Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What is the relationship between our practice and the timing of our bowel movements?

Warning: If you are squeamish about issues related to bodily functions, you may not want to read this post. I will do my best to talk about things in a way that is not too explicit, but I thought you should be given fair warning anyway.

Happy Moon Day! I thought I'll take advantage of this break from our Ashtangic labors to talk about a particular issue that is very close to us (because we all have to do it to stay alive) and yet not very often discussed; at least, I do not know of any substantial blog or even real-world discussion that addresses this issue.

So what's the issue? Different people refer to it in different ways. Some people call it "Number 2", others call it "moving the bowels". Less politically-correct folks might call it "taking a poop", or "taking a shit". But they all refer to the same phenomenon (I think): Essentially, it is what you do when you go to the bathroom to expel the solid waste products of your digestive system.

Are you still reading this? Are you in danger of forcefully expelling the contents of your breakfast from your mouth? If you are, my apologies (but I did issue a warning, remember?). In any case,  thank you for staying with me so far.

The question that I want to explore in this post is: What is the relationship between our practice and our bowel movements? I think this is a very important question, not least because many of the postures in the primary series are supposed to have beneficial effects on digestion and elimination (for more details, see Claudia's recent post on the benefits of particular postures in the primary series). If the practice is supposed to have beneficial effects on digestion and elimination, would it be more beneficial for us if we were to move the bowels before we start our practice, or would it be more beneficial to do so after practice? In my personal experience, I have found that on mornings when I move the bowels before practice, I am able to go into the practice with a certain feeling of lightness and ease (The Unbearable Lightness of Being... hahaha! Excuse the tasteless joke here, I just couldn't resist it). But I wonder if this feeling is only psychological: On days when I go into practice without having moved my bowels, my practice really doesn't feel any more heavier or more difficult: So far, not moving my bowels in my practice has not made going into twists or deep forward bends or kapotasana more difficult (another tasteless joke: Shit doesn't get in the way!).

But I have discovered that if I do not move my bowels before practice on a certain day, it is usually a little more difficult to get my bowels to move for a while after practice. I think this is because all the bandha-engagement that goes on during practice has the effect of contracting the muscles that need to release in order to facilitate bowel movement. So usually, I need to drink some espresso after practice and sit around for a bit before the bowels will start moving again.

My apologies if all this is TMI for you. But hey, we are all humans who need to eat, sleep and poop (hopefully everyday): If we don't talk about this, what can we talk about? I'll like to hear your thoughts on this matter. If you don't feel comfortable discussing this in the blogosphere, feel free to email me at siegfried23 at hotmail dot com.


  1. "On days when I go into practice without having moved my bowels, my practice really doesn't feel any more heavier or more difficult"

    Again, wait until you add Karandavasana. At some point you'll probably start associating failure in the pose with having eaten too much for dinner and/or having done so too late. Might not be true--might be totally psychological--but it'll become a distraction; the moment you start thinking "Why did I eat so much last night?" while balancing on your forearms and trying to take lotus instead of concentrating on doing the asana is the moment you fall to the ground and have to start over. Not to scare you or anything. :-)

    3 words from David Garrigues: "Dinner is finished." (At 1:13 in this video: http://vimeo.com/11792784)

  2. Hmm... that does sound scary, Frank :-) Thanks for the headsup on this. I'll have to remember this when I get to Karandavasana.

  3. Spot on Frank! :)
    I don't think it's psychological, either.. for me.

    And Nobel, if there's any doubt, you'll know for sure when you balance your guts on your elbows in mayurasana :)

  4. I wonder if Mel is reading. She had to listen to me agonise over karandavasana the whole time in Goa, where the dinners were SO. GOOD. and the karandavasanas were very resistant to coming back up...

  5. Hello Susan,
    yes, I'm trying to picture balancing my guts on my elbows in Mayurasana right now... I wonder if Mayurasana would have the effect of pushing the waste material out of one's body right away if one's digestive tract (or wherever the waste is stored) happens to be full at that very moment? It would be quite unpleasant, I would think...

