Feeling backed up? Instead of hitting the drugstore for over-the-counter relief, first consider natural ways to spur on number two.
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In addition to consuming adequate fiber and water, engaging in daily physical activity will help to keep you regular and combat constipation, says Mark Stephens, yoga instructor and author of the forthcoming book Yoga Adjustments Deck.
Though all movement is beneficial for boosting the bowels — since it stirs things up inside and spurs your stool along — the following five moves are particularly practical for promoting a poop.
1. Seated Meditation
Nerves and anxiety can mess with your body, including your bowels. Psychological stress even cause bowel dysfunction in some people, according to an August 2014 review published in Expert Review of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. That's because your brain impacts what's happening in your gastrointestinal tract.
So, if you're feeling constipated, you might need to reset your mind. Meditation and breathing exercises can calm your restless brain and help your body relax. And when you're feeling loose and less tense, nature can take its course.
When you do a seated meditation, it's important to focus on your breath and "visualize great ease in your belly, in your heart, and in your life," Stephens says.
- Sit as comfortably tall as you can on the floor (if necessary, use a bolster or chair).
- With your eyes resting lightly closed, tune into your breath and the natural ways your body moves with the breath, noticing how inhales create greater space and how exhales cause your belly to gather in.
- With your awareness in the breath, gradually breath slightly more deeply, consciously filling your lungs with each inhale, and just as consciously emptying them with each exhale.
- As you draw the breath in, visualize (and try to create) more space in places you feel compression or discomfort. As you release the breath out, go slightly more with the natural girdling in of the belly, concentrating that pressure where you most feel tension in your belly.
- Continue in this way for 3 to 5 minutes, then allow the breath to flow freely, with no effort, while keeping your awareness in the sensation of the breath and the movements it causes in your body.
2. Crescent Lunge Twist
"This pose in conjunction with deep breathing may help with healthy digestion and relief from constipation," says Stephens, adding that "simple twists can support the gastrointestinal tract's natural peristalsis."
In other words, the wringing motion gently massages and stimulates your digestive tract, helps food move through your body and drives detoxification.
- Start standing, then step forward with your right leg into a lunge.
- Keep your right knee bent, stacked above your heel, and your left leg extended straight back.
- Place your right hand on your right hip to help stabilize the hip and reach the left arm straight up to help lengthen through that side of the torso. Reach forward while twisting to the right, placing the left elbow on the right knee and placing the palms together ("prayer" position) to give greater support to the spinal twist.
- Hold this position for 1 to 2 minutes while maintaining the steady rhythm of the breath. With each inhale, slightly release from the twist; with each exhale explore twisting a little more, concentrating the twist in the mid-spine and belly while being attuned to any discomfort in the low back or neck.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
For an even greater stretch, try drawing your left shoulder across the right knee and reaching your left hand to the floor next to your right foot. If you can, stretch your right arm overhead as though in a straight line from the back leg.
3. Butterfly Crunch
Working the ab muscles in a rhythmic fashion can stimulate a bowel movement by increasing the blood flow to the gut and triggering peristalsis. This can help push stool through to the colon a bit more quickly.
So, when you're backed up, hit the mat and try busting out some butterfly crunches — just make sure a bathroom is nearby.
- Lie on your back with your knees open and the soles of your feet touching (in a butterfly position). Reach your arms overhead.
- While exhaling, raise your head and shoulders and crunch your rib cage toward your pelvis, reaching your arms in front of you.
- Pause at the top of the movement, then slowly return to the starting position.
4. Cobra Pose
In this pose, breathing deeply into the belly may "help relieve pressure in your lower back and stimulate movement in your GI tract," Stephens says. That's because, when you fully complete each exhale, you engage your abdominal muscles, which lightly presses on parts of the GI tract. This stretch may also alleviate other stomach symptoms like gas.
- Lie on your stomach with your forehead on the floor, place your palms down on the floor by your shoulders, shrugging the shoulder blades down the back.
- Press the tops of your feet firmly down into the floor to activate the legs and press your tailbone back toward the heels.
- Lift your chest as high as possible without using the hands, then press your hands down, lifting your chest slightly higher with each inhale, drawing the spine forward toward the heart.
- Keep your shoulders down the back to maintain space around your neck and across the chest.
- Continue in this manner, moving breath by breath to the deepest back bend while remaining comfortable. Lift only so high as the belly button remains on the floor, thereby protecting the low back from excessive pressure.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths before slowly releasing down, then repeat this posture 2 to 3 times.
5. Happy Baby
If you're having problems pooping, you might have tight pelvic floor muscles. In case you didn't know, the pelvic floor is a group of muscles covering your tailbone to your pubic bone, which control, among other things, defecation, according to Harvard Health Publishing. During bowel movements, these muscles must relax to let your poo pass. So, if they're stiff, your stool might get a little backed up.
Deep breathing along with gentle postures like Happy Baby, which stretches your inner groin and opens your hips, can help relieve those tense muscles and improve your bowel movements.
- Lying on your back, draw your knees in toward your chest while trying to keep your tailbone on the floor.
- Next, hold onto the outer edges of your feet and stack your ankles over your knees.
- Gently pull down on your feet, drawing your knees toward your shoulders.
- Rock gently from side to side, then hold still while breathing deeply for 1 to 2 minutes.
If this is too much of a stretch in your legs or hips, bend your knees more deeply and hold along the legs rather than your feet.
When to See a Doctor
Occasional constipation can be a normal part of life. However, chronic constipation should be evaluated by a doctor. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of chronic constipation can include:
- Feeling as if your bowels are blocked or won't empty fully
- Straining during bowel movement
- Stools that are hard and lumpy
- Repeatedly having fewer than three bowel movements a week
- Needing physical assistance to remove stool from your rectum