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. 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. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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…………

  5. 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.

  6. There is a lot to be said for allowing others to be and to do things their way. Once we invest in obtaining the outcomes we want from others we bring on all the ugly stuff you so brilliantly describe.

    1. 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.

    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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. “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.

  10. With statics saying around 6.5 million people in the UK have some form of bowel problem; that’s a lot of holding on going on, we could be holding on to literally anything to have an physical impact – our nationality is one example – keep holding on to the fact that you think England is the best and we can do it alone, and it was better 50 years ago – no wonder this will impact our bowel.

    1. It would be a very interesting exercise to find out the most common conditions of people within a certain culture and then compare them with the most common conditions in other cultures. It would be a great way to show the effects of ideals and beliefs pertaining to that culture and what they do to our physical form!

  11. Having been constipated for most of my life, it was to me quite normal, and I thought it odd if people went to the toilet once a day. What I could feel as I got older was the lack of flow in my body, it felt congested and I would get pains in my abdomen that would come and go. We can not escape the body it has to show us things in the best way it can, and as I surrender and learn to let go of anything I might be holding onto however small it might be, my body responds in the best way it knows how, and I no longer get constipation, and if I do I now know to look at what I might be holding onto.

  12. I love how body is so forgiving that it delightfully responds and indicates that we are on the right track when we start making choices to bring more love into our way of being.

  13. Great subject to bring up, because it is something that many people don’t talk about or understand the reason why they are suffering from constipation, it’s a build up of waste that the body has difficulty letting go of, which in reflection are things we have stored up and not let go of, from emotions, holding grudges to having to do things a certain way, it all builds up in the body, and eventually we get constipation as the body lovingly gives us a clue that we need to let go of all these things.

  14. “acceptance and surrender are the antidotes to holding on” oh yes they so are, acceptance of self, acceptance of others and acceptance of what ever situation we find ourselves in is a huge healing and big step towards evolution.

  15. Ideals, imaginings and beliefs avoid any kind of presence in the body as they are busy with the past or the future.

  16. We should never accept a condition like constipation as normal. It is a big sign from our body that ask us to listen to it. What and when do I eat, how much do I drink and what do I avoid letting go of?

  17. Our set ideas can feel like a self made prison and you know, we are the only ones who have the key and can step outside it by observing our own behaviour and let go what is ready to go. I love how I get all kind of insights about my reactions the moment I choose to observe myself.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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’.

    1. And actually being aware and conscious of the very individual rhythm everyone has. The more we honour that with presence, the more our body will be able to communicate and let go of things that don´t belong to it.

    2. The rhythm of the Universe is like a constant metronome, humming away in the background and then there’s us, who are a natural part of the Universe thrashing around on the surface with our behaviours and our emotions. We need to simply allow ourselves to surrender back into the rhythm of the Universe, a rhythm that naturally pulses through our bodies constantly. If we could only just let go then we would fall back Home in an instant.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. ‘..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.

      1. i love that.. ‘effortlessly joyous’ – it’s incredible how much effort we put into making life complicated and not at all joyous, simply by holding onto what we most need to let go of.

    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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

    1. Julie your reply reminded me of when I was in my teens and I was so unbelievably disconnected from how my body felt that I often didn’t notice that I hadn’t gone to the toilet for such a long time that I eventually ended up doubled over in agonising pain. It was so bad on one occasion that I ended up in accident and emergency.

  30. 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.

    1. Yes Fumiyo, we don’t even want to be aware of the fact how we are living in comfort instead fixing our problems as best as we can in order to continue to live in this bubble of not looking at our own irresponsible way of living.

  31. 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!

  32. ‘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.

      1. If we were to all simply keep focusing and re-focusing on improving the energetic quality of our lives then this alone would tackle all ailments, illness and diseases everywhere. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t need conventional medicine, we would but simply to say that it would support us all regardless of the level and type of illness that we had.

  33. 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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