Ayurvedic Diet & Digestion School
Healthy Elimination, Bowels & Pooping
IntroductionPoop is one of the most powerful indicators of health, even if you feel a bit squeamish talking about it. Your poop tells a story about what is going on internally, and is the gateway to understanding your digestive health. A typically healthy stool is medium brown in color, well formed, and shaped like a banana. While this is the gold standard for poops, they will vary widely depending on diet, lifestyle, and your unique body type. An Ayurvedic practitioner assesses stools (mala pariksha) by color, shape, size, odor, consistency, and frequency. Each of these factors reveal integral information about your internal health. Ayurveda encourages each person to become actively involved in their own wellbeing, and to learn how to recognize a healthy poop. By doing so, you can interpret what your poop is trying to tell you on a daily basis. While digestive disruptions happen from time to time, consistently passing irregular or improperly formed stools can be a warning sign of more serious ailments in the future. In this way, Ayurveda uses poop, not only as a piece of the diagnostic puzzle, but also as a preventive measure.
How Poop is FormedPoop (mala) is created in, and eliminated through, the channel for feces (purisha vaha srotas). After food goes through the digestive process in the mouth, stomach and small intestines, and most nutrients have been absorbed, the remaining food waste enters the colon (pakvashaya). The colon separates all the parts of food the body can't utilize, and absorbs the last of the remaining nutrients, particularly water. As water is drawn out and absorbed in colon, the remaining waste particles of food becomes a thicker, firmer consistency and takes shape as a stool. It is moved into the rectum for storage before peristaltic contractions stimulate its evacuation (apana vayu). The poop you pass is roughly 75% water, with the remaining made of bacteria, fiber, and anything else the body couldn't digest. At any stage of this process, right from the initial digestion in the mouth to the storage of poop in the rectum, an imbalance can occur. The whole digestive tract must be working in sync to create and pass a healthy poop each day.
What Causes a Poop ImbalanceThe first, and most important, factor that will cause a poop imbalance is diet. "What goes in, must come out," as they say. What goes into your body and digestive system is owed to personal food selection, and what comes out, in the form of your poop, is a direct result of these choices. For your poop to be healthy and well formed, your digestive strength (agni) needs to be strong. Without a strong agni, a wide range of poop imbalances tend to occur as food is passing through the body without being adequately digested, or remaining stagnant in the gut. Digestive strength is weakened if you are regularly eating a diet that is inappropriate for your body type, or having difficult to digest food combinations in your meals. Overeating also greatly strains the digestive system and can hinder the elimination of a healthy poop.
Dehydration is another major factor that can lead to a poop imbalance. Lack of water leads to a dry digestive tract. A dry digestive tract lacks sufficient enzymes to break down your meal, leading to an accumulation of digestive toxins (ama) and improperly digested food in your poop. The quantity and quality of exercise will also impact your stools. Movement and regular exercise adds tone to digestive muscles, strengthening them and encouraging peristaltic contractions and regular elimination. Lack of exercise contributes to slower motility in the bowels, congestion, and stagnation. Your mental health plays a significant factor in the health of your poop. Strong emotions such as anxiety, fear or worry can cause tension and constriction in the body, causing you to hold onto your poop too long. Intense emotions like anger, frustration or rage will weaken digestive strength and can lead to poop being eliminated too quickly, before the food has gone through the full digestive process.
ConstipationPassing roughly one to two bowel movements each day is considered normal, but this can fluctuate from person to person. Constipation occurs when the stools are passed infrequently (sometimes as little as once per week), often with great difficulty and even pain in some cases. Most commonly, constipation is a result of dryness in the body due to Vata dosha. The stools that are eventually passed are dry, rough, hard and dark in color, resembling rabbit pellets. This type of constipation is often teamed with uncomfortable gas and bloating. Constipation can also occur due to Kapha congestion and stagnation due to lack of mobility in the colon, or as a result of Pittas taking their usually strong digestion for granted and eating a diet high in difficult to digest foods, like fried food and red meat.
The first and most simple remedy to relieve dry type constipation is to sip hot water throughout the day. This will rehydrate the digestive tract, stimulate agni and peristaltic contractions. A mug of warm milk with ghee in the evening is also effective to moisten a dry digestive tract, encouraging a bowel movement. Heavy and unctuous, some psyllium husk in a cup of warm milk acts as a demulcent that coats the digestive tract, adds bulk and assists in passing a stool when constipated. Stagnant Kapha constipation can benefit from adding more fiber to the diet and utilizing the cleansing and scraping properties of triphala. Pitta constipation also requires cleansing, but with cooling properties too, such as that provided by amalaki.
DiarrheaLoose, liquid, or watery stools occur when the transit time of food through the bowels happens too quickly, before water can be properly absorbed. In some cases, diarrhea is a defense mechanism the body puts in place to expel harmful invaders such as bacteria from food contamination, intestinal infection, or parasites. Diarrhea can also occur if you are highly stressed, have weak digestion, are taking certain medication, or eating the wrong foods for your body type. Diarrhea is most often caused as a result of inflammation and irritation in the intestines.
