The concept of natural urges and their significance as a causative factor in the precipitation of disease is probably unique to Ayurveda. Willingly or unwillingly many people are suppressing their natural urges as they are considered against etiquette to relieve them in public, not to mention embarrassing.
Due to modern day sedentary work culture and busy schedules, some of these urges are simply ignored. According to Ayurveda, suppressing natural urges subtly aggravates Dosha particularly Vata Dosha, which in turn is the initiator of many different disease pathologies. If the natural urges are ignored for a long time they can cause serious debilitating and even 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 causes pain in the urinary bladder and urinary tract in general, difficulty in passing urine, headache and heaviness in flanks. These are immediate symptoms which demand immediate action. But a common variant is habitual/circumstantial holding on to the urge to urinate, which eventually leads to Vata aggravation and causes related 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 and diseases of the genital tract.
Suppressing the urge to pass gas is done quite frequently due to social embarrassment and the notion that it is a taboo and a diseased condition. In fact it is normal to pass gas up to 14 times in a day and should not be considered taboo. If the gas is foul smelling or there is a lot of flatulence, then only it is a cause of concern. In any case if it is suppressed, it can cause retention of urine, stools and 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.
Suppressing the urge to vomit can occur due to the administration of anti-vomiting medicines. It can also be deliberate if the urge is not very strong. Vomiting in fact 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.
As we can see all these disorders come under the purview of Pitta and Kapha disorders and can vitiate various tissue systems. Constant suppression of acid reflux by taking antacids and prokinetic drugs also can amount to suppression of the urge to vomit and can cause serious disorders in the future including cancer.3
Suppressing the urge to sneeze can cause 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 due to the affection of Marma points, one-sided headache and a 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. As you might expected this can cause 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 precipitate serious attack of diseases related to lungs and heart if these organs are already weak. So the suppression of this urge should be avoided.
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. These seem unbelievable but if you look at the recent theories behind the physiology of yawning, they are related to the optimum function of the brain. According to a 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. But one symptom of loss of appetite is also mentioned which seems contradictory. 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 features related to dehydration. The mouth and throat become parched, hearing is lost and tiredness develops. There is a loss of function of the brain and heart ailments like cardiovascular shock or precipitation of heart attack become possible as the blood becomes thickened. 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 seen that due to the habit of taking less water or due to 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
In this regard it was quite intelligent of the ancient proponents of Ayurveda to have mentioned loss of brain function and heart ailments as a possible outcome of inadequate fluid intake. Suppression of the urge 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. Once sleep is deprived and Vata gets aggravated, the body as a defense produces more of Kapha leading to Kapha aggravation. Hence we see symptoms due to both Vata and Kapha aggravation in the short term. But in regular sleep deprivation for a prolonged period Vata aggravation rules.
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 development of heart disease, which 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.
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.
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.
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 and will be counterproductive and produce more thirst.
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.
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.
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 also 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.
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.
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 irritating focus 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 and 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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