Is Using an Enema Bad for You?
As seasons change, we instinctively change our activities, wardrobes and diets to adapt to these conditions. But have you ever thought about how these seasonal cycles, which are really changes in energy, influence our bodies? We too are part of the same cycle. This should be no surprise if you consider our intricate connection to nature. In Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as other spiritual traditions, the human body is understood as a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm of the universe. This is incredible when you think about it: we are literally embodiments and fractal representations of the universe. Because of this connection, it is only natural for our bodies to be governed by universal laws too. After all, we are made of the same elements: space, air, earth, fire and water.
CHANGING SEASONS, CHANGING BODIES
When seasons change, our bodies, especially our internal organs, respond to these energetic shifts. It is a time of change, detoxification and healing for our bodies. But if we neglect to adapt our physicality with these energetic shifts, we can get out of balance. These imbalances, known as vata imbalances in Ayurveda, are believed to be the root cause of 80 percent of disease. This dosha, or mind-body type, is the leading force of all the activities of the body and is particularly powerful for those with a vata constitution. It is the force behind the process of elimination and governs movement in the mind and body. Our tissues and organs, functions of the mind, sensory and motor organs are all governed by vata. When vata is vitiated, it accumulates in our colon and spreads unbalanced vata in other vulnerable regions of our body. Because of this, our entire body goes out of balance, overflows with toxins, or ama, and becomes susceptible to disease.
Panchakarma is one of the best treatments to balance and ground vata, especially given that fall and winter are the seasons of vata. While there are many different treatments in the panchakarma process (keep your eyes peeled for a blog post all about it), the primary treatment for vata is enema therapy (or basti). Basti is highly revered in Ayurveda because of its healing effects on our colon, which is critical for keeping vata balanced in our bodies. It is a gentle process where fluid is injected into the rectum in order to naturally soften, loosen and eliminate waste, toxins and parasites from the large intestine. It nourishes, lubricates and soothes to clear your body of ama and replace it with balanced energy, vitality, and clarity of mind.
BASTI / ENEMA THERAPY
Enemas are an ancient practice to help heal illnesses, dating back to 1,500 B.C. with roots in ancient Sumaria, Babylonia, India, Greece and China. To this day, it is considered indispensable for overall health and wellbeing. Waste material, dead cellular tissue, accumulated mucous and parasites can accumulate in our colons, ultimately impairing the colon’s ability to eliminate toxins. This often results in sluggish bowel movements and constipation. These symptoms become even more aggravated when coupled with an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle.
Enema therapy, however, directly cleanses, nourishes and heals our colon to enhance our immune system. Not only does it normalize and nourish our internal organs, but by directly balancing vata, it also balances the other two doshas (pitta and kapha). This is why it is so highly regarded in panchakarma therapy. By administering fluids through the rectum, we are directly targeting and treating vata dosha – the main etiological factor in the manifestation of disease – without having to go through the stomach’s digestive process.
BENEFITS OF BASTI / ENEMA THERAPY
- Balancing the vitiated vata dosha (as well as pitta and kapha)
- Enhances the immune system by cleansing and nourishing the colon and digestive tract
- Softens and loosens stools to treat constipation
- Restores bowel regularity
- Eliminates bacteria, heavy metals, fungus, yeast and other toxins from the colon
- Boosts energy levels and mental clarity
- Promotes joint, back and bone health
TYPES OF BASTI / ENEMA THERAPY
There are different types of enema treatments, but the rectal basti is the recommended treatment for vata. Rectal basti comes in two types: niruha basti and anuvasana basti. The niruha basti (herbal) is purifying and cleansing in nature; whereas the anuvasana basti (oil-based) is nourishing, strengthening and oleating. You can alternate between niruha and anuvasana basti to achieve optimal results.
- Herbal Decoction Enema (Niruha Basti): This type of treatment is made with herbal decoctions and is recommended for mornings on an empty stomach. Niruha basti can be held for 15-20 minutes, or longer, for up to 45 minutes. This type of basti is particularly powerful for treating arthritic conditions and nervous disorders, obstruction of urine, stools and flatus; amenorrhoea and infertility.
- Oil Enema (Anuvasana Basti): This type of treatment is oil-based and is meant to nourish, support and ground vata. The oil used for this treatment is typically sesame oil, which can be supplemented with common Ayurvedic herbal compounds such as triphala or ashwagandha. This type of basti can be held for longer periods of time (up to a full day) or as long as possible.
- This is the simplest solution. A water enema is simply an enema done with an enema kit and water. All you need is 2 to 4 litres of filtered water. Bring the water to a boil on your stove top. Remove from heat and allow to cool to a lukewarm temperature so that it is just slightly above body temperature. This is important so do not skip this step.
- Water enemas are most commonly used to loosen the stool so that it can be more easily released. It is also believed to effectively remove toxins from the body. However, make sure that you are using filtered water as to not introduce other additives and chemicals commonly found in tap water.
- A coffee enema consists of using 3 tablespoons of ground, organic coffee to 1 quart of distilled water in a pot. Let it boil for a few minutes then simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, and cool to body temperature.
- Coffee enemas have been used to detox the body. The coffee also stimulates glutathione production, the body’s main antioxidant, in the liver by up to 600-700% above normal levels. It is also known to help support energy, boost immune function, and stimulate peristalsis in order to eliminate parasites and other toxins in the gut.
- Epsom salt enemas consist of combining Epsom salts with filtered water. Add about 4 tbsp of Epsom salts to 2 litres of water.
- These enemas are similar to water enemas in that they are commonly used to relieve constipation.
- Herbal enemas are simply enemas where water is infused with herbal remedies. The herbs are absorbed by the intestinal walls and are directly absorbed by the bloodstream to induce healing.
- A popular herbal enema recipe is to boil a litre of water and to infuse it with chamomile flower. Once cool, the solution is strained and another litre of cool water is added. This is believed to help soothe the colon.
- Enema Bag / Bucket: Enema bags or buckets are affordable and are usually purchased as a kit. My personal preference is a stainless steel enema bucket because it is easier to clean, especially when administering oil concoctions.
- Oil: This is used to make insertion of the rectal tube easier and more comfortable. I use organic coconut oil.
- Good Location: The best place to give yourself an enema, in my opinion, is in the bathroom lying on a rug or towel.
- Concoction: Filtered water or a basti concoction of your choice (see recipes below).
Before basti, you can apply warm oil to your abdomen and lower back, and massage it in a clockwise motion. You could also do a full body massage with warm oil to help loosen toxins before the treatment. Then, apply a warm compress to your abdomen to prime the intestines.
- Make sure the hook of the enema is suspended at the proper height (18-24 inches above the rectum). You could also place the enema on the sink if you are lying on the ground.
- Place a pad or bath towel where you will be lying down.
- Make sure the shutoff clamp is easily accessible so you can reach it while in position.
- Prepare the solution. The temperature of the solution should be slightly above body temperature, between 98 and 105F.
- Fill the enema bag 90% full with the water.
- Lubricate the rectal nozