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 

762 thoughts on “The gift of constipation

  1. When we start to observe our behaviours we get to realise how everything is connected. Constipation is a consequence of holding on to what we have consumed and looking at that from all angles sometimes it is surprising to see our attachments in life and things that we are not easily willing to let go of. We think by holding on we have control which of course we do in a way but that way is inhibiting a natural flow and also preventing us from the next step which offers us liberation if we so choose.

    1. Elaine you are spot on when you say that ‘We think by holding on we have control which of course we do in a way but that way is inhibiting a natural flow and also preventing us from the next step which offers us liberation if we so choose’. From my lifelong experience of exerting control, I can emphatically say that control is to flow what concrete boots are to swimming!

  2. The way we view the body, especially our bowels, are usually steeped in secrecy and not ever talked about. So I really love that you are blowing the lid off this topic and making it normal to talk about what could or can be behind constipation.

  3. I have discovered – the hard way – that holding onto anything results in an issue in my life or in my body. And it so makes sense that if we contract or try to control in any way, that our very sensitive body will respond, as what we are doing runs in total opposition to the way it functions. We mightn’t like the messages our very wise body is conveying at times but we ignore any of its messages at our peril; for every choice there is a consequence!

  4. When we recognise and understand that everything in the Universe is energy… that includes us… our human body, then our gut certainly shows us the signs of energetically holding on to something when we have constipation.

  5. My father was a doctor and I remember he shared that constipation was a huge health problem in the world and a major condition suffered by many people world wide to the extremes of hospitalisation to help this and the drug use also was essential to support people. The true understanding and knowing offered by Universal Medicine of simply holding on to stuff simply makes sense and allows a healing and letting go to take place naturally and a deeper understanding of ourselves and how we live.

    1. It does not surprise me one iota that constipation is a global problem because ‘holding onto stuff’ is a global problem. We are all walking storage units for the things that we hold onto. The hurts, the grudges, the complaints, the sadness, the anger, the irritation, the unrest, the disputes, the battles, the hardship, the injustice, the ways that we believe the world should be, the pain, the sense of loss, oh the list is endless and we haul this around with us in our guts, it’s really no wonder that our insides don’t flow onto the outside.

  6. Even or sometimes especially the uncomfortable things are what instigates a healing or awareness. The more we are open to learn and further our awareness of everything the more likely we are to embrace life.

    1. Well said Alex but I would go a step further and replace the words ‘even or sometimes’ with always. ‘Always the uncomfortable things are what instigates a healing or awareness’ as it is the discomfort that alerts us to the fact that there is disharmony in the body and if there is disharmony in the body then this is a sign that something needs addressing.

  7. Constipation is an awful condition and does not get enough discussion time, and is mostly suffered in silence. It’s great that with discussions like this we can make it normal to talk about a subject that most find embarrassing.

  8. I can relate to this radar, sweeping the area, I used to get very reactionary if things and people where not the way I thought they should be, I was controlling and emotional. I never stopped for a moment and truly considered my role in all of this reaction, but then I did and things started to change for the better.

  9. Being attached to how things happen or are done in life can be a very ingrained way of being that separates us from being in the natural flow in life.

  10. It is amazing how much constipation has to teach us! Our bodies are incredible that way in that they show us exactly where we are struck so to speak. The body in that way is a living marker of how we are in life.

  11. It is so true that ‘we hold onto’ attitudes, beliefs and ideals and the way life should be, most often because we fear change, lack of security and being hurt again.

  12. I love the way that the digestive system shows us so much about acceptance, surrender and letting go. I love the way you now tune into your body and use it as a way to remind you to accept and surrender. If we remind ourselves consistently to do this the physical body cannot help but respond.

    1. “If we remind ourselves consistently to do this the physical body cannot help but respond” that’s so true Rebecca because our physical body is the physical culmination of the energy that we have set in motion through our choices, it is a visual reflection and reminder of what we can not see and pretend not to know. Incredible isn’t it that we still choose to ignore it, even when we’re walking around in the culmination of our choices! and yes I do include myself very much in that, as I still choose to ignore my body’s messages.

