The gift of constipation

by Alexis Stewart, care worker with the intellectually disabled and yoga teacher, Sydney, Australia.

When I was a girl I used to go to friends’ houses for tea (‘tea’ being a word in England that refers to an early dinner. My favourite tea was macaroni cheese and chips). Going to other people’s houses was always a bit odd, because other people’s families never did things quite the same as my family did; for example some Mums used to tell their kids to wash their hands before eating, which is something my family never did. So when issued with the command to wash my hands by someone else’s Mum, I would dutifully file into the bathroom with the other kids and copy the way that they waved their hands in the general direction of the taps. There was one thing however that most Mums seemed to have in common and that was the nagging suspicion that the kids had not actually washed their hands! Funny that!

Another thing that my inquisitive young mind noticed, was that some people had stacks of books in their toilet. Now this seemed very odd to me; why, when there were so many fantastic places to read a book, would anyone choose to read in the toilet? So I asked my Mum the question, but one of the problems with adults is that, when asked a question, they often don’t give the whole answer and so kids are left with more questions than they started with. Having spoken to my Mum, I now understood that some people like to read whilst doing a poo, however this additional information just left me more perplexed than ever; I mean, why on earth would someone choose to sit and read in such a smelly place? You see, my experience of doing a poo was that it was a very short enforced break in my endless day of play, therefore I was left with no choice but to add the fact that some adults liked to read in the toilet, to my growing list of the weird and not so wonderful things that adults liked to do. Already on my list was the fact that when offered a massive range of flavoured crisps, my Dad would always choose ready salted! To my young mind, this was simply unfathomable!

It was only really recently, that I actually understood the whole reading in the toilet thing. For the first time in my life I became regularly constipated and whilst sitting there one day, I realised that the people who had stacks of reading material in their toilets were probably suffering from constipation. Funny isn’t it, how we often piece something together years after the event.

For those who have never been constipated, it’s actually no fun at all, days of not going to the toilet, followed by an almost dread of going when you finally do. This had been going on for months and so I decided to seek help from a naturopath. My naturopath put me on a regime of Slippery Elm Powder and Flaxseed Oil and because the naturopath was also a Sacred Esoteric Healing Practitioner, she asked me to look at what, in my life, I was ‘holding onto’. This, for me, needed no thought at all, I was very aware of the things that I was holding onto, as they’ve plagued me for almost my entire life, or is it more accurate to say that I’ve chosen them for almost my entire life?

Sitting at the top of the list, the Grand Daddy of them all, is that I have been hugely invested in wanting things to be done a certain way. And when I say ‘a certain way’, I of course mean, ‘my way’. In the past, I have felt an incredible amount of angst when people have either done things that I thought they shouldn’t have done, or not done things that I thought they should have done or failing that, simply done things in a different way to how I’ve wanted them to be done. What’s even worse is that on countless occasions I’ve gone into a massive reaction purely at the thought of what I anticipate might happen. But perhaps the ugliest part about this whole affair is that I have come to realise that my ideas about how other people should do things are based on nothing other than notions, ideals, beliefs and imaginings and yet, I have carried them around like gospel, never doubting that my way was right.

I have had what has felt like an inbuilt radar system, that has permanently swept my environment, constantly looking for discrepancies between what is happening and what I think should be happening. When a discrepancy is detected between my rigid set of made up rules and the natural ebb and flow of life, then it triggers a set of uncomfortable responses in my body. These responses include, a horrible jangling feeling in my chest, hardening throughout my upper body, tightening through my skull, a dark face, an inability to focus on anything else, frustration, impatience, intolerance, annoyance and anger. These uncomfortable responses are often accompanied by repetitive thoughts about the subject that go around and around, never offering me a way out but simply repeating themselves ad infinitum.

A rather repugnant spin-off of wanting others to behave in a particular way is that I have, on many an occasion attempted to push, persuade, hoodwink, convince, steer, manoeuvre, cajole and at times bully people into doing certain things, simply so that I could be spared the acute discomfort that I knew I would feel if they didn’t do what I wanted them to do. At times, I even made it look like I was suggesting something that would benefit them, whilst all along I was angling it for my own gain.

