Constipation: Whats the hold up?

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

One of our teachers used to explain bowel function by comparing it to a sailboat traveling down a river. The boat is the stool, the colon is the riverbed, the water is the moisture in the colon, and the wind is the smooth muscle movement, or qi that propels the boat. In order to have healthy bowel movements, you need each of these factors to be functioning properly. If one or more factors is unhealthy, it can result in constipation.

The “boat” or the stool is mostly made from the food that we eat. Depending on our diet, our boats can resemble a sleek speedboat or a crude log raft. If we mostly consume a diet that is low in fiber and high in foods that are cloying and mucous producing, such as dairy products, sugars and gluten foods, we produce sticky stools that are difficult to move through the colon. (Did you ever notice the word gluten contains the word “glu”?) If we eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in foods that cause sticky stools, we are more likely to create well formed stools that move through the colon with ease.

The “riverbed”, or the colon, needs to remain free of obstruction for proper bowel function. The colon can become impinged if the muscles of the abdomen and pelvic area that surround the colon are tight, or if there is excessive scar tissue which impedes movement in the colon. This is like a river that is clogged with excessive debris or sediment: Boats become stuck in a shallow river or in a narrow river bend.

You can also have diverticula, which are small pouches that form in the folds of the colon. These are like eddies in a river where debris can get stuck. It is also common that stress can contribute to constipation. This is especially evident when constipation results from travel, and resolves when a person returns home to their own “throne.” To help relax the muscles and address scar tissue it can be helpful to get massage and acupuncture to loosen tight body tissues. Practicing relaxation techniques can also be of benefit.

The “water” in the river usually relates to proper hydration. This means not only drinking enough water throughout the day, but eating more fresh fruits and vegetables that contain more water. It is also important to note that many medications, as well coffee and alcohol, have diuretic properties that dehydrate the body, so if you are ingesting these things you need to compensate by drinking more water.

The “wind” is the body’s ability to keep proper smooth muscle movement that helps that stool move through the colon. As we age and our energy wanes, it is more common to experience constipation due to a lack of proper smooth muscle movement. Exercise can also help keep things moving through the colon, as can certain stretches.

So to keep the boat moving it is important to eat a diet high in fiber with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies and water; get regular exercise with some kind of stretching included; cultivate a strong digestive energy through proper diet and possibly herbs or supplements; and help your body and muscles relax with meditation, acupuncture and massage.

Happy sailing!

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