  13. “Subsequently, I chose to start to let go and by doing so, discovered that acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on.” Letting go is a natural constant movement in our lives we cannot stop only retard, as our bodies are showing us, in the end our stool has to come out. Working in aged care I see the opposite movement in most of people’s lives, holding on to hurts and being in control, a way of living that does not support them at all and yes, most of them are on laxatives every day.

  14. I can feel how I have been able to affect my digestion in my choices to bury and not deal with the things which happen each day in certain situation although they always come up in the end, sometimes the longer they are left and the deeper they are buried, the more difficult they are to get passed in the end.

  15. “Subsequently, I chose to start to let go and by doing so, discovered that acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on.” – it makes sense that constipation would be caused by holding on. Our bodies are designed to work in a flow, and if there is any interruption to this, something will be presented to show us that the flow is not there.

    1. Sandra I agree completely that our bodies are designed ‘to work in a flow’ in fact they are the same design as the flow, hence we are meant to be the flow within the flow, which is why surrender is such a crucial quality in life.

  16. Constipation really does teach us a lot. It can definitely teach us when to stop eating certain foods as they are no longer evolutionary for us and our bodies. It can teach us to come back to the body and feel, because when one is constipated you just have to feel the body, it isn’t pleasant, but it definitely makes you check in with your choices.

  17. and as basic as it may sound, I have found it invaluable to respond to my body’s first signs of movement and not to wait until later, as often, if I wait, later never actually comes.

  18. I may deal with constipation once or twice a year and than it is only a day or two but when I travel I feel my toileting excursions are irregular. I am away at the moment and after just completing an Esoteric Yoga course where we bring attention and honour every movement our body needs to make to be able to surrender, I considered a few things about using the toilet. When we sit in an office chair or in a lounge chair we use cushions or foot stools or adjust our chair to support our body in that position. But do we do the same when we sit on the toilet? Is the seat too hard, are our legs dangling and going to sleep or are we hunched and not sitting forward or up straight? At home I have an awesome stool that is designed for the toilet that supports the body but when I go away I don’t have that. This blog has reminded me that this is as an important part of my packing as is clothes or shoes.

  19. We are always presented with opportunites to learn, I have had to learn to become a more open student to have this relationship less frought with struggle, and filled with more appreciation.

  20. The more I accept, appreciate and respond to my body’s infinite wisdom and constant signposting, the more in awe I am of the insight we have into life, our choices and the fun we can have exploring all of the above.

  21. Yesterday I let go of my ‘To-do’ list. I still had about 8 things on it but I had been feeling for a while that it was keeping me in ways of being that were not true. I could feel how I am attached to getting things done and crossing them off my list. I can feel how the desire to ‘get things done’ puts me into a momentum that hampers my beingness. The other thing that my drive ‘to do’ does, is it interferes with my innate knowing of what order to do things in, i.e. I am drawn to do things on my list so that I get them done, even when my body is pulling me to do something else. So now no ‘To-do’ list, just the impulses from my body, I can feel the truth in what I am doing and the falsity of my lists. I am learning to implicitly trust my body again, for it always knows what’s best, always.

  22. Most would not consider being constipated as a gift, or any illness for that matter, but when you look at it as a message from the body, it makes perfect sense – how many others messages are we receiving constantly, and what do we do with them. It also makes sense to learn how to read the signals the body is presenting so that we can be more responsible with our own health.

  23. Alexis, I love how things get set up to just be there at the right time, like me reading this blog today. I’ve been looking at how I accept and surrender more and here is your blog, and it reminds me that having set ideas of how things should be does not work and in fact interferes, and the biggest thing to pop up almost in neon for me today, is those ideas I have of how things should be, where do I get them from anyway, so I’m holding myself and others up to a picture that doesn’t even belong to me.

