Yoga For Diarrhea
Diarrhea, characterized by frequent loose stools or loose motions, is a condition of the lower half of the gastrointestinal tract. Usually it lasts less than a week and resolves on its own. The body loses some nutrients and minerals along with the water that is eliminated with the stools. Therefore diarrhea needs attention even at its onset, since ignoring it can make it last for longer; and also it can lead to an undiagnosed infection worsened by dehydration as well as loss of nutrients and electrolytes. Depending upon the history of the individual and the duration for which symptoms last, diarrhea can be acute or chronic.
Diarrhea that is caused by external agents such as dietary intolerance, allergy, food poisoning, or a microbial infection, subsides as soon as the unwanted/ allergic food substance or the microbe exits the body. It is therefore called acute diarrhea and typically lasts for less than a week.
Diarrhea that is caused by an underlying condition such as irritable bowel syndrome or chronic acidity (known as gastro esophageal reflux disease or GERD) often stays for long or even forever. It can also recur i.e. come and go on its own. In this case it is called chronic and needs the root disorder to be rectified.
Mechanism of Diarrhea
Food once mixed with digestive juices in the stomach is stirred and mixed by the stomach for at least two hours for a medium sized meal. It is then passed on to the small intestine so that it can absorb nutrients, minerals and water from the slurry of digested food. It is the function of the small intestine to take as much time as needed and extract all nutrients, minerals and water from the food. It usually takes the small intestine four hours to absorb the needed components and then send the remaining paste to the colon i.e. the large intestine. The large intestine may take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours to completely separate and eliminate the waste after digestion and absorption has been performed.
If the intestinal muscles discard the slurry of digested food sooner than normal and without absorbing all the useful components, the resultant stool is watery. It is not eliminated all at once but requires frequent visits to the toilet. This is called diarrhea.
Diarrhea is only characterized by loose and watery stools with frequent removal of the stools. The abdomen may also feel bloated. Diarrhea itself can be a symptom of many other acute conditions such as infections or allergies.
CausesThe cause of diarrhea decides if it is going to be chronic or acute. It could be physical i.e. originating from within one’s body, or lifestyle-related i.e. coming from an external source.
- Swimming in public pools: it may surprise you but every drop of pool water hosts many kinds of bacteria that can make the swimmers sick with diarrhea for upto five weeks! Diseases like cryptosporidiosis and cholera are spread through water and diarrhea is the first sign of being infected with water-borne illnesses.
- Microbial infections: Microbes including bacteria and viruses may enter the body via street food, stream or spring water, or droplets from another person’s mouth. They are not accepted by the body and it starts its immune mechanism to flush out the microbes. This flushing is done by means of diarrhea and vomiting.
- Substance abuse: some drugs and medications prescribed to minimize withdrawals of drugs greatly affect the working of your gut. Diarrhea is often a part of withdrawal symptoms originating from when someone is quitting a drug.
- Laxative overdose: people with constipation who rely on laxatives and women who have just delivered might be taking stool softeners may sometimes find their stools more watery than usual. It happens when the dose has been taken even while it wasn’t anymore required.
- Food poisoning: stale and rancid food also has microbial growth in it. This food if consumed is not accepted by the body and is discarded fast without absorption. This kind of diarrhea is a protective measure of the body’s immune system.
- Vaccination: vaccines that contain live cultures may also cause diarrhea along with slight fever, nausea and body ache. It happens only at the first dose and is resolved within three to four days of getting the dose.
- IBS: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition in which a person may get diarrhea and constipation on alternate days or even simultaneously. This is a condition of the mental state where nervousness and fear triggers strong or weak intestinal movements.
- GER and GERD medications: medications prescribed for gastro esophageal reflux or acid reflux; make the stomach empty faster than normal and it disturbs the flora of the intestines. The result is an incompletely digested and poorly absorbed stool.
- Lactose intolerance: Some individuals cannot digest milk and milk products because of the presence of lactose (a kind of glucose) in them. On consumption of dairy, they face diarrhea which resolves within a day or two.
- Wheat allergy: some people also have intolerance towards wheat and wheat products on consuming which they pass loose stools.
- Menstruation: the uterine muscles contract in order to discard its lining. The uterus is fitted close to the intestines and sometimes the intestinal movements are disturbed by uterine movements. This is the reason why some women have an episode or two of diarrhea at the onset of menstruation.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy hormones can be crazy and bring constipation, diarrhea, vomiting and what not – all at once! It resolves in the later months or after delivery.