One of the many beautiful functions of our very wise bodies, is to impartially reflect back to us what we have set in motion. My body continually went hay wire when presented with certain external situations, thereby providing me with all the evidence that I needed to highlight the fact that something inside of me had gone awry. My irrational and painful responses were being triggered not by the acts of others, but by the fact that I was holding on to very set ideas about how things should be done; had I not had such set ideas, then I would not have reacted in the way that I did. This then leads me to conclude that once we have excavated all of our buried rubbish from within us, there will be very few, if any disturbances happening outside of us.

So my many, many moments of agitation on the outside were golden opportunities to have a look at what was festering on the inside, but for thirty odd years I chose not to look, instead I clung blindly to the belief that my way was the right way. Eventually my repeated choice to hold onto my beliefs about how others should behave led to my constipation and potentially to other ailments that have yet to surface. Basically, the discomfort that I was now being presented with was to such an extent that I was compelled to look more honestly at the choices I was making. Subsequently, I chose to start to let go and by doing so, discovered that acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on. On a very physical level, I have been consciously relaxing my abdomen when I feel it tighten, knowing that the belly area is deeply connected with acceptance. That, in conjunction with keeping my awareness very open and loosening my grip, when I start to tighten around something being a certain way, has helped my body to let go.

Have I let go completely? No, but my body is showing me that I have let go a lot, because it too has let go and going to the toilet has gone back to being a brief pause in-between my playtimes.

Read more:

  1. Constipation – it’s not sexy but we do need to let go!
  2. Your body and disease – what does it all mean?  

Related tags – Combining esoteric medicine and conventional medicine 

720 thoughts on “The gift of constipation

  1. We can be quite determined to hold onto things in the belief they are what we need or to get a certain result not realising that trying to control things guarantees we react and harden our body to life and in our interactions with others which has a significant impact on our body. Without warning signs from our body we would carry on regardless making the same disharmonious choices until we choose to turn inward and start to listen and surrender to how our body wants to move that enables us to establish our true rhythm and flow.

  2. When we let go of the ideals and beliefs we cling so desperately to in order to feel some sort of sense of control in life, we realise life becomes not only easier and simpler, it is also becomes extremely joyful and much less exhausting. It is not so much the letting go that is difficult, as the body is constantly working towards returning to its natural state of balance and will do everything to assist this process, but more so what we find difficult is the decision to let go, that will enable the process to begin. This is yet another example of ‘mind versus body’ and the tension that arises when we do not allow what our mind thinks to be in harmony with what the body feels.

  3. Probably anyone who has ever experienced constipation can relate to the relief when your bowels start to work again like they are meant to work. I also realized after having cracks in my anus, that made going to the toilet very very painful, what a joyful and magical process this letting go actually is. The rubbish that doesn’t support our body it just lets go of. I can do the same with things in my life that don’t support me: simply let go of them.

  4. First of all congratulations on bringing up the subject of constipation as so many people experience it but dare not disclose that fact. It makes absolute sense that when we do not let go of things that this affects our body and our ability to defecate. The body is so simple – if we do this then that happens. In this way our body is such a supportive friend.

  5. We get so locked in on our perceived perceptions of how things should be, and of course we react when they’re not so, and reading that I realise how vital acceptance and surrender are, and the ability to observe ourselves in how we are is a huge support for this.

  6. This was awesome for me to read in asking myself what do I not want to accept as I haven’t wanted to feel something in my tummy for a while now ‘acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on. On a very physical level, I have been consciously relaxing my abdomen when I feel it tighten, knowing that the belly area is deeply connected with acceptance’.

  7. Thanks Alexis, I appreciated your sharing about the acceptance and surrender, and how tension in the digestive system could be us clenching it like a tight fist instead of accepting what’s there to be accepted as it is and then letting go.