  24. It makes sense that holding onto beliefs, wanting it my way, needing to control etc affects the bodies natural process of letting go and in addressing these allows the body to be in more balance, with it’s natural processes and flow.

  25. For me at the moment I am working on letting go of a sense of duty and obligation, all for a need to belong. I can see how this was rife within my family belief systems. Too many lifetimes around religion and being a subservient wife and not honouring my deeply sacred self.

    1. Julie I think it’s wonderful that you have brought enough space around these feelings to be able to stand back and view them clearly, so many people live with a sense of duty and obligation but do not realise that they are, because there is no gap between them and their feelings. When there is no space around how we feel, we end up wearing our feelings like a body suit and it becomes incredibly hard for us to extricate ourselves from them.

    1. I get this – our relationship with Soul is a totally innate and natural one. The madness is the effort and energy we put into interfering with this. So yes to dropping the dirty washing!

  26. I can relate to what you say Alexis, that I too have wanted things to go my own way. There is an arrogance here, that I thought my way was the best, and there was huge control with that behaviour. Letting go of the rules and allowing the natural ebb and flow as something unfolds has much more natural feel about it, not to mention the health benefits as we allow this.

  27. Constipation is truly a gift. It shows me how I have been living. There is no point worrying about it or forcing it, my digestive system sorts it out in it’s own time. It needs to process what I have given it in whatever way. I can simply observe and wait. It makes me appreciate my flow when it is happening, which is most of the time.

    1. Control acts like a barrier, it is an unseen forcefield that keeps an unquantifiable amount of things out and a huge array of things in and when you consider that just one of those things is love then you really get to feel just how disruptive control is.

  28. It might seem odd for us to speak about a health condition as being a ‘gift’ but when we realize that this is the body’s way of letting us know that we are making unloving choices, and it is providing a stop moment or a wakeup call to alert us to what we are doing, then we might be willing to take heed and make changes before things get worse. If however we carry on ignoring the signs and blaming things for our condition we will continue to override the messages until it is too late.

  29. I can relate to this very well Alexis. In the last weeks I realized as well, how often I want, that people should behave in a certain way. I had so many notions, ideas and beliefs. And now I have found out like yourself, the moment I let go of all these impositions on other people, my life is much more flowing, and I can go to the toilet on a daily basis, which was unfathomable a few years ago.

    1. Alexander your use of the term ‘impositions on other people’ is so apt as wanting, needing and indeed hoping that others are going to be different in some way to what they are, is indeed an imposition and one that actually hinders them from true change. Acceptance and love are true catalysts to change.

  30. I suffered from this as a child and remember the discomfort well. My body was telling me that I was not digesting what I was reading and feeling about life – I was not letting life flow around me and accepting people for who they are. As a child it can be difficult, because I knew a rhythm that was supportive for me, when I needed to be in bed and the house be quiet – when this didn’t happen I would get extremely upset and not accept that I was under other people’s flow and rhythm.

  31. Who would have thought, gift and constipation being in the same sentence. But you are so very right, our bodies do share with us so much, constipation being one of them. It’s a lesson in love really, that we are in some way not being loving, to where our body is at, instead wanting to be able to eat things that we may have been able to in the past, but actually our body is lovingly saying, no, you can’t eat that anymore. Instead we usually keep feeding ourselves the same food for a long time, before we get the message.

  32. Certainly a title that you stop to check you have read it properly. To see the ‘gift’ in constipation is a great testimony to taking responsibility for how our body responds to the choices we make.

  33. I love how we are given exactly what we need to learn and grow and the learning has been deepening for you Alexis how “acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on.” Via the body, we get all the reflections we need for true healing when we connect and be open to it. Then we receive the deeper message as you have done. It is an amazing process to surrender to.

  34. Acceptance Surrender and Appreciation are the antidotes I use when I know I am holding onto something that I stubbornly don’t want to let go of, it doesn’t have to be big but any ideal that I think something should be a certain way can affect the body and constipation is one of its symptoms. Your blog is great Alexis because so many people have constipation and go straight to laxatives or remedies without looking at what they are really holding onto.

