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Constipation is a common digestive problem that causes difficulty in bowel movements. It can occur at any age and often resolves on its own.
However, even small episodes of constipation can be discomforting. In such times, it is best to take the help of therapies such as yoga and massage to provide some relief. Moreover, modifying your diet and consuming gut-friendly foods can help prevent constipation.
Dietary Suggestions to Help Relieve Constipation
Diet plays a major role in the health and functioning of your digestive system.
1. Incorporate both soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet
Incorporate both soluble and insoluble types of fiber into your diet to have healthy bowel movements and healthy gut flora. (1)(2)
Insoluble fiber acts as a “brush” for the intestines and adds bulk to the stool, thereby allowing it to pass more easily through the digestive tract. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole grains and the skins of fruits and vegetables.
Soluble fiber can help draw water into the intestines, thereby softening the stool. This type of fiber can be found in oat bran, flaxseeds, and some fruits and vegetables.
2. Consume foods that relieve constipation
Consume foods that relieve constipation, which include prunes, prune juice, pears, apples, ginger, and aloe vera juice.
3. Keep yourself hydrated
Drink ample amounts of water and other fluids throughout the day to keep your body hydrated and your digestive system happy.
4. Drink warm beverages
Drink a cup of warm lemon-infused water or any hot beverage (3) first thing in the morning to stimulate your bowels and promote easy gastric emptying.
5. Consume vitamin-rich foods
Consume vitamin-rich foods as their deficiency can result in digestive problems.
- Ensure adequate intake of vitamin D. People who run low on this vitamin are more prone to intestinal motility disorders, which can result in long-term functional constipation. (4)
- Ensure adequate intake of vitamin B12 through your diet as not enough of this vitamin can lead to constipation.
- Consume citrus fruits such as kiwi, oranges, and lemon to help prevent constipation, as vitamin C is also essential for proper digestion and gut health.
Note: Consult your doctor whether you need supplements, and only use them as directed.
Yoga for Constipation
Yoga exercises are highly beneficial for general health. They help relieve many health problems, including constipation. The following tips may be helpful when practicing yoga for constipation relief:
1. Breathe and relax!
Constipation can be extremely uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking. Focus on inhaling and exhaling as you move through your practice, so that you activate the parasympathetic nervous system and divert blood to your digestive tract. This may help to relieve anxiety, as well.
2. Be consistent with your practice
Many factors contribute to constipation, so do not be discouraged if you do not produce a bowel movement after one spinal twist. Even if you only have 10 minutes, take the time to move your body and perform a few yoga poses every day.
3. Practice yoga at home
Having an instructor to supervise and guide you through the poses is ideal. However, if that is not available to you, you can practice yoga poses anywhere – your family room, bed, or backyard!
4. Modify a pose as needed to make it suit your body’s needs
If the pose causes pain, back off and come into the child’s pose. Even staying still in the child’s pose can help activate the digestive system.
5. Perform yoga in the morning
Yoga, in general, is most effective when practiced on an empty stomach and bladder. Most yoga poses for constipation relief involve twisting and compressing the internal organs, which can be difficult shortly after eating. Therefore, it is best to practice yoga for constipation relief before your normal bowel movement time.
Other Therapies for Constipation
You can also massage your abdomen or apply heat therapy to help relieve constipation and its symptoms.
1. Massage therapy
Constipation occurs when the muscles controlling bowel movement become increasingly tense or constricted and are unable to push the stool through the gastrointestinal tract.
Massaging your abdomen may help relax the muscles and thereby encourage bowel motility. This therapy can prove particularly useful when dietary and exercise measures fail to relieve constipation.
Massage your abdomen for 20 minutes at least once every morning for 2 weeks to notice an effect. (5) This therapeutic intervention can reduce your reliance on medications and laxatives, which may be associated with adverse side effects. Moreover, anyone can learn to do it since it is so easy, allowing patients to take charge of their own health. (6)
2. Heat therapy
Topical heat therapy can help alleviate constipation to some extent. You can either use a warm compress such as a heating pad or a hot water bottle for this purpose or simply take a warm bath.
When you apply gentle heat to the abdomen, the heat travels through the skin to stimulate blood circulation and ease the tense muscles that control bowel activity. (7) This, in turn, helps facilitate a smoother bowel movement and gastric emptying.
Heat therapy is a safe and effective way to encourage bowel activity and relieve constipation in pregnant women also, without harming the uterus.
Constipation-Relief Yoga for Pregnant Women
Pregnant women are prone to constipation, especially during the later trimesters. (8) This is largely because the growing uterus exerts its load on the gastrointestinal tract and disrupts normal bowel movement. Moreover, certain pregnancy hormones can adversely affect digestion, further exacerbating the problem.
The following yoga poses may be helpful.
Malasana, also called the garland or squat, helps to open up the pelvic floor and may aid in digestion.
How to do this pose:
- Step wider than hip-distance apart with the toes turned slightly out.
- Lengthen through the crown of your head as you sink your tailbone toward the floor.
- Keep a yoga block or pillow between your legs for added support, if you want. You may also try sliding down a wall to help keep your balance.
- Listen to your body and come out of the pose if it becomes too uncomfortable.
Balasana, or child’s pose, is a good pose to help relieve nausea, anxiety, and stress. It can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which aids in digestion.
How to do this pose:
- Start by positioning yourself on your hands and knees like a tabletop.
- Spread your knees out to the side as you sink back into your hips, extending your arms out in front of you.
- Place your chest on a pillow or yoga bolster for more support.
- Close your eyes and slowly take a few long, deep breaths.
Note: It is important to exercise caution while practicing these poses. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, you must discontinue the practice. Any kind of physical exertion in the third trimester can increase the risk of premature delivery.
Yoga for IBS
Those suffering from IBS may experience abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, gas, constipation, and/or diarrhea. This condition is often linked with secondary comorbidities such as depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Stress is also identified as a major trigger for IBS.
When practiced regularly, yoga may help to regulate the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems and provide relief from some of these symptoms. It may also serve as an excellent stress management technique.
When Not to Perform Yoga
Yoga poses impact everyone differently. Please consult your health care provider before trying yoga if you have a medical condition such as:
- High blood pressure
- Hip, knee, or back fractures
- Hemorrhoids (9)
Every individual has their own bowel movement schedule. However, any drastic change in the schedule or difficulty in passing feces can indicate constipation.
Consuming a vitamin-rich diet, performing yoga, and employing massage and heat therapy are some quick and easy ways to help relieve constipation. If the problem persists, you must consult a doctor.
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