It is difficult to excuse yourself and head to the loo, when you are in the middle of a meeting, or maybe on the road. We are embarrassed to burp in public, even when your body tells you to. Willingly or unwillingly we are suppressing our natural urges. It is considered inadequate and against etiquette to relieve them in public, not to mention the embarrassment. The instances are innumerable where do not listen to our bodies. But why? and at what cost?
Sedentary lifestyles and busy schedules have indeed affected our health and the way we (are supposed to) function. Suppression of urges being one, is not going to make anything better. In fact, it further deteriorates our health.
According to Ayurveda, suppressing natural urges subtly aggravates Doshas, particularly Vata Dosha. Vata is the initiator of many diseases. If the natural urges are ignored for a long time, they can cause serious health issues and fatal diseases.
According to Ayurveda, these inadvertent urges take a major place in the causative factors of disease. A whole chapter in the classical Ayurvedic texts is dedicated exclusively to this topic.1,2 Ayurveda acknowledges 13 natural urges that should neither be suppressed nor should be forcefully initiated. Rather they should be naturally released when they naturally present themselves.
Let’s first take a look at the natural urges. We’ll also explore the effects of suppression of these urges and following that, Ayurvedic treatment.
According to Ayurveda, if these urges are suppressed, they cause various disorders that involve aggravation of Dosha. These aggravated Doshas in turn can cause diseases locally at the site of aggravation or may result in systemic disorders.
Suppressing the urge to urinate for a couple of hours or longer causes pain in the urinary bladder, difficulty in passing urine, headache, and heaviness in flanks. These are the immediate symptoms which demand immediate action. But, habitual/circumstantial holding on to the urge to urinate, which eventually leads to Vata aggravation and causes health disorders.
Suppressing bowel movements causes pain in the lower abdomen and the head, suppression of downward moving Vata (Apana Vata), difficulty in passing stools, flatulence and bloating as well as cramping pain in the calf muscles. This is the main cause of aggravation of Vata as the colon is the seat of Vata. This can lead to a change in the path of the Apana Vata which in turn can cause many serious disorders in the long run.
Suppressing the release of semen or vaginal secretions or for that matter the sexual act itself, causes pain in the genital organs, body aches, mental stress, and a feeble flow of urine through the urethra. Though these symptoms are local, this type of suppression can ultimately result in hormonal, psychosomatic issues, and diseases of the genital tract.
Suppressing the urge to pass gas is done quite frequently, as it is considered a social embarrassment. However, it is normal to pass gas up to 14 times in a day and should not be considered taboo. It is a cause of concern, if the gas is foul smelling or if there is a lot of flatulence. In any case if it is suppressed, it can cause retention of urine, stools, retention of the gas itself, bloating with pain in the abdomen, tiredness, and many Vata disorders. Vata disorders are innumerable as most diseases are initiated by Vata dosha.
Vomiting is a defense mechanism of the body to throw out Dosha, particularly Pitta and Kapha, when they become aggravated. But if this urge is suppressed it can cause itching, rash, loss of appetite or loss of desire to perform daily chores, malesma, edema, anaemia, fever, various skin diseases, and nausea.
Since these disorders come under the purview of Pitta and Kapha aggravation, they can vitiate various tissue systems. Constant suppression of acid reflux by taking antacids and prokinetic drugs, in a way, is also withholding the urge to vomit. It can cause serious disorders in the future including cancer.3
Not letting your body sneeze when it wants to? It can lead to various disorders related to the head region. The nose is considered the doorway to the head and brain. Disruption of the sneeze involves Udan Vata, one of the subtypes of Vata Dosha. A sneeze expels waste with great speed (somewhere to the tune of 100 miles per hour). Suppressing sneezes can affect various vital points called Marma points present in the head region.
The classic texts state that the suppression of the urge to sneeze can cause painful spasms of the neck muscles, headache, facial paralysis, one-sided headache, and depletion of the power of the sense organs present in the head region.
Suppressing the urge to burp can cause a disorder related to the subtype of Vata called Udan or upward moving form of Vata. It can further lead to hiccups (which can be very troublesome), cough, loss of appetite (as Vata also controls hunger), tremors, and heaviness in the region of the heart and chest. These symptoms are Vata dominated disorders but they can have serious health implications, mostly related to lungs and heart.
Suppressing the urge to yawn causes aggravation of Vata. Yawning is a function of the subtype of Vata called Udana or upward moving Vata.
Suppression causes spasm, convulsion, and atrophy of body parts, tremors and loss of sensation. But if you look at the recent theories behind the physiology of yawning, they are related to the optimum functioning of the brain. According to another recent theory, you yawn as your brain gets hotter.4 Yawning cools it down. So if you relate yawning to a defense mechanism of the body to save the brain from damage (although the theory is still being investigated), you can imagine what damage can occur if you suppress the urge to yawn deliberately, just to indicate in social settings that you are neither bored nor sleepy.
