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. A great reminder to look at what I am holding onto in life as although not constipated am very aware of the flow of my digestive system and what may be affecting it.

  2. Thank you Alexis, a very playful and inspiring read, I was very interested in how we manipulate things to suit ourselves, rather than just allowing things to unfold naturally, which has made me ponder on the elements of control I may still hold and have to let go of.

  3. It is beautiful to read an article where one is so open and honest with their choices in life and the physical consequences of these choices. An article to be read and considered, not just in relation to constipation, but in relation to every dis-ease that the body shows us.

  4. We build up an idea of how we think something is and keep regurgitating it around and around in our heads and making it super complicated, when all we have to do is regularly check with our bodies, nominate when love is not chosen and make the next movement with love.

    1. Regularly checking in with our bodies is absolutely fabulous when most of us are so utterly disconnected from them but what if we could live in permanent connection to our bodies? If that were possible and I reckon it is, then we would have a permanent counsel (I was going to say ‘at our fingertips’) but it would be a permanent counsel from the whole of our bodies.

  5. Loved coming back to your blog again Alexis it made me laugh and reminded me of how as children we get so bewildered by the behaviour of adults, until we become adults ourselves and then the mysteries become more understandable. Letting go is a huge one, we hold onto so many things in life so that we don’t have to feel what is really going on. I was constipated for most of my adult life but as I learnt to let go of wanting to control everything and all the ideals and beliefs around how things should be, constipation no longer affects me like it used to.

  6. ‘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.’ Whenever the word ‘should’ crops up there is bound to be a message for us. Great to bring awareness to this and the beginning of a healthy change.

  7. This is a very insightful article. Recently I’ve been experiencing constipation, and I have to say it’s the first time in my 36 years that it’s been such a regular thing. I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve been holding on to and interestingly, whilst I can identify some of it, there’s a stubbornness of not wanting to let it go, still feeling this sense of being ‘right’. I’m working on it though, and allowing myself the space to keep observing it and bringing some understanding to the fact that it’s a very ingrained belief system I’ve got going on, so in that I’m accepting it might take me some time to let go. At the same time, I’m aware I can let it go at any moment I choose.

    1. Elodie what you say is also my experience. I have managed to let go of so many things but have realised that there is a big fat mother of all things that still has a grip on me and that is because I keep stamping my energetic foot and insisting that I AM RIGHT!

  8. It is fascinating when we stop and observe that energy we go into for being sure we are right. That this is the only way and why would you do it any differently. Being humble and reflecting continually within instead of trying to make a point or saying someone is wrong has been one I am working with and have come to realise that this is so much more powerful than being right!

    1. The power contained within the assumed and short lived victory of ‘being right’ has a horrible crushing quality to it, whereas the power that you describe Natalie, that comes from humble reflection seeks to support everyone and is truly inspiring.

  9. Constipation – who knew there could be so much to be said about it? Yet the truth is that there is a lot to be said about it because our body is always communicating something to us that is worth paying attention to.

  10. Thank you for sharing this rather humorous observation you had as a child. ” 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,”
    When reading this part I was wondering, how you as a young child would have seen this, and how peculiar adults would look to you wanting everything to be their own way and getting very annoyed if it’s not their way, so annoyed they won’t even go to the bathroom.

  11. An interesting comment Alexis “when asked a question, they often don’t give the whole answer and so kids are left with more questions” This is true and even more so in these days, where parents just don’t seem to feel the space to give a full and honest answer and therefore actually often lie. It seems innocent but what does it say about the way we communicate with each other in this world if we cannot even communicate openly and in full with our own children?

    1. I feel it’s true to say that we don’t communicate in a way that is open and full with anyone, which is how we are all able to perpetuate the lie of life that we are all collectively choosing to live.

  12. Wanting things to be ‘my way’ puts the body into silent alert. You want to observe without the other realizing you are spotting every single bit of what are they exactly doing. And, if they happen to also want to do it ‘their’ way, we suffer from a disgust in the body. We may then choose to protest, to silently change what they have done, to do nothing in the knowing that ‘they have done it again’ (against ‘my will, which is the only really sensitive way to handle that particular issue), or to give up and do nothing. Whatever we choose from those, we get affected in the body. It is the body which has to support us in our quest against our own body while we are in fight mood against the other’s constantly annoying way of doing things which is simply not ‘right’.

  13. Why do we struggle with letting go? What are we so attached to that we would rather have the discomfort of constipation than let it go? These things are definitely worth pondering on.

    1. Great question Elizabeth and one that I can only answer on behalf of myself. The reason why I have held on to things being a certain way for so long is because I have tried to avoid the acute discomfort that I knew i would feel if things were not done the way that I wanted them to be done, or if people did not behave in the way that I perceived they should behave. I knew from experience that I felt enormous levels of discomfort when things were done contra to my very narrow ways of operating.

