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 

723 thoughts on “The gift of constipation

  1. Alexis, I read this whilst sitting on the loo, I call it space management (LOL). But on the serious side, there is much to ponder on with the signs and symptoms our bodies portray not just on a daily basis, but over the years.

    I too used to experience constipation despite thinking a high fibre diet, exercising and drinking plenty of water was healthy for my body. But this holding on to emotions of, “should have and would have” or unresolved or broken conversations, played havoc on my bowels as well as my throat. There was one deadly constipating belief (and there’s many more), that bowels needed to be open on a daily basis, otherwise it wasn’t normal. The question I then pose is, what is normal? Over the years, and through my own experiences and speaking to others, that one person’s normal isn’t another person’s normal.

    Without perfection, I have learnt to let go more of things that do not matter and I am more relaxed about bowel functions. As I build my relationship more with my body, I learn more about me. What is beautiful is the more I communicate with my body, the more it communicates back to me and I love discovering more about me…

    1. “What is beautiful is the more I communicate with my body, the more it communicates back to me and I love discovering more about me…”, yep Shushila that really does feel beautiful.

  2. I am sure to a degree we can all relate to wanting to control life. I know this is certainly true in my case. However in that control there is a certain amount of tension that we live with and perhaps an anxiety we fail to fully acknowledge. In truth, since we are vehicles of energy, we cannot control anything – we can only choose which energy either a) drives or b) impulses us. The answer, as already suggested, is to simply let go and surrender to the latter.

  3. And for me trying to control others is a massive distraction from taking responsibility for my own life.

    1. Exactly Helen. Had I taken responsibility for the way that I felt then I wouldn’t have spent a lifetime frantically trying to control my life and the life of others. The reason why I was so desperate to control all those around me was because I knew damn well that I wouldn’t be able to cope well if things didn’t happen the way that I needed them to. Now that I have picked up the reins of self-responsibility, life is a breeze in comparison to how it used to be because I know that I can handle whatever comes my way.

  4. Being able to see the gift in something like constipation allows us to explore how it came about and we have the opportunity to let go of the things that are literally blocking us up. We always have choices but it is amazing how stubborn we can be in hanging onto outdated ideals and beliefs that not only no longer serve us but have always stood in the way of harmonious living.

    1. Without the body showing us what we need to look at we would continue merrily on our way without ever evolving. For all those things that I have held on to that have been deeply rooted I wouldn’t have been able to deal with them unless it were for things like constipation, a sore knee, blocked sinuses or skin rashes etc. Whilst they may not be so comfortable to experience at the time, when the symptoms clear because I have nailed the issue that has caused them, I feel very thankful indeed to have had the nudge that got me to act on it.

  5. The idea of holding onto things is basically about interrupting the flow of what would otherwise just pass through. I like your example of the belief about ‘my’ way. I can relate to it very much.It must have worked very well in the past, so of course we want to apply it again, again, and again. But what if it was not about the specifics and the details of that ‘my’ way? I am beginning to wonder whether we might be shortchanging ourselves when it comes to appreciating ourselves, by not accepting that we are much more than what we do. Holding onto things, whatever they may be, gives us an illusion that we are safe, but we have yet to taste the true freedom of movement in that.

    1. Fumiyo, I loved your statement, ‘we are yet to taste the true freedom of movement in that,’ is so true. Controlling everything makes matters worse and I can recall my old ways. It kind of feels that I got to a point where I was hypersensitive to everything and it was a no wonder people didn’t want to be around me or had to put up with me.
      When we let go more, the magic of life dances with us, it is that simple.

    2. I agree with you Fumiyo when you say
      ‘I am beginning to wonder whether we might be shortchanging ourselves when it comes to appreciating ourselves, by not accepting that we are much more than what we do.’
      I can definitely say I do not appreciate myself and can see that there is a huge difference as I have met a few people who really do have this easy acceptance of themselves and they are such an inspiration to me and all others because they lead such amazing full and vital lives so there is definitely something to be said for fully accepting and appreciating everything we are and what we do.

  6. It’s a great conversation to have around the topic of what we each individually hold onto, and I’m sure this can change week to week, but it is something very supportive to explore.

    1. Something that I have held onto like a dog with a bone is my investment in how I think others should behave and when I say ‘others’ I am talking about pretty much all others. I have ideas about how people that I work with should work, I have an idea about how my family members should behave, I have ideas about how members of the public should be, I have ideas about how my friends should act and what holding on to all of these ideas and notions about behaviour does, is that it sets me up for tension and often introduces conflict into my relationships. What if I was simply to let go ( like a dandelion blowing in the wind) of all of my pictures of how I believe others should be and just allow them to be themselves…………

  7. Such a great conversation and one that many would not really want to talk about as they would be too embarrassed. When we bring it back to the actual root cause there is nothing to be embarrassed about it, you get to feel your responsibility of your choices and the impact that they have.

    1. It is quite amazing how the human body shows what we choose and live through physical symptoms. By understanding what the physical symptoms are showing we can change our behaviour and our health.

      1. Constipation is something that I no longer suffer from, this is a valuable reflection in itself. I have also mastered the art of being able to go to the toilet when I am staying with other people, this is also a reflection of something else that I have been able to let go of.

  8. What goes in, needs to be digested and what is not metabolised is let go and engaging in life is not different, acceptance, making decisions and letting go of what is no longer relevant.

  9. Everything that occurs with our body is a message to us to go deeper and look at how we are living. In this regards the body totally takes care of us and supports us.

  10. “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’.”

    Laughed out loud reading this today – yep, know that one.

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