Stomach is the abode of disease and diet is the head of healing, for, the origin of sickness is indigestion. If the stomach is the house of disease, then the colon is the breeding centre for the toxins which cause almost every disease, constipation being one of them.
To understand this we must first of all have a brief look at the anatomy of the intestines, without which the digestive system has no meaning.
Intestines are two in number, small and large. Without going into much detail, let us understand how the intestines function. The structure of the small intestine is like a tube extending from the lower part of the stomach connecting the large intestine. It is 16 feet in length and resembles a coiled snake. It is connected to the large intestine which is 5 feet long, resembling a broader tube surrounding the small intestine. See fig.2 on page 38.
Tougher task than the stomach’s
When we consume any food, the very first stage of digestion commences in the mouth and through the stomach it reaches the small intestine. Grinding and churning of the food takes place in the mouth and stomach respectively. The semi-digested food is poured into the small intestine in the form of cream or thick gruel. The food coming from the stomach is highly acidic. So the intestine immediately triggers a secretion which in turn stimulates the secretion of pancreatic juice, which is alkaline.
The other fluids reaching the intestines are the saliva to moisten the food, litres of gastric juice from the stomach to destroy bacteria in the food, to split proteins and curdle the milk, bile from the liver to break the fats, and intestinal juices from the various glands of the intestines itself. All these juices constantly flow in the intestine.
The small intestine is loosely attached to the abdominal wall, which facilitates the swaying motion to blend the food and juices.
It takes two to eight hours to process a meal, depending upon the type of food one eats.
The intestine absorbs iron, calcium and vitamins. The other fluids are reabsorbed in the digestive organs, which amounts to around eight liters per day. A little less than one litre is passed on to the large intestines.
Once the fluids are extracted, the semi-solid waste is stored in the colon or large intestines. In the first half of the colon, most of the water is reabsorbed, leaving the residue.
The movement of the large intestine is not so brisk as that of the small intestine. The expulsion of the faces or waste into the rectum makes the rectum distend the walls and the nervous impulse is passed to the lower part of the spine and, simultaneously, the reflex impulse is carried to the brain through the nervous system, to create the urge to pass stools.
When the nerve impulse creases, the urge passes off. The arrival of more waste material in the rectum once again causes further distension and the process is repeated.
If these signals are repeatedly ignored, constipation occurs. The retention of the faces in the rectum allows continuous absorption of water and the constipated stools harden further.
Why do we ignore this valuable impulse?
The main reason is our hurried life. We have become slaves of time and are in a constant race against it.
Those who work outside the home, women who are overloaded with varied chores, young people who keep awake till late hours in the night for studies or otherwise and oversleep as a consequence, all of them ignore the call of nature for want of time. Even school-going children are forced to ignore the impulse owing to their school hours and lack of proper facilities at school.
Why do we neglect the care of the colon?
This is predominantly because of insufficient bulk in the diet, due to which the colon is not stimulated. For instance, starchy, refined, fatty food and dairy products tend to get absorbed without leaving any residue. If our diet were to only consist of such food, the consequences can be imagined. The wrong combination of food results in the deprivation of essential items, leading to constipation.
Sometimes, sedentary habits in those who lead a comfortable life, or in those disinclined to engage themselves in any activity, also leads to constipation. Even though children and teenagers lead an active life, eating junk food and irregular eating habits become the cause for constipation.
Constipation also occurs in patients who are confined to bed, and in elderly persons, due to lack of activity and inability to take proper food.
Inadequate intake of water is another cause of constipation. Unless the required amount of water is consumed, waste matter further hardens as most of the water is separated from the residue in the colon, for absorption.
In some cases, where constipation occurs all of a sudden during a very short period, it could be due to some obstruction in the form of tumor in the colon but this is not very common.
Constipation occurs in some cases where barium has been administered as part of an X-ray examination of stomach.
Other causes of constipation are the use of drugs in the treatment of inflammation of the intestines and liver, unhealthy teeth and gums and certain uterine diseases in females. Enlarged prostate gland and hernia are the causes of constipation in old people.
Reward for constipation
Negligence of the health of the colon manifests itself in the form of symptoms like anemia, exhaustion, insomnia, eye strain, dark pouches below the eyes, giddiness, and backache. Gradually lethargy and reduced concentration creep in. As the constipation becomes chronic, unhealthy skin paves way for several skin eruptions like acne, pimples, and ulcers of the mouth. Loss of appetite, foul breath and flatulence become common.
Injustice to the unborn
When a woman suffering from chronic constipation conceives, her uterine muscles which are already weak, further lose their elasticity. This in turn prevents the healthy growth of the foetus. Also, the nutrition the child receives through the mother’s blood is contaminated with toxins. Severe symptoms like insomnia, chronic headache and indisposition throughout pregnancy arise resulting in the delivery of a weak child.
Persons whose bowel movements are otherwise regular, suffer from occasional constipation during certain times of the year, especially winter. The contraction of the muscles of the bowels and rectum makes the evacuation of the stools difficult and results in constipation.
Tiny tots suffer too
Even infants and very young children are not spared from this disorder. Nervous tension and other psychological conditions dog even children. Unpleasant methods of toilet training where strict discipline by scolding is enforced, make the children train themselves to retain stools. This soon becomes a habit carrying into adulthood resulting in constipation.
