This abnormal functioning of the bowels can manifest in three distinct ways:
1. The defecation may occur with insufficient frequency
2. Stool may be insufficient in quantity
3. Stool may be abnormally hard and dry.
Any of these definitions could be classified as constipation. However, we must emphasize that each person is different, so that one healthy person empties his bowels after each meal while another will do so once a day. There are also some people who defecate only once a week yet are considered healthy.
It is popularly believed that one must have a good motion every day or be overwhelmed by dire consequences. This is totally incorrect and has caused more constipation in itself by making people worry without reason. If you are constipated then you will know it, for the symptoms will clearly manifest; that is, mental depression, loss of appetite, dull headache, possibly nausea, foul smelling breath, thickly coated tongue and a general feeling of heaviness and discomfort in the abdomen.
Much has been written about the constipated artist who is unable to create and the constipated scientist who is unable to think. We quote the following from the book, A Mencken Chrestomathy by H. L. Menchen: “There has never lived a poet in the whole history of the world, ancient or modern, near or far, whoever managed to write great poetry, or even passably fair and decent poetry, at a time when he was suffering from stenosis (restriction) at any point along the thirty odd foot, via dolorosa, running from the pylorus to the sigmoid flexure (near rectum)… He is stumped and helpless. The more he tries, the more vividly he will be conscious of his impotence. Sweat will stand out in beads upon his brow; he will fish patiently for the elusive thought; he will try coaxing and subterfuge; he will retire to his ivory tower; he will tempt the invisible powers with black coffee, tea and alcohol and the alkaloids – but he will not write his poem or iron out his syllogism, or find his way into . . . Striving in the face of such an interior obstacle is the most cruel of enterprises – a business more nerve-wracking and exhausting than reading a newspaper or watching a bad play.”
While one is constipated, it is so tempting to strain the bowels, which can easily lead to haemorrhoids, hernia, prolapse of the rectum and a number of other undesirable yet common ailments. So if you are constipated, be careful that you do not overstrain.
There are two types of constipation – colic and dyschezic. Colic constipation is caused by delay in the movement of the faeces to the rectum. This is often the result of a diet that contains little or no indigestible residue. In other words, it is necessary to eat food that contains a sufficient amount of roughage or material which the digestive system is unable to digest. It is this waste product that partly stimulates movement within the large intestine. Without this, the relevant muscles become lazy.
Other intestinal ailments and pain can also curtail the normal muscular movements (peristalsis) of the intestines. Another common cause of colic constipation is obstruction within the large intestine, which slows down the rate of movement of the faeces. This is often caused by masses of hard, dry faeces. There are various yogic practices which are of great help in this type of complaint. The most important ones are shankhaprakshalana and basti.