  14. “I chose to start to let go and by doing so, discovered that acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on.” I too had the gift of constipation a few months ago when taking a new supplement and discovered a deep stubbornness which was revealed to me – so yes that constipation was indeed a gift – an opportunity to surrender deeper.

  15. Not honouring the impulses of my body has been the cause, and I am still being confronted with this, of my constipation, overriding what I feel, not giving myself enough space to even go to the toilet. But in the end I feel it is due to holding back myself and wanting my body to be in a certain way, so not accepting me as I am and how life is designed to be.

  16. It’s great when we visit each other in our homes and observe the different ways we all live for we can learn so much from each other.

  17. Whenever I have the feeling I want the outside to be somehow, I ask myself what I am not giving myself. Where is my focus ?! I remind myself then that it is not about me- instead allowing space and respect for anothers pace of development. Actually quite arrogant to force or manipulate another to fullfil MY NEEDS.

  18. Eventually, when our rates of ill health and disease skyrocket even further, we will come to collectively understand that it takes far more energy to resist love than to express it. With this awareness comes the necessary surrender that allows us to deepen in the expression of our love by way of accepting that things are as they are and are not as we may wish them to be.

    1. Beautiful Liane, accepting the way things are brings a reality home that in wanting them to be different can be avoided. Only when we see the full reality will we be willing to understand the pain that resisting the love we are causes.

  19. Years ago there was an advert on the TV for constipation tablets, and a lady was pouring food into her handbag, and it was all getting pretty putrid while she was carrying this bag around with her. This image stayed with me because in effect this is what we are doing when we are constipated, and it feels uncomfortable not to be able to tip the bag upside down and empty all of its contents out at least once a day.

  20. This was a timely read as I have recently experienced constipation and have been wondering what is going on with this and when I heard the word ‘acceptance’ I realised that there are things in my life that I haven’t been accepting, that I have been wanting things to be a certain way and have been dogged with this and therefore not in the flow of life.

      1. Annelies not only do we not accept that life can be amazing but we seem to have adopted the view that life is a struggle. Certainly in England, where I grew up, there was a very strong consciousness that espoused that life was hard and often disappointing and that it was almost better to not have anything good happen to you, because it was bound to not last. This is a belief that is widely accepted and passed on from generation to generation. There is not an ounce of truth in it.

  21. Acceptance and surrender … the antidote to holding on, yes indeed and yet that second word in particular brings out all my ‘googley’ eyed control mechanisms and I sit here feeling deeply uncomfortable. Yes I’ve let go a lot, but reading here today I realised today there’s still a quest for my comfort and thus I feed behaviours in others which foster my own comfort – yuck for sure and great to get another understanding of this – more acceptance and surrender beckons (and there always is more).

  22. “One of the many beautiful functions of our very wise bodies, is to impartially reflect back to us what we have set in motion.” so well said, so it makes sense that when we are not flowing with life or are holding on to matters that our bowel movements should reflect the same.

  23. Acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on, so true Alexis, and the more we try to do those things the more we cannot. Choosing to just focus on ourselves in any moment is a great start to picking up what we may be holding is not a part of love.

  24. I love that conditions or discomfort in the body are in fact messages to look deeper for the disharmony we have chosen to allow in that can reverse whatever ailment we have ourselves created. In this case acceptance and surrender being the necessary antidotes to let go. It is extraordinary how much we can hold on tightly to things being a certain way instead of surrendering to knowing sometimes they are exactly what they should be for us to learn the lessons we need to.

  25. It makes sense how much holding onto beliefs, ideals and having expectations really impacts our body in our need to control everything around us. Working with our body, listening to what it is communicating and being more tender and self-loving allows us to let go and surrender to our body and to trust our inner wisdom and what is being offered for us to take note of.

    1. Linda I agree, what is also helping me to let go of my life long habit of wanting to control others is understanding that everyone is on their own unique timeline and that wanting others to be anywhere other than they are only hampers them. When I am able to accept fully where another is at, I am able to truly meet them and it is this true connection that brings about the greatest change.

  26. I find your writing style fun and cheeky, the fact that I smiled so many times through out this blog was pretty impressive considering the subject matter! Looking at illness and dis-ease in the body from the inside out seems only fitting, if everything is energy, then of course there is an energetic lesson or message is constipation. Working on letting go, makes sense not only on a physical level but an emotional and energetic one as well.

    1. This morning at work I felt myself starting to react at the thought that someone had brought non recycled paper towels, it then became immediately apparent to me, that for me to have a reaction of any kind I must first have an investment in how things ‘ought to be’. Therefore if I drop all of my ideas about how things ‘should’ be and simply allow them to be the way that they are, then there wouldn’t be any reaction.