We forcefully teach ourselves to control the urge of evacuation because we have cultivated many artificial habits to enable free movement. Constipation could be termed as a curse of civilization.
Why should one make such a fuss over a simple thing like constipation? It is because ignoring or neglecting this problem would lead to innumerable problems and complicated disorders.
The most common practice that exists in treating constipation is the intake of laxatives. However, laxatives are no solution.
Laxatives taken on a regular basis produce a chemical reaction that helps the stools sticking to the insides of the intestines to pass in liquid form. As the stools pass without difficulty, this is considered an easy way to treat constipation. However, these laxatives do not permit the muscles of the intestines to act on their own, thus rendering them weaker. Moreover, laxatives work well only in the initial stages. After some time stronger laxatives are needed as immunity to the drug develops. Laxative abuse also causes low blood potassium and other chronic conditions.
Bowel movements and evacuation are natural actions which should be aided with exercise and diet.
Exercise is one of the best natural stimulants. Exercise, when combined with deep breathing as in yogasanas, and practiced regularly, cures even obstinate constipation. But even after the cure, continued practice will prevent constipation and disorders associated with it. These scientific yogic exercises can be mastered easily after a few days of practice. Talking of exercises, even working in the garden and walking helps.
There are two very useful exercises which can be practiced occasionally or whenever necessity arises. The first exercise is a proven one in constipation cure. It is follows :
1. Lie down on you back. Place a small folded blanket under the low back. Take a deep breath and gradually raise both legs perpendicularly. Do not bend the knees or raise the legs abruptly. Gradually lower the legs and take a deep breath. Repeat this at least 15 to 20 times. It has to be emphasized here that you should not raise or lower the legs too rapidly.
2. This is a type of massage, practiced by the tribals and villagers and even our grandmothers to ease the discomfort of infants and children. This can be gainfully practiced by all. Given below is the elaborate method for the same:
Lie down on your back, bend the knees, draw the legs and place the feet touching the buttocks. See figure No. 3A. The large intestine is situated around the navel. The ascending and descending structure of the bowels require perfect wave like movement to facilitate the expulsion of the waste. Look at the fig. 3B and the numbers marked in it. The No.1 is the portion on the right side of the abdomen below the navel. That is exactly where you should place your right palm and start massaging gently as if squeezing. Slowly move the palm just above position No.2. Proceed across the abdomen towards the left side. Place your left palm on position No.3. Now descend as you squeeze and massage and go to position No.4 on the left side below the navel. Repeat the process five to six times, starting once again from No.1 position on the right side. This massage can be easily practiced while sitting on the toilet bowl but not in the squatting position.
Treatment for constipation
- Take hot hip bath, once in the morning and once at bed time if it is chronic.
- Give hot fomentation at bed time.
- Follow the six-glass wonder of hydrotherapy. (Refer to the chapter Water the Powerful Healer.)
Pavanamuktasana, Dhanurasana, Vajrasana, Matsyasana, Yoga mudra and Paschimottanasana.
Breathing Exercise : Nos. 1,2,5 and 6. (See page 189-190)
Massage : Refer the chapter Massage.
- Take a big glass of orange juice at breakfast time. Do not take anything else along with it.
- Grind anwla (Indian gooseberry) to paste. Add one teaspoon of paste in warm milk and consume during breakfast. Do not add sugar. Repeat at bedtime but in a glass of warm water.
- If it is guava season, eat at least one or tow weighing 300 gms for breakfast exclusively.
- At bed time consume one glass of warm water after eating three or four dates (khajur).
- Take 250 gms papaya slices (a plate full), and milk during breakfast.
- Eat about 100 gms green tomatoes every day for a few days. They must be chewed thoroughly.
- Boil 10 to 15 munakka (raisins made of black currants), in some milk and take at bed time regularly for a few days.
- Soak the skin and seeds of two lemons overnight in half a glass of warm water; filter it and take the same in the morning.
The foregoing can be followed either combined or separately with good effect for some days at a stretch. If included as part of meals regularly, it will have better effect.
Neelima, a young woman of 28, spent a considerable time and money to find a cure for her piles and obstinate constipation through several treatments. Passing stools became a nightmare. Sleeplessness, loss of appetite and ugly eruptions followed. On top of that she suffered from fetid odour making her shun society.
When she reached the limit of her endurance, she was advised surgery as the only resort. A non-believer of nature cure, she ignored my advice to try natural methods when she came to escort one of her relatives for treatment at my clinic. However, on the eve of her operation she half-heartedly turned to me for counsel as she was terrified of surgery.
During her next visit after a week a healthy look had already come to her face and she readily admitted that her diverse physical problems had yielded at last to the very treatment which she had always ridiculed.
The prescription she followed is given below:
Six-glass wonder, inverted spray, and instructions on diet with just one or two household remedies. Needless to say, she vowed to only follow natural methods of treating any problems in the future.
General rules for curing or preventing constipation
Drink plenty of water, at least six to eight glasses per day. Drink one glass of warm water one hour before every meal.
Include uncooked raw vegetables and fruits liberally in the diet. Do not keep late nights. Be active and avoid tension and stress.