    And yes, I have read about the Aloo Gobis in Goa... :-)

  6. I think it's difficult to differentiate whether it's psychological or real. Our minds are quite susceptible to suggestions. If you're convinced your practice should be more difficult without doing the #2 beforehand, then it will feel that way. On the other hand, if some evidence suggests this is not so, you might no longer "feel" the difference, or attribute the difference to something else (maybe your muscles are more sore today than yesterday, maybe you didn't sleep well last night, etc etc). I wonder if a full colonic procedure will make a significant difference, LOL.

  7. Interesting, Yyogini. I wonder, though, about the limits of suggestion: Surely there are some physical sensations that are so strong and so strongly correlated with certain things that no amount of suggestion will get us to think otherwise? I don't know if this is so. I'm just wondering...

  8. Here's a youtube video about the placebo effect. It's really about how strong the effects of suggestion and beliefs can be: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfRVCaA5o18

    I guess the trick is to believe what you believe in, and have a kick ass practice every time you manage to move your bowels before a practice :)

  9. Yyogini: That is pretty freaking weird (complete with British or Australian accent). Hmm... now this is a bit scary: I hope our entire practice is not one big placebo...

  10. Well I don't normally eat dinner, I have at least 80% of my food intake before say 3pm. If I go to Goa and load my plate down with delicious curries at 6pm, practice simply isn't the same in the morning, and it isn't placebo effect. I wouldn't be able to maintain my practice if I ate large meals in the evening here, it's simply too uncomfortable. There's also a weight difference and a noticeable visual difference in my case. But the issue doesn't really come up until 2nd and 3rd series, it doesn't make much difference in primary, which is convenient because that would be really off-putting to beginners!! But if you really are using the bandhas, which is really necessary to cope with some postures, then quite simply you will find they don't engage as well with a midriff full of half-digested food. You can maybe get by with more superficial muscular groups, but practice will be extremely tiring. Once in a while, OK, but on a regular basis, it would kill me. That's my experience! Everyone is different, and if there are any yogis who can get up and do 3rd series after large meals in the evening, then they must simply have a very different system from me! I guess it also depends on what you eat, and whether you are prone to bloating and water retention, age (I swear I used to have a cast-iron stomach)... some people may be able to pig out in the evening and feel light as a feather in the morning. We all have the bits of the practice that are easy for us.

  11. Ah, Susan, much food for thought you have given me (no pun intended :-))

    "some people may be able to pig out in the evening and feel light as a feather in the morning."

    I don't exactly pig out in the evening, but I definitely have about 50 percent of my food intake in the evenings (usually between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) I have never really believed in having a heavy lunch (because of the post-heavy-lunch-slump), so I tend to make it up during dinner.

    I have never really felt light as a feather in the morning, but I don't know if this is because of undigested food or because I'm feeling sleepy. So far, I have been able to get through my practice okay. Then again, I only do second up to pincha, so this may not mean anything.

    I have also noticed that since adding the second series postures, I have been getting hungry more often; which probably means that my body needs more food, if I read my body correctly. Isn't there a problem here? The further one goes in the practice, the more food one needs (presumably because more heat is generated and more energy is needed to keep this up); but the more food one eats, the harder it is to do the practice.

    I suppose one solution is to eat only one big meal a day (breakfast/brunch), and eat very little throughout the rest of the day... Isn't this what Grimmly calls the Pandava diet? But this is hard, man...

  12. Normal breakfast, big lunch, snack. Eating in the evening is just a habit :-)

  13. Thanks for the suggestion, Susan. :-) Will look into this.

  14. I think for me this is where coffee brings benefits... the morning is good for all that release if you know what i mean. I absolutely find that it is a lot easier or me to practice if the pipes are clean...

    I also do not eat later than 5 if possible, although many times that is not possible, then it might be 7 but never later than that which ensures a 12 - 16 hour fast... I find this does wonders to regulate me...

    thanks for the link!

  15. Hello Claudia,
    yes, coffee is indeed helpful in jump-starting the digestive system in the morning. I like the way you describe it ("the pipes are clean") :-)