Suppressing the urge to eat causes predictable symptoms like emaciation, weakness, loss of luster on the face, body aches and giddiness. However, in short term deprivation, when a person does not eat at the stipulated time, the appetite subsides and the person either does not feel like eating or does not relish the food that much. The Vata and Pitta Dosha get aggravated if the urge to eat is suppressed.
Suppressing the urge to drink water causes issues related to dehydration. The mouth and throat become parched, hearing is lost, and one feels lethargic. It impacts brain functioning, can lead to heart ailments like cardiovascular shock or the possibility of heart attack increases as the blood becomes thick. Practically speaking these are symptoms encountered during acute dehydration, as with the inability to get or hold water due to vomiting and/or diarrhea. Otherwise your thirst center makes sure that you get thirsty according to the needs of the body.
It is also observed that less water intake or the inability to replace fluids lost during exercise, subclinical levels of dehydration may occur. You need somewhere between 48 – 64 ounces of fluid per day, and more in hot climates or if you are exercising heavily. If you do not have enough fluids during the day you definitely put yourself at the risk of stroke and heart attack.5
Such suppression to quench the thirst results in the aggravation of Vata initially and Pitta later. With the ear being one of the important sites of Vata, hearing loss is one of the symptoms encountered early on.
Suppressing the urge to cry can cause rhinitis, eye diseases, diseases of the heart, loss of appetite and giddiness. Tears are our natural response to emotional upheavals like extreme sadness or happiness. Holding onto tears deliberately does not allow you to let go of the emotional urge and thus results in a build up in the subconscious mind. The heart or Hridya is often used as a synonym of the mind. So here the ancient texts imply that holding on to the urge to weep can cause psychological problems. If someone does not vent out their feelings ever, they end up with psychosomatic diseases. Suppression of tears can lead to aggravation of Vata and Pitta.
Suppressing the urge to sleep causes symptoms like repeated yawning, body aches, loss of attentiveness, heavy headedness, deranged mental functions, and heaviness of the eyes. It results in the aggravation of Vata and Kapha Dosha. Adequate sleep is regarded as one of the pillars of health by Ayurveda. The other two pillars are food and a disciplined behavior in all spheres of life, particularly sexual behavior.
Sleep deprivation over a long period of time is a major cause of Vata aggravation and can lead to Vata disorders like arthritis. If the body is sleep deprived, Vata gets aggravated, and as a defense mechanism, it produces more of Kapha - leading to Kapha aggravation. One can start observing symptoms due to both Vata and Kapha aggravation in the short term.
Suppressing rapid breathing after exertion or physical labor causes a feeling of a lump in the throat, chest, or upper abdomen. It also causes problems with circulation like Vaso-Vagal shock, and a loss of consciousness or more precisely a syncope, a temporary loss of consciousness that occurs when the brain does not get adequately oxygenated blood.
Your respiratory rate is approximately 1/4th your heart rate. So, if heart rate increases due to physical work, so should the respiratory rate, and in fact it does. But holding on to it due to any reason can cause the aggravation of Vata, particularly the upward moving Vata called Udan Vata. This can be correlated to the Vagus nerve activity and most of the symptoms are due to Vagal nerve stimulation. If this is practiced for long periods it can lead to the development of heart diseases, and it could be a disorder of the heart rhythm or hypertrophy of heart chambers.
Ayurvedic treatment of the immediate and long term disorders caused by suppression of the natural urges are as follows.
Treatment of disorders arising out of suppression of the urge to burp
Treatment for these disorders is similar to the treatment for suppression of hiccups. It involves the use of food or herbs which can pacify Vata and Kapha and is hot in nature and temperature. Warm castor oil taken at night is one example. This promotes the downward movement of Vata.
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Treatment of disorders arising out of suppression of the urge to Yawn
These disorders can be treated with a Vata pacifying diet, lifestyle and herbs. Most of these disorders are Vata disorders.
Read More: Everything you need to know about Vata diet
Treatment of disorders arising out of suppression of the urge to eat
These disorders can be treated by feeding the person with warm and easy to digest food with a little ghee, like a lentil soup. Cautiously as per the digestive capacity, a more wholesome diet can be introduced increasing the calorie content gradually over the next 48 hours.
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Treatment of disorders arising out of suppression of the urge to quench the thirst
These disorders are treated by giving cooling (not chilled) and nourishing beverages like sherbet or coconut water. Chilled drinks are to be avoided as they will aggravate Vata, will be counterproductive, and make you more thirsty.
Treatment of disorders arising out of suppression of the urge to weep (withholding tears)
These disorders can be treated by putting the person to sleep by gentle stroking, reassurance, massaging the feet and the head with oil, or by using herbs like jatamansi or brahmi. Other remedies include trying to make the person happy or through use of wine, in limited quantity.
