or urgent stools that are soft, loos, liquid or oily. The stools my fall apart of being evacuated or my tend toward diarrhea. They are also often hot, causing burning pain when eliminated and have a strong and frequently offensive sour or acidic odor. Excess pitta can cause heartburn, blood in stool, bleeding hemorrhoids, acid indigestion and cause an insatiable appetite.
In oder to balance pitta, one must balance Pitta’s hot, sharp, light and liquid qualities with food, herbs and experiences that are nutritive, heavy, cooling and dense. It is important to keep the mind and body cool and avoid heavy exercise and especially exercise at mid-day. Support your digestion with Amalaki are with Avipattikar, Triphala is also an option. Focus on the below diet and lifestyle suggestions.
- Pitta pacifying diet that favors sweet, astringent and bitter tastes.
- Emphasize on cooling foods (not cold), but things that have a cooling effects such as cilantro, coconut water, peppermint tea, coriander, fennel, mint and cucumber.
- Dink moderate amounts of fluid, mainly at room temperature avoid ice, sour drinks and sodas.
- Take a few tablespoons of aloe vera juice or gel 2-3 times per day to cool and soothe the channels of digestion.
- Include moderate amount of good quality cooling oils such as ghee, sunflower oil or coconut oil in your diet.
- Focus on Pitta pacifying routines as it helps to ground and cool the sharp intensity of pitta.
- Sheetali pranayama every day on a empty stomach for 5-10 minutes a day and a few minutes of alternate nostril breathing will help balance pitta.
- Practice pitta pacifying yoga at a gentle and purposeful rate. Do not make yoga a competition against yourself or others. Moon salutations are useful in balancing pitta.
- Daily exercise is important but not overly intense, do it with a relaxed effort. Walking, swimming, cycling, light jogging and hiking are best and its best for pitta to practice exercise when the day is the coolest in morning or evening. Don’t forget to breath through your nose the entire time.
To return to balance, we need to balance Kapha’s heavy, slow, cool, oily, smooth, and sticky qualities with foods, herbs, and experiences that are light, sharp, hot, dry, rough, and clarifying. In general, when Kapha is aggravated, it is important to keep warm and dry, to avoid daytime napping, and to stay active. Use Trikatu to stimulate Kapha digestion, Bibhitaki is better then Triphala, but Triphala can also be used. In addition, the following diet, lifestyle, recommendations will help to pacify Kapha so that the channels of elimination can return to balance.
- Focus on eating a Kapha pacifying diet.
- Minimize the presence of oil and fat in your diet (the best oils for Kapha are sunflower oil and olive oil).
- Reduce processed foods and sugars.
- Favor warm and hot beverages and be careful not to over hydrate. Hot water and herbal teas like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, or clove can help to liquefy, dry, and eliminate excess Kapha.
- Eat three square meals each day (at about the same time each day) and try not to snack between meals.
- Focus on making lunch the main meal and eating smaller quantities of food at breakfast and dinner.
- Embrace a wide variety of spices in your cooking.
- Stoke the digestive fire about 30 minutes before lunch and dinner by chewing a slice of fresh ginger (about the size of a nickel) with a pinch of sea salt, a few drops of lime juice, and about ¼ teaspoon honey. About 30 minutes before lunch and dinner, instead.
- Focus on establishing a Kapha pacifying daily routine.
- Get plenty of Kapha pacifying exercise: Make sure that your exercise routine is fun, vigorous, and stimulating – Kapha thrives on activities like walking, hiking, running, cycling, and high intensity interval training.
- Practice Kapha pacifying yoga or a handful of invigorating sun salutations each morning.
- Practice Bhastrika Pranayama every day on an empty stomach. You can start with just one or two rounds of 10 breaths, but can slowly build up to five rounds of 10 breaths. A few minutes of Alternate Nostril Breathing make a wonderful complement to this practice.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease.