Lets move from the esoteric world of the gunas to something a little more concrete. Something we (hopefully) do every day. Agent P-double- O-P waits for no man.
I pay good money to see my Ayurvedic practitioner. And all he wants to talk about is how much I poop. “Let’s get you pooping”. He’s not impressed with my chart or my (admittedly amateur) knowledge base. He is very impressed when I poop daily.
I guess I need to add a poop column. Not sexy.
As a nurse, I know poop is of utmost importance. Moving our bowels is how we get rid of toxins and waste. At the hospital, we have poop charts on the bathroom doors of every patient room so that we can look at their stool and make a comparison. No one is to flush! Sometimes we have the doctors come and look at the poop. The quality, texture and color of the poop drives many a diagnosis. (I realize this is not selling the healthcare profession right now). And this is just Western medicine. Ayurveda goes crazy for this shit (yes pun)!
This is our gut we are talking about; our alimentary system, and it is a big factor in whether we are healthy or ill. Older folks are notoriously obsessed with their bowels, and with good reason. We gotta keep those pipes clean!
In Ayurveda, elimination is an indicator of agni, or digestive fire. Strong agni indicates good health. The digestive tract will show signs of imbalance before anything else. So poop problems might be the first indication that something is awry in our bodies.
Ideal Elimination Situation
Yes, there is such a thing as the perfect poop! The ideal time to go is in the morning when we wake up. Some of us will go again later in the day (especially pittas). If we are pooping after every meal though, that’s a sign that we aren’t digesting well. Here’s what a champion poop looks like:
- Soft and solid, like a banana; maintains it’s shape
- Light brown to yellow-ish in color
- Floats initially, can sink later but doesn’t drop in the toilet like a ton of bricks
- Should be consistent-looking (rather than changing depending on what we eat)
- Slightly oily
- Not sticky, easy to clean
- Minimal effort required to pass
- Has just a mild odor
- No undigested food in there, except perhaps the stray kernel of corn
- We shouldn’t need our AM latte to go
- Should leave us feeling lighter afterwards, and like we got it all out
Does Your Poop Fall Short?
If the above list is not currently happening, you are not alone. Modern living can put a monkey wrench in pooping like we were meant to. We are so busy and stressed, running from one thing to the next, it’s no wonder that our body’s gut health is less than ideal. I mean, in my city there is an entire building with the name “Digestive Health Center” where we try to fix all the poop problems.
Another culprit messing with our gut is, of course, our diets. Processed food, eating while doing ten other things, eating 3-day old pizza for breakfast…not helping. Dehydration is also a huge factor in poop problems, and many of us walk around chronically dehydrated.
Our ancestors squatted to poop, and there is plenty of talk out there that says our toilets do us a disservice with the angle that they provide. Squatting relaxes the rectal muscles and “straightens the anorectal angle” (Raahave, 2015). Apparently, a straight angle makes for a smooth elimination (there have been studies, and they do not sound like they were fun studies). I have seen my kid squat when he poops (he’s in diapers), so it seems like a natural/primal thing to do. Some say to put our feet up on a stool when we poop, or we can just lean forward and put our hands on or close to the floor. I do wonder if the deep squatting done during yoga practice might signal to our bodies that we have to poop, or somehow help in the P.O.O.P process.
Get Those Bowels Moving
Constipation is a big issue for lots of people, especially those with a predominant vata constitution or a vata imbalance. Vata poop can look like rabbit pellets. Being constipated leads to a build-up of ama (toxins) in our bodies.
There are lots of things we can do to up our poop game. It does somewhat depend on our dominant dosha, or what dosha imbalances we may have. For example, we may need to add more fiber to our diet. We may need some raw salads for roughage. However, raw vegetables are dry and light, like vata. So if the issue is a vata imbalance, too many salads may actually be the problem and we might need to start cooking our veggies to add some moisture and heat.
Taking care of dehydration will help us poop. Warm fluids especially, like some hot lemon water first thing, really do the trick. Ginger tea is great, too. Keep some good old fashioned room temperature water with you and sip away throughout the day (cold beverages put out our agni – digestive fire).
Adding oil to our diets will also foster good bowel movements. Oil acts as a lubricant, which literally helps move that poop along. Cook some veggies in a little oil and your gut will be in heaven (olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee all work great).
Exercise is a well known way to get pooping. If you are vata-predominant however, don’t go crazy. A 20 minute walk can do wonders for the digestive system.
People who have a kapha constitution usually have a pretty regular poop schedule, but it can be sluggish and mucus-y.
There are plenty of Ayurvedic herbs known to gently help the gut, but a great place to start would be with Triphala. Triphala is an Ayurvedic compound that is made out of three dried/powdered fruits: Amalanki, Bibhitaki, and Haritaki. It works great for all three doshas and is very gentle. It will help right the digestive system without being so strong that you have to make a run for it.
What About the Diarrhea?
People with pitta constitutions may be more prone to having food move through their gut too quickly. And a pitta digestive tract can get more easily irritated or inflamed. Both of these things can lead to diarrhea. Diarrhea can also be a totally healthy reaction to contaminated food or bacteria.
To get rid of diarrhea, we have to avoid further inflammation by getting rid of intestinal irritants like coffee, spicy food, and alcohol. Aloe vera and coconut oil can help calm and cool aggravation in the intestines. Try drinking coconut water.
If a lot of undigested food is getting pooped out, it may be time to look at your diet. The first thing to do is to eat warm, cooked food that is easy to digest, like kitchari. If you know your predominant dosha, following a dosha-specific diet will help.
Know Thy Poop
It may seem gross, but the best way to keep a finger on the pulse of our health is to get to know our poop. We should be aware of how often we are going, what it normally looks like, how it reacts to different foods, and even the smell (OMG, too far?) When we know what our body normally does, we can identify when we get out of whack. Then we can take steps to correct, before we become ill.
Disclaimer: I am a nurse/Ayurvedic amateur, not your doctor. Poop is a big deal, so please consult your physician for personal recommendations. This information is for general educational purposes about the gut and elimination and is no substitute for medical care.
Banyon Botanicals: An Ayurvedic Guide to Healthy Elimination. 2021
Joyful Belly: Healthy Elimination, Bowels & Pooping. 2020.
Raahave, D. (2015, March). Faecal retention: A common cause in functional bowel disorders, appendicitis and haemorrhoids – with medical and surgical therapy. Danish Medical Journal, 62(3), B5031.