Yoga: The True Path to Awesome Poops
Yoga does many wonderful things. It clarifies the mind and provides a solid ethical foundation for a productive, happy life. For physical fitness and a way to make loving friendships that last, it can hardly be topped. It can be a path to spiritual ecstasy. But for me, one of yoga’s most profound benefits is also one of its most simple:
If you practice regularly, you take awesome poops.
The masters think so, too. BKS Iyengar’s first instruction in Light On Yoga is that you should “evacuate” your bowels before practice. In general, I try to follow that maxim, but the after-yoga sit is so much sweeter. When I’m grinding myself through another brutal Ashtanga primary series, or holding artachandrasana for a seeming eternity, the thought of my coming yoga poo often gets me through. Sure enough, about an hour after I get home, a five-dollar foot-long, a quarter pounder, emerges from my body like some sort of fecal alien. I gaze at it in wonder, and yoga redeems itself yet again. The pain of practice is worth the resulting endorphine release. After a particularly good session, sometimes the day brings two poops, or even three. You could build a log cabin with the magnificent yoga-caused arrays that I produce. My insides are scraped clean and my steps get bouncier. It makes me want to practice again.
Lest you think I’m being vulgar (or at least needlessly vulgar), yogic literature backs up my shit. Yoga philosophy says that we have an agni, or fire, in the body, located near the navel. Breathing directs the fire. The in-breath creates a wind that moves the flame downward toward the belly, burning up waste matter, and the exhale moves that waste down toward its eventual home in the toilet. If your exhales are twice as long as your inhales, Desikachar writes in The Heart Of Yoga, it provides “more time for freeing the body of its blockages.” In other words, long exhales lead to making poopy. This is particularly true if you’re doing your long exhales while upside down. For this reason, among, I’m sure, many others, inverted postures such as headstand and shoulder stand come toward the end of the practice. Yoga studios might smell very different if they didn’t.
The Yoga Sutra talks about poop as well, in its usual inscrutable way. Desikachar shares this interpretation, straight from the mother-text: “If a farmer wants to water his terraced fields, he does not have to carry the water in buckets to the various parts of his fields; he has only to open the retaining wall at the top. If he has laid out his terraces well and nothing blocks the flow of the water, it will be able to reach the last field and the furthest blade of grass without help from the farmer.”
Translated: You are the farmer, and your body is full of what Desikachar calls “rubbish.” If you practice yoga properly, regulating the breath in a well-designed series of postures, then your internal fire will literally burn away all the crap in your body. As a result, you’ll find yourself reading a magazine in the bathroom with a beatific smile on your face.
Yoga tells us not to become attached to pleasurable things, merely to experience and enjoy them when they come. It’s unhealthy to desire what cannot happen again. Therefore, though I sometimes find myself thinking about excellent poops hours afterward, they can’t be re-created. You don’t automatically turn your agni up to high and expect the deluge. Instead, you need to remain dedicated to your practice, to the integrity of your postures and the quality of your breath. With diligent focus, magical nuggets of reward will emerge when you least expect them. As the late K. Patthabi Jois said, “practice, practice, practice, and all is coming.” Including transcendent quantities of poo.
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