What Does a Healthy Bowel Movement Look Like?
If you’re one of my clients, we’ve had the poop talk.
Yes, you read that right! Healthy bowel movements are integral to our overall wellbeing. Just as symptoms like rashes, irregular periods, and fatigue can be a clue that something is out of whack with our bodies, our waste products also provide important insights into our health.
According to Ayurveda, there are three types of waste products:
Purīṣa (feces) — provides strength and maintains vāyu and agni.
Mūtra (urine) — removes excess fluid from the body.
Sveda (sweat) — keeps the skin moist and delicate.
Today, we’re going to focus on Purīṣa, meaning your poop.
Before we make that trip to the bathroom, our body goes through a complex digestion process to form excrement. Feces is the final solid waste product of that process.
Digestion is a process made up of many small steps, or energies that make up the whole. According to Ayurveda, these sub-steps are called "sub-doshas". Per Ayurveda, the process of food digestion begins when chewed food lands in the belly through the process of swallowing (prana vata). The digestive juices from your GI tract (pācaka pitta) are mixed with a movement (samāna vāta) that transitions semi-digested food from the stomach to the duodenum. These "sub-doshas" are responsible for helping to digest the actual food you eat, separating the nutrients from the waste, and then moving semi-digested food particles to the small intestine followed by the large intestine. As they move further down the line, all of the nutrients extracted from the remaining food particles, leaving the "garbage" behind. What's left accumulates in the colon prior to excretion. The last step of the process is the actual act of defecation which moves excrement out of the body due to a downward pushing wind (apāna vāta) While this doesn't outline every step or every function, it helps us see that many small steps are critical to pass a healthy bowel movement.
While we often consider a bowel movement a "waste product", it's also a huge indicator of health as we know it.
In 2015 on a trip to Thailand, I visited an elephant sanctuary where they showed us how to care for the elephants. We each were assigned an elephant that we cared for, which included feeding, loving and checking for disease. They showed us how their feces could indicate whether they were getting sick, dealing with indigestion, etc. I found it fascinating as we usually think of poop as poop. While we as humans can communicate with one another to share what's going on, we don't realize that our excrements can also say a lot about our state of health. The body doesn't lie.
Much importance is given to the nature and regularity of our bowel movements within Ayurveda. Let’s take a look at the signs of a properly functioning digestive symptom.
What Does a Healthy Poop Look Like?
According to Ayurveda, normal, healthy stool is:
Medium brown in color
Well-formed (versus diarrhea or small pieces)
Not overly smelly
Able to float in water
Medium in nature (not very soft or very hard)
Easy to pass without pain or force
Free from any blood, mucus, or visible food products
Just by looking at our bowel movements, we can tell if we are constipated, if we need more fiber in our diet, or if we’re experiencing inflammation. The Bristol Stool Chart, developed by doctors Ken Heaton and Stephen Lewis in 1997, provides a helpful guide for assessing the health of our digestive tract.
How Often Should I Poop?
Although how often you poop can change with the quantity and nature of food you’re consuming, one or two bowel movements a day is generally considered normal. Pooping first thing in the morning is ideal and a sign of a healthy digestive system.
Diet isn’t the only thing that can affect our ability to pass healthy stool at regular intervals; stress also plays a role. If you’ve ever had diarrhea during periods of anxiety or found yourself backed up for a few days after a lot of travel, you’ve experienced "stress poops".
Stress poops are a perfect example of how other aspects of our health affect our digestive system and vice versa. Establishing a peaceful morning routine using Ayurveda will help you train your body to have a bowel movement each morning, setting you up for a successful day.
Did You Know…
The defecation process involves both voluntary and involuntary muscles. While we can control the excretion of feces, the impulse to excrete is involuntary. In Saṁskṛta, natural urges such as this are called vegas, and they should never be repressed.
If we repress the urge to defecate, it can lead to pain in the colon and head, obstruction of gas and feces, and cramping in the calves.
Questions to Ask Yourself
If you’re ready to get candid and curious about how healthy your digestive system is, ask yourself these questions:
How often do you poop?
Do you notice any pain while having bowel movements? How about gas? Blood and/or mucus in your stool?
Are your bowel movements often extremely foul-smelling?
Do your bowel movements feel complete? Or are you often left feeling constipated even after pooping?
Do you consistently experience gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, sour burps, nausea, or heavy feelings in the stomach?
Do you need a supplement or laxative to pass a bowel movement?
What is your general energy level?
Do you find yourself hungry for meals?
Your bowel movements are a window into your overall health so don’t be afraid to start paying more attention to this often taboo toilet topic!
If you're reading this realizing that your bowel movements aren't quite "normal", and that stress may have something to do with it, now's the time to address it before it gets worse. Challenges such as chronic diarrhea and chronic constipation can have long-term health effects if not addressed. If you're stress is getting in the way of your health and well-being, now's a great time to end your burnout once and for all. Schedule your free Breakthrough Session.