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Treatment of disorders arising out of suppression of the urge to sleep
These disorders can be treated by simply going to sleep! But it is not as simple as that. Sometimes the Vata gets aggravated so much that the person is not able to sleep. So in these cases, Ayurveda advocates that somebody should give a gentle squeezing massage to the limbs to make that person fall asleep.
Treatment of disorders arising out of suppression of the urge to breathe rapidly as a result of physical labor
These disorders can be treated by giving the person rest followed by a Vata pacifying diet and lifestyle.
Read More: Everything you need to know about Vata diet
Treatment of disorders due to suppression of urge to urinate
These disorders can be treated by pacifying the Vata and facilitating its downward movement and proper urination. This include fomentation at the level of bladder with a towel dipped in hot water or a water bottle. If the whole lower body is to be treated, the following treatments may be given: sitting in a hot water tub filled with hot water or medicated water, consumption of medicated ghee to pacify Vata, use of special enemas, and administration of medicated oils through the urethra.
Treatment of disorders due to suppression of urge to move the bowels
These disorders can be treated by pacifying the Vata, facilitating its downward movement, and the release of accumulated fecal matter. This comprises of fomentation and massage all over the body in the direction of the hair, and on the abdomen in the clockwise direction, use of medicated suppository, enemas, and use of herbs that break down the built up hard stools and bring them out.
Treatment of disorders due to suppression of urge to ejaculate semen or vaginal secretions
These disorders can be treated first with pacification of Vata followed by facilitation of the formation and movement of the semen/vaginal secretions. This includes massage, tub bath of lower part of the body using different mediums like water, or medicated decoctions. The use of wines for relaxation and to promote happiness, chicken’s meat, use of seasoned rice and milk, and indulging in intercourse.
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Treatment of disorders due to suppression of urge to pass gas
These disorders are treated aggressively as it could be a cause of many other diseases. So to pacify the Vata and to facilitate its downward movement, use of medicated oils internally and externally in the form of massage followed by fomentation, use of medicinal suppository, medicated enemas, and a diet of foods which promote the downward movement of Vata are done. Food which contains some fats like oil or ghee along with salty and sour tastes help in downward movement of Vata.
Read More: Everything you need to know about Vata diet
Treatment of disorders due to suppression of urge to vomit
Unlike conventional medicine, Ayurveda aims to assist in the purging of the Doshas that the body itself is trying to throw out. So the first treatment is to induce vomiting immediately after giving a light meal of semisolid or liquid food. This is done so that the Vata does not get aggravated and the blocked Dosha of Pitta and Kapha that were stopped from coming out are stimulated to come out. After induction of vomiting, medicated cigarettes are smoked by the patient and this is followed by either fasting or a very light meal after the appetite returns.
To take care of the Pitta disorders affecting the blood that results in rashes, bloodletting is advocated. To take care of the related Kapha disorders, foods that are dry in nature (which also pacify Pitta) like popped rice is given. Doing mild exercise at this stage also helps to pacify Kapha Dosha. To take care of the residual Doshas (both Pitta and Kapha) a mild purgation can be given. Easily digestible food is advised for a few days before gradually coming to a normal diet.
Treatment of disorders due to suppression of urge to sneeze
This treatment targets the region above the collar bones as a sneeze involves vitiation of the upward moving type of Vata called Udan Vata. This includes massage on the region above the collar bones, as this is the region of the Udan Vata.
Massage can be followed by steam inhalation, medicated smoke inhalation through the nose, and instillation of oil into the nostrils. All these methods are aimed at pacifying any irritation in the nose and to calm the Vata that gets aggravated in the area above the collar bone. As a prophylactic to further aggravation of Vata, Vata pacifying foods and intake of ghee after the meals is advocated. The purpose of giving ghee after food is very interesting and shows the research and logic used by the ancient Ayurvedic physicians. Ghee is given after meals because the Udan Vata is active at this time of the digestive process. It facilitates the activity of ghee (the Vata pacifying and strengthening effect) to enhance the strength of the upper part of the body.
1 Ashtang Hridaya Sutra sthana chapter 4
2 Charak Samhita Sutra Sthana chapter 7
3 McColl, K. E L. “Acid Inhibitory Medication and Risk of Gastric and Oesophageal Cancer.”Gut. BMJ Group, Nov. 2006. Web. 29 May 2017.
4 Preidt, Robert. “Is Your Brain Overheating? Try Yawning.” WebMD. WebMD, 08 May 2014. Web. 29 May 2017.
5 Salaman, Maureen. “Dehydration Linked To Greater Stroke Damage.” USNews.com. Health Day, 12 Feb. 2015. Web.
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