  27. Loved reading your blog Alexis, trying to control things takes a huge amount of effort and energy, and our body is in constant tension because it is never in its own flow. It is beautiful when we let go of control and allow our body to feel its natural rhythm and flow.

  28. When we don’t just reach for aperients but instead look at what is the root cause of constipation we can learn a lot and open ourselves up for healing.

  29. It’s amazing how the body plays out the emotional state we are in, like constipation for holding on to things or in my case haemorrhoids for holding back.

  30. The wisdom of our bodies and the humbleness of constipation! A great combo in this article that has inspired me to deepen my understanding of my physiology and appreciate how clearly my body communicates.

  31. Pure gold indeed and a blessing to read and have on the internet….”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 know I speak for myself, I spent years looking outside for explanation, for someone else to blame and finding out that I had a choice and that any ‘agitation’ was a beautiful message has changed every part of my life, something to learn no rage about…pure empowerment.

    1. Our base is stillness and so whenever we feel agitation or indeed unsettlement of any kind then there is an arrow pointing to something that needs our attention.

  32. It’s great to appreciate as I read this that I hold on a whole let less these days, and my body reflects that to me. It does not have to be that we are stuck in our ways for life, most can reverse if we make the changes.

  33. Letting go of needing things to be done my way is such a release both physically and energetically. The more I do the lighter I feel and the more playful I become.

  34. With so many people in the world holding on to everything from belief systems to ways of education … to ways to govern… So many things that people are holding onto… It really is surprising that anyone is actually going to the toilet.

  35. This feels closely tied with control and wanting life to be a certain way. A condition that nearly everyone has, whether they are aware of it or not. While we may not want what life dishes up at times, not accepting it and controlling its outcome instead sets us up for ironically more complications than we might have bargined for.

    1. The fact is we can’t control life and so our feeble attempts at steering life our way are futile. Each time we try and get life to do what we want, we apply a force that gets registered in the body and those layers of force eventually get reflected back to us as our physical symptoms.

  36. Surrender to life is a wondrous bowel movement inducer, as life then flows without our interruption of holding onto anything, wanting it our way. It is to say to life that we trust. We trust that every moment is here to reflect something for us to deepen love.

  37. My body let’s me know very quickly these days if I am holding onto something, it affects me in that way immediately. This helps to reflect on my choices and nominate what I have accepted or not accepted as the case may be, something in my life that is not love.

  38. It is crazy really that we can be so stubborn as to try and control life by holding onto very rigid behaviours and attitudes that in truth only work against the natural order and flow in life.

  39. “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.” Alexis thank-you for showing us how our choice to hold onto beliefs, ideals are mirrored so perfectly for us by our bodily movements. So supportive to begun to clock the needs & fixations that in turn are walked and manifested within our bodies.

  40. There is a very light playful way this has been written – loved it. Very interesting to read the section on letting go of our endeavours to control everything… and how deeply stored that is in the body. I can practically feel it right now that difference between the tension I have to keep myself in to control everything and the ease with which I can let it flow.

  41. Chronic constipation is a condition that so many of us live with and just accept because that’s just ‘how it is’. If the Energetic understanding and truth behind why we get constipated were widely known it would transform life for those of us who are holding onto and storing in our bodies that which does not belong or serve. The image comes to mind of a waste bin in the house that is only partially emptied some of the time, while the rest of the contents putrify affecting the whole house.

  42. ‘once we have excavated all of our buried rubbish from within us, there will be very few, if any disturbances happening outside of us.’ This makes a lot of sense Alexis, as does your whole blog. The image of having waste festering inside being representative of the waste/rubbish we are not letting go of in other ways is a powerful one that demands attention.

  43. I have been constipated at times in my life, and learned to have a diet that included plenty of fibre to keep things flowing smoothly. When I have been constipated, (Usually when I’ve eaten too much meat) I have used my muscles to push and that has contributed to a prolapse and a rectocele. I had a hysterectomy and the physio advised me never to push, simply to have my knees higher than my hips and to allow nature to do its thing. That has had an interesting effect on my attitude to life generally i.e. not to push anything.

  44. ‘One of the many beautiful functions of our very wise bodies, is to impartially reflect back to us what we have set in motion’. This is such a grand truth that for me has changed my life completely. Going from being a victim of my body, feeling powerless to do anything about what would be happening within it, to understanding and learning to read its communication so we can work together on making changes in my life that then allows my body to come back to harmony.

    1. Carolien I love the expression that you have used for your relationship with your body ‘working together’. I feel that ‘working together’ is a foundational part of our health in absolutely every aspect of life.

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