The first step to reducing diarrhea is to avoid further inflammation and eliminate irritants, especially coffee, alcohol, spicy food, and nicotine. Add some cooling and astringent elixirs, such as pomegranate juice, hibiscus tea, or Anti-Diarrhea Tea to soothe the intestines and encourage the absorption of water in the colon. Anti-inflammatories like aloe vera and coconut oil will help cool and calm aggravations of the intestinal linings, and both have antimicrobial properties too. Your are at great risk of electrolyte depletion when experiencing diarrhea, so make sure to stock up and rebalance your levels with fresh coconut water. In cases of diarrhea, it is important to rebuild digestive strength, without overheating Pitta. Mild digestives like cilantro and fennel will balance the hot, sharp, liquid qualities of diarrhea.
Undigested Food in StoolsWhen you start observing of your stools, you might start to notice some undigested food particles. There are some usual suspects, like sweet corn, and certain nuts and seeds that are hard to digest. However, if you are regularly eliminating stools with undigested food, it may indicate your digestive strength is low and you may not be getting enough nutrients from the food you are eating. This is often a result of a dry digestive tract. When the digestive tract is dry, there is a lack of digestive enzymes and food is being passed through the body without being adequately broken down. Undigested food in your poop can also be a result of not taking your time to chew your food, eating in a hurry, eating on the run, stress and poor routine.
The first steps to improve digestion and reduce undigested food in your poop is to eat warm, well cooked foods that are easy to digest. Foods like applesauce and kitchari are very easy on your tummy and can help rebuild your digestive strength. About 20 minutes before meals, make a mug of warm water with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a pinch of mineral rock salt to moisten the digestive tract and stimulate the release of digestive enzymes. Chewing a piece of Ginger, Salt, Lime Appetizer will have a similar effect. Digestive Comfort Support Tea also helps combat a dry digestive tract and bring a healthy supply of blood to digestive organs so they have adequate fuel to create a healthy poop.
Poop by Dosha
Vata & PoopIn Ayurveda, Vata types often experience dry, rough, hard stools that are dark in color and resemble rabbit pellets. To promote regular, well formed poop, Vatas should first follow a Vata pacifying diet and incorporate some simple techniques to balance Vata digestion. They can also add some Warm & Nourishing Vata Pacifying Spice Blend to meals which relieves gas, bloating, and constipation. Vata types are most prone to dryness and toxic accumulation in the colon which can result in poop sitting in the colon for long periods of time. Haritaki and dashamoola are both effective Ayurvedic herbs for pacifying Vata and rejuvenating the colon. Haritaki alleviates constipation and helps clear digestive toxins accumulated in the colon, resulting in better poop production, while dashamoola is a nourishing muscle tonic that tones the colon and redirects Vata downwards.
Pitta & PoopPittas are more likely to pass food through the digestive system too quickly, and eliminate looser stools that can be yellow in color. This yellow hue occurs when bilirubin, the pigment found in bile, is inadequately digested by bacteria due to this faster transit time. When broken down properly, bilirubin gives poop its normal, cinnamon brown color. To encourage elimination of a healthy, well formed poop, balance Pitta digestion by following a Pitta pacifying diet to start. A Pittas digestive tract can become easily irritated and inflamed, leading to poorly formed poop. This can be reduced with Soothe Inflamed Intestine Tea, a blend of cooling digestives that promote healthy elimination. Amalaki also reduces inflammation, especially in a sensitive digestive tract. Small doses can help bind the stools for those Pitta types experiencing looser movements. It is also one of the best rejuvenatives for Pittas and their intestines.
Kapha & PoopKapha types are usually regular with their bowel movements, but they can be slow, sluggish and often contain mucus. Balance Kapha digestion and follow a Kapha pacifying diet to regulate bowel movements. Kaphas often need a little assistance with motility in the bowels. Ayurveda classifies bibhitaki as one of the best herbs to assist Kapha poops. It has a drying and stringent nature that dries excess mucus, but still has a mild laxative effect that helps increase peristalsis and pass stools. Digestive Bitters help clear stagnation that may be slowing down poop production in Kapha types.
ConclusionGetting familiar with your poop each day is one of the most important habits you can form to care for your body. Once you learn how to read your poop, it can answer many of the questions you have about your health. It can even show some possible warning signs for future imbalances, allowing you to work preventatively. To get used to analyzing your poop, keep a poop journal and note your findings for a few weeks. This alone may reveal something significant, or you can take this information to an Ayurvedic consultation for a full assessment. While there are a number of reasons the production of poop can become imbalanced, diet is usually the biggest culprit. The best ways to ensure you have healthy and regular elimination is to follow a diet that is right for your body type, stay hydrated, strengthen your agni, and introduce regularity and routine to your daily life. The digestive system works on a clock, and thrives when it follows a consistent schedule. Remember, you are what you eat and don't poop, so start giving your poop the attention it deserves!
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