Diarrhea is not complicated in itself but it causes serious loss of water and nutrients especially if it doesn’t resolve for more than a week.
- Nutritional deficiency: the intestines empty faster in diarrhea. It doesn’t give them the time required to absorb nutrients and minerals from food. It causes a lack of especially those nutrients that are water soluble and are required by the body every day, for example: vitamin C, folic acid, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, etc.
- Dehydration: water loss is a prominent condition correlated with diarrhea. Important minerals such as sodium, potassium, zinc, magnesium etc. are also lost along with water in diarrhea.
Yoga Practices For Diarrhea
Yoga is not just preventive but also healing. A few of the exercises that target the intestines and regulate their movement are recommended during diarrhea:
‘The plough pose’: this is an inverted pose, but not an advanced one. It inverts the lower GIT. It prevents downward movement of the bowels, hence allowing more time for absorption. It should be practiced on a folded blanket, a thick mat or carpet, or on a bed that’s not bouncy.
- Lie on your back.
- The arms should rest on the sides of the body.
- Push the floor with the palms and lift both legs up.
- Maintain the natural curve of the back while lifting the legs.
- The knees shouldn’t bend.
- Move the legs further in the same direction until they rest on the mat behind your head.
- Exhale while doing so.
- Support the back with the palms.
- This is the final position.
- Resume normal breathing in the final position.
- Stay in the final position for at least 10 seconds.
‘The all-organ pose’: this pose benefits the whole body. This is an inverted pose, and is advanced too. If one is unable to perform Sarvangasana, similar benefits for diarrhea can be achieved from Halasana only. This pose also requires a thick mat or carpet, or a folded blanket.
- Lie on your back.
- The arms should be resting on both sides of the body.
- Exhale fully.
- Raise both the legs without bending them at the knees.
- Support the buttocks and the back with your hands. The elbows should be resting on the mat.
- Align the feet, the knees, the pelvis and the chest in a straight line perpendicular to the earth.
- This is the final position. Resume normal breathing in the final position.
- Practice three repetitions.
- Care should be taken not to strain the neck.
‘The corpse pose’: this pose is the greatest of all because of the relaxation it brings. One lies like a dead person but observes their body processes without moving. It restores peace and stability. Specifically for digestive disorders, it restores the natural state of all body organs and physiological processes. It can be done anywhere: on grass, on the bed, on a mat/ carpet etc. Shavasana should better be performed with guidance of an expert.
- Lie on your back.
- The arms should lie on both sides of the body.
- Close both the eyes gently.
- The back should be relaxed.
- The natural curve of the spine should be maintained.
- The palms and the fingers should be in a neutral position.
- There should be no strain in any body part.
- Breathe deeply with the help of abdominal muscles.
- Go to sleep or wake up after some time.
The body responds to yoga practices very fast, especially when the person is making efforts by changing their diet during ongoing illness. One should keep in mind the following points for when they or someone in their house has got a diarrhea:
- Drink enough water: water loss should be replenished at regular intervals to avoid dehydration.
- Drink electrolytes: electrolytes make hydration easier. Electrolytes are sodium, potassium, etc. found in salt, coconut water, banana, etc.
- Eat fresh yogurt: fresh yogurt has a property of binding loose stools.
- Eat bananas: bananas are excellent for the gut.
- Eat more fiber: fiber absorbs water in the bowel and makes the stool thick and soft.
- Eat light meals: small and light meals consisting of dal & rice should be given. Tapioca is also a light meal.
- Drink milk: Milk has the tendency to loosen stools. It should be avoided during diarrhea.
- Eat spices and seasonings: diarrhea stools contain partly digested food which brings pungency to it. They hurt the anus and the skin around it.
- Eat packed & processed food: packed and processed food has preservatives and unhealthy fats. It should be avoided at least until diarrhea has been treated.
- Eat pickles: the gut loses its protective lining of mucus after some watery stools. Pickles hurt the lining from the inside.
- Eat bloating foods: diarrhea can also be accompanied by bloating i.e. puffiness, as long as diarrhea doesn’t resolve, bloating foods like cabbages and beans should be avoided.
- Drink sodas: sodas i.e. aerated drinks may be tempting especially when you have an upset gut, but they should ideally be avoided because they cause dehydration. Same is the case with coffee.