  35. It occurred to me that perhaps all of life is actually a process of letting go of things because if we were holding onto nothing then we would simply be the natural divine sparks that we all are.

  36. This is such an honest blog that goes way deeper than the superficial responses to constipation. Normally we are asked to increase fiber, drink more water etc. Yet there is an energetic reason behind this constipation and it is dealing with this that brings the healing, rather than a temporary, functional patch up, that leaves the root cause still festering in the body.

    1. Hmmm. This inspires me to question more deeply how often I am satisfied with symptom relief rather than exploring more carefully the things that lie behind why my body has responded with illness or dysfunction.

  37. Constipation is a loving way that our body brings to our attention that we have an area of stuckness in our way of living. Instead of reaching for laxatives, which brings just temporary relief, it would make more sense to ponder on what we are holding onto which does not serve us and to let it go so that healing can occur.

    1. Elizabeth once again I am at the exact same place of choosing between a laxative and looking more deeply at what I am holding onto. It seems that as I let go of one thing it simply reveals yet another thing that I am tensing around. I am left wondering if I shall ever, metaphorically speaking, manage to prise all of my ten digits off all the things that I am clinging so desperately onto.

    2. Yes, I do see that our relationship with our bodies and willingness to develop our health is a layered affair. And I am appreciating more and more the intricate detail to which my body can show me things.

    3. Elizabeth this is beautiful how you a described what is possibly a cause of constipation. Often when we understand what we are holding on to and willing to talk about it and let it go, the constipation disappears, and our bowels become regular again.

  38. Many women, including myself, hold in their abdomen. This for me began at a very young age, being very conscious of not having a flat stomach even though it was never fat. It was just an idea I had from reading too many magazines, which espoused skinniness to be what is acceptable by men. I held those muscles tight for many years until I became aware of what I was doing and even recently I realised there was another more subtle level of letting go that needed to occur.

  39. So for eons and eons we have had it all wrong and given praise to the mind, thinking it was the ants pants, when all along we have been walking around in this amazing body with particles direct from heaven, and could have been lighting up the planet with our awesomeness.

    1. So well said Julie “all along we have been walking around in this amazing body with particles direct from heaven, and could have been lighting up the planet with our awesomeness”, rather than living in our heads and thereby turning the dimmer switch of awareness down so low that it has caused us to permanently stagger around in the dark.

  40. To understand that symptoms in the body are a reflection of how we are living our life is an opportunity to make new choices and change old patterns and momentums.

  41. Learning to let go of all the behaviours and emotions that hold us back is a powerful message highlighted in your blog Alexis. Certainly a work in progress from this forever student, thank you.

  42. And so many people, are holding on to so much, for so long … it feels like the whole world is constipated… something surely has to give… stand back everyone!

  43. Great observations of the body Alexis. Haven’t we got the best teacher, when we truly listen!

  44. It is an interesting observation of ourselves to notice we can have rigid set of made up rules we have decided are the way things should be or the natural ebb and flow of life. I know I have attempted to orchestrate, interfere with or control an outcome of something the way I would like it many times, only to find the best outcome is already there waiting to be accessed. I love to feel the order and flow when I allow it to be and the body puts us right back on track to feel this.

  45. “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.” This sentence made me wonder whether we would look at anything with out the pain and discomfort that compels us to look?

  46. “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 love this line – rather than dismissing the agitation I feel, I now understand it to be a great indication or symptom of something that needs attending to just as we see physical symptoms.

  47. ‘Subsequently, I chose to start to let go and by doing so, discovered that acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on.’ This is pertinent to me as it makes it clear to distinguish the choices I can make in my own life and why I make them at the same time as those things that I can’t control and so the investment that may exist in some of the aforementioned choices or an outcome.

      1. Spot on Alexis, control is so insidious and permeates far more than we care to know, its a barrier to awareness.

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