No question that many of us find the holiday season a bit more stressful than blissful. Besides the holiday season, December coincides with constipation awareness month.
Constipation is one of the most common GI complaints. Different factors like age, female sex, neurological conditions, history of sexual abuse, and medications can contribute to constipation in addition to dietary factors (LaCross et. al, 2022).
For many people, muscles come into play as well which is where us, pelvic floor PTs, can really help you out.
The Rome criteria serves as the diagnostic tool for constipation. If you experience two or more of the following symptoms, you are constipated.
Rome IV Criteria for functional constipation (Rome Foundation, 2016).
Symptoms must occur 6 + months before diagnosis and should be present for the
last 3 months
Must include 2 or more of the following:
- Straining during more than 25% of defecations
- Lumpy or hard stools more than 25% of defecations
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation more than 25% of evacuations
- Sensation of anorectal blockage or obstruction more than 25% of defecations
- Manual maneuvers to facilitate more than 25% of defecations
- Fewer than 3 spontaneous bowel movements per week
- Loose stool rarely present without the use of laxatives
- Insufficient criteria for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
So yes, according to this criteria, you can go everyday but still may be constipated. Conversely, you may not go every day and that can be perfectly okay. IBS has its own classification, but many with IBS suffer from constipation.
Where do the holidays come in?
Scientists are studying the enteric nervous system or gut-brain connection in detail. Your gut reacts to more than the food you ingest. Lifestyle factors like daily routine, stress, exercise, and sleep impact your gut.
In addition to all the delicious foods you may eat, the holidays can turn your daily routine upside down and cause a lot of stress.
Movement is great for everything, especially your GI system. We love yoga because it makes your abdominal region move in different ways. When you do yoga, you help mobilize your gut. Plus, the mindfulness and connection to breath are a great way to take a few minutes to step away from holiday stress.
Try these yoga postures to keep your gut “merry” this holiday season.
All poses can be done from anywhere from 5 breath plus
*While high waisted clothing looks great, let your belly breath. We want to mobilize after all. Roll down high waisted leggings.
Pranayama, or breath work, generally focuses on breathing that can help zen you out and tap into the parasympathetic nervous system and/or getting the belly and ribs involved.
See the diaphragmatic breath below
Inhale, let your belly and ribs rise and expand while your chest stays pretty still
Exhale, let your belly gently fall back toward the spine
Another pose that’s great to mobilize your belly and a bonus lengthening of the pelvic floor on the inhale.
Inhale, drop your belly, tilt your tailbone toward the sky and look forward
Exhale, tuck your tailbone under, round your back, and look down
Low crescent lunge
This pose lengthens your hip flexors which run very close to the ascending/descending colon.
Sitting in the car for a few hours to visit relatives? This pose feels much needed and amazing.
Start on all fours
Step one foot forward to create a 90 degree bend
Your back knee remains on the ground just behind your hip to keep pressure off your kneecap
Tuck your tailbone under to intensify the stretch
From this position you have the option to bring hands to heart center (shown below) or lift your arms up overhead and add a mini back bend
Repeat whichever variation you chose on the other side
Twisted low lunge
Twisting through your abdomen is another great way to mobilize your GI system.
Follow the steps for low crescent lunge bringing your hands to heart center
With an inhale, imagine lengthening through the crown of the head and growing a little taller in your spine
As you exhale, twist, anchoring your opposite elbow to the front knee
You can gaze up toward the ceiling if that feels okay for your neck
In this stretch, you open up your pelvic floor as well as getting a nice stretch of surrounding muscles like your adductors, hamstrings, and glutes.
Lie down on your back
Bend your knees and pick your feet up off the floor
Grab behind your thighs or onto the feet
You can play with the distance between your knees depending on your comfort level
Try to keep the tailbone heavy
Standing forward bend
In yoga, deep forward bends are thought to be calming poses. We certainly can all use a little calm in our life but especially during the holidays. Use this pose to just let go of tension in your body physically and emotionally.
Start with feet hip width distance apart, toes spread to anchor into the mat below you
Exhale, and fold forward aiming your hands a few inches in front of your toes to keep some length in your spine.
Avoid locking out your knees during this posture
Ready to de-stress, mobilize, and keep your gut healthy? Give these poses a try.
And as always, if you’re struggling with constipation and these tips just don’t cut it, our pelvic health specialists are ready to help you.
LaCross, Jennifer A. PT, DPT, PhD(c)1; Borello-France, Diane PT, PhD2; Marchetti, Gregory F. PT, PhD2; Turner, Rose MLIS3; George, Susan PT, DPT4. Physical Therapy Management of Functional Constipation in Adults Executive Summary: A 2021 Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline From the American Physical Therapy Association’s Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy: July/September 2022 – Volume 46 – Issue 3 – p 147-153 doi: 10.1097/JWH.0000000000000245