I have brought you here today to talk about something very dear to my heart – poop. Yep, I’m goin’ there. We might as well get it out of the way because if you come see me in clinic, I will ask you about this – digestive health and comfort in your gut are very important, in my opinion. There are even schools of thought in Chinese medicine that focus entirely around it as if your digestion were the center of the universe!
As a kid, my family didn’t really talk about poop. Fart jokes were all the rage with my dad, but my mom on the other hand didn’t think it was “lady-like” to do them, or talk about them. I personally thought it was hilarious, but we never really got into talking about poop. Unless of course it was really smelly – again, enter the dad jokes. Mom also didn’t think this was very funny.
As an adult, I lived in China for a few years. I remember one of the first times I went to see the Chinese herbal medicine doctor there and he asks me, “So what about your bowel movements?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Size, color, how many times a day, smell…” I didn’t know how to respond and hadn’t thought about it that much. “Sounds like you’re constipated,” he said. I didn’t think I was constipated… I mean, wasn’t I going every week? He gave me some herbs, sent me on my way and in the next couple days, I understood what he meant.
Everyone’s idea of a bowel movement is different I’ve noted. For some, once every 3 days is normal. For others, 3 times a day is their normal.
On the topic of constipation, we can look at it as having multiple physical and emotional relations. From an energetic sense, it could be a kind of holding, or stress binding your body and organs tightly so the wastes are unable to leave. But physically there are many ways this can happen as well – not enough fiber, not enough fluids, etc. This goes back to your digestive state – how are you digesting things you intake? Whether it be food, information, or your environment, this all can translate to poor assimilation and releasing of wastes. And you thought going to the bathroom was easy!
There are many ways to address this issue from a Chinese medicine standpoint. A book was recently published with translated case studies of Dr. Yu Guo-jun - my teacher Craig Mitchell worked on the translation of this book which is entitled A Walk Along The River: Transmitting a Medical Lineage through Case Records and Discussions (which you can find here). There is one case in here I found intriguing about constipation in a new light. Often when we find (and you could probably guess this) that if someone is not able to go the bathroom regularly, they don’t have enough fluids, fruits or veggies in their diet, they’re very stressed out, or they don’t have enough time to go to the bathroom in the morning (this is oversimplified with some things I mentioned above, but you get the point). In this particular case, they talk about what Chinese medicine calls Qi and blood deficiency – a deficiency of Qi, which is your vital energy – the force that enables things to move, circulate and nourish you, could be lacking in the body which makes it unable for your digestive organs to do their job. You can imagine your poor little large intestine just being like, “Hey man, I don’t have any juice down here to do my job! Quit working so hard up there!!” Your intestine needs a certain amount of natural peristalsis to push your poo through – if you don’t have that energy there to begin with, it won’t move, so you might not go to the bathroom as much, or you will strain a lot, which can lead to hemorrhoids, fissures and other not-so-fun stuff.
So it may not just be about the way you eat! Basically what I'm saying is that numerous factors can play into why you're not going.
Something to think about: A “normal” bowel habit (in my opinion) is usually 1-2x a day, you feel like you’re complete when you’re finished and not tired, burning or uncomfortable, there is not much straining involved, they are well-formed, easy to pass and sure they smell, but not so badly that you want to run out of the bathroom yourself when you’re done! Other things that might be something to look at is undigested food in the stool, mucus in the stool, frequent loose stool, gas, bloating, and pain the gut.
If you’re struggling with abnormal bowel movements and habits and haven’t tried acupuncture and herbal medicine yet, you should! I have seen many people benefit from this, including myself.