  8. I can so relate to the internal chaos that happens when we react to things. For years I wasn’t even aware that all this was going on in my body, and would wonder why I felt so stressed or anxious. Since learning to actually feel how my body is throughout the day, I started to see how the choices I was making directly affected what was going on in my body – and to be aware that I had a choice about it. What happens in my body isn’t just something inflicted on me by the world, and isn’t something permanent that I have to put up with forever. What’s also amazing about the body is how quickly it responds once we start to truly take notice of what it’s telling us, and take deep care of it.

  9. ‘..acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on’ Constipation is more or less ‘normal’ nowadays but if I look around me who is truly in acceptance and in surrender to what life presents us with? ‘Holding on’ is what I learned too and it feels good to let go of my behaviours, beliefs and ideals that prevent me from accepting myself and life as it is and surrender to what is asked of me.

    1. The whole of life is in a constant state of movement and so attempting to place a restriction on it, which is, of course what ‘holding on’ is, is going against the natural order of things. And it is by going against the natural order of things that we run into trouble and conversely it’s when we loosen our grip on life and allow ourselves to be taken by the current that life becomes effortlessly joyous.

    2. And the harm long term on the body and the quality we live brings with it health issues that take some time to heal.

  10. Funny that – I was supported by a practitioner today who simply said to me ‘ it is OK to let go of the past’ – and in this – it made me reflect on the recent constipation I have been going through and how I do have these ideals of how things will be based on how they have been – so in that is an opportunity to look at why I hold onto things as it is actually wrecking my body to do so.

  11. My body has been showing me how I have been holding onto control, not of others but of areas in my own life that have stemmed from past experiences which I have chosen to hang on to and live from. As I let them go I realise just how limiting they have been and have been barrier to the natural abundance and flow that is there.

  12. There have been odd occasions in my life when I have become constipated when travelling and I hate it because it makes me feel nauseous and sick to the stomach as if the body is desperate to expel this substance from the body. In those moments the nausea is far worse than being constipated, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to have to go through that just for a bowel movement.

  13. Considering how common constipation is, perhaps it is just reflecting the fact that as a race of being we human are not quite moving with the flow of what is being offered to us as we go round in cycles, but instead holding onto our familiar comfort, even when they are actually not that comfortable.

  14. Accepting and surrendering to life’s difficult challenges does not mean that we put up with abuse and bullying but certainly let go of trying to control other people and situations whom we have no control over.

    1. What I am realising more and more is that for me, surrendering to life’s ‘difficult challenges’ as understood by most people is relatively easy compared to surrendering to the small and seemingly inconsequential components of my life. For example I have always tried to control things that I consider to be in ‘excess’, at work for example if someone brought too many groceries then this would make me feel anxious and I would be overly concerned about it, making sure that they all got used. Another example is getting my son to do his homework, I would feel anxious and think about it way too much and with both of these examples and the many more that I have, I would try and steer and control the outcome, which to my detriment equalled a lot more time sitting on the toilet! It really is true, we have to let go to let go!

  15. ‘So my many, many moments of agitation on the outside were golden opportunities to have a look at what was festering on the inside’ I am learning this in a big way as I find myself reacting to the way things are being done by others and constantly feeling critical of them rather than looking within and checking what my expectations are based on. Surrender is a big word that is coming up for me a lot. We can’t control others, so we don’t need to try, but instead we can choose to reflect upon what it is about ourselves that they are so graciously reflecting back to us.

    1. What I have found is that the moment I make something about another person, I’ve squandered an opportunity to look more closely at my own stuff. And although by making it about another person’s short comings, I momentarily avoid looking at my own, it means that my stuff remains undealt with and therefore continues to remain stagnant in my body and hamper everything that I do.

      1. I recognize what you share here, Alexis. A missed opportunity every time I focus on the short comings and reactions of another instead of getting awareness on my issues and dealing with my own stuff.

    2. Thank you Carmel and Alexis, I often feel that what these situations all boil down to is an avoidance to look at the quality of energy I am in and therefore take energetic responsibility. Whether it’s how things are being done or what others are or are not doing the focus is off me and my connection and responsibilities.

  16. Constipation is a plague of accepted proportions. It is so common that we now see it as normal and use medication to assist us to go. On one occasion I did get horribly constipated. It showed me very clearly that to avoid this situation I need to drink more water and not neglect my body.

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