Silent Sundays: Not Staying Silent (About Constipation!) 

While the inability to eliminate may seem an unusual topic for Silent Sunday, the causes and consequences of constipation inarguably affect one’s physical and psycho-spiritual health. At some point, most of us have had to reckon with sluggish—or completely halted—digestion. I decided to address this issue when a friend informed me that she is currently “backed up.” She is a forthright woman: It is no surprise that she announced her condition as if she had stubbed her toe.

Her plight reminded me of several situations when others I know have had to wrangle with constipation. One instance involved a former boyfriend. He let his predicament go unattended for more than a week; one day, I came home to find him curled up on the floor in pain. He was so loathe to discuss “bind” that he became quite ill. Fortunately, a trip to the doctor and a simple prescription quickly helped him.

But why the embarrassment over a bodily function gone wrong? A stomach ache or intestinal flu is readily discussed; on the other hand, the act or product of elimination is a hush-hush subject. My sense is that when discomfort is imparted upon us—the force of impact or the invasion of bacteria—we do not feel responsible for the problem. But when the process of elimination goes awry, we wonder what we did wrong: dietary choices, activity levels, stress management, etc.

The digestive system is sensitive, though: Tied directly and powerfully to the nervous system, the organs connected to digestion and elimination pick up quickly on emotional changes. The systems respond well to calm and consistency; they do not abide upheaval.

And here I can add personal experience.

After our mother died a couple of months ago, my sister and I compared notes about our emotions. Less discussed was the physical impact: Perhaps we mentioned fatigue or fogginess, but little else. Then, one day, a couple of weeks after the passing, my sister commented that she was constipated. For her, the state is a common response to stress: travel, emotional upset, small shifts in dietary routine—they all tend to manifest in constipation.

I remember thinking in the moment how grateful I was for a gut that seemed to flow consistently, despite shifts in circumstance. I should have knocked on some wood: Within three days, my bowels staged a firm, unbudging protest to the deep-seated emotions that had been stirred.

It may be helpful to momentarily contemplate words related to “elimination.” When the stress of physical or emotional imbalance accumulates, we can not “process,” “digest,” or “let go.” There is little stigma surrounding a sense of feeling stuck personally or professionally; nor should there be any hesitation to address physical impediments.

What is required for the elimination of both bodily and mental waste is a concerted, yet tempered effort. The following suggestions and accompanying routine are exactly what I did to help my body resume its eliminative function.

Special note: Certainly, there are potentially serious conditions of which constipation is a symptom. The thoughts and suggestions here concern situational constipation: brief periods of irregularity that can be remedied with a little time, attention, and technique.

First, a quick nod to some simple and accessible aids in the process: Many teas, for example, purport to have qualities beneficial to digestion and elimination. I drink both ginger and fennel every day; others swear by simple lemon juice in warm water. (It may well be that the warmth of the concoction is as helpful as the main ingredient.) Further, dehydration is the nemesis of all the body’s systems: sluggish digestion and hampered elimination need plenty of simple fluids (especially water).

Also, certain foods can help the process along: Prunes are a typical—and potent—choice. Whatever easily digested fiber food you choose, start sparingly; give it some time, see how the body responds, and then choose further portions accordingly.

And now, we arrive at The Routine. There are numerous physical approaches that will help you address a bout of constipation; the same techniques and movements will help to keep you regular in the future. 

First, find a small ball: a tennis ball will do. (If you do not have a ball, try a soup can or water bottle.) Place the roller (ball or otherwise) under your left arch: Lightly begin to roll the foot back and forth on the ball. Move up and down through the mid-foot; then, begin to roll down toward the heel. Ultimately, roll from just underneath the toes, through the width of the arch, and all the way to the heel.

Roll out the left foot for about 2 minutes; then, switch to the right foot. Localize the roll first in the arch; then, down through the heel; and finally, ball of foot, through arch to heel. Again, continue for 2 minutes.

This technique is rooted in reflexology. As the foot houses acupressure points that correspond to the entire body (where the toes roughly align with the head; the mid-foot comprises the vital organs; and the heel contains the hips and adjacent organs), the ball-roll triggers the body to relax, as if it were having a traditional massage.

When giving an actual massage to assuage digestive issues, one would gently but purposefully stroke down the left side of the belly first: i.e., begin to unlock the end portion of the intestine. Once that area is free, the “earlier” parts of the system are addressed. Think of plumbing: The deepest part of the block needs to be addressed first; to dislodge the upper obstruction is pointless, unless there is a place for the blockage to be released.

Thus, left foot first; then the right.

After the foot-roll, spend a few minutes manually applying firm pressure throughout the mid- right foot. (Both sides have been relaxed and released by the ball-roll: Now, the idea is to remind the body of its natural direction of digestive flow—right to left.) Press with the thumb tip or a knuckle: Move along and around the arch, then down into the heel mound. Focus extra attention on any hard or tender areas. 

Continue for 1 minute. Then, switch to the left foot for 1 more minute.

Now, lie down on the belly. Make soft fists of each hand, and slide them to either side of the low belly, near or under the hip bones. Simply lie on the hands, breathing deeply through the nose, for 1 minute.

Then, press back into Baby Pose. If you like, take a couple of relaxing breaths before rising to sit on the heels.

Feel free to place a pillow between the bottom and feet for comfort. This Rock Pose is inherently beneficial to digestion. Today, add another profound technique: As you are seated, begin to lightly pummel all around the buttocks and hips with soft fists. Move rapidly and intentionally, pounding assertively, yet kindly through the area. Continue for 1-2 minutes.

Next, extend the legs straight forward, or assume a crossed-leg position. Begin Sufi Grinds. This kundalini yoga movement is one of the best exercises I know to signal both the body and mind of the need to release: The move helps to eliminate detritus of all kinds.

Circle the torso first to the right: Let the body undulate with the movement. Circle fully and deeply clockwise for 1 minute; then, reverse directions, circling to the left for another minute.

Finally, come into your favorite seated position, either on the floor or in a chair. With the thumb of the left hand, begin to massage firmly the fleshy mound and adjacent “triangle” between the right thumb and forefinger. Chances are that the area will be quite tender: Apply enough pressure to address the tension. These knots of constriction and discomfort tell the story of your constipation: When all is flowing smoothly, the area will be soft and at ease.

Spend as long as you like on the right hand (usually about 2 minutes); then, switch to the left hand.

After you have massaged both hands, hold them aloft. Inhale deeply: Suspend the breath as you shake the hands vigorously. When you need to exhale, float the arms back down. Repeat 2 more times: Inhale to raise the arms and shake the hands; exhale to lower.

Now, sit quietly, eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye. Breathe slowly and deeply enough through the nose that you feel the belly expand and release upon inhale and exhale. Rest the hands on the thighs, palms down. Relax the tongue completely: Let it float easily in the mouth. Simply sit and breathe, knowing that you have begun the process of elimination. 

Repeat any or all of the above steps as needed. Eventually, you may consider including those to which your body responds most readily as part of your daily routine.

Happy Sunday…

New Audio Follow-Along: Evening Elixir

Part of the “Treasure Trove” series, “Evening Elixir” provides a way to unwind after a busy day, or to help you settle down if hit with a bout of insomnia. And there is no need to save the practice for evening: Any time you feel emotionally wrought or physically exhausted, turn to this tension-relieving, peace-inducing routine.

The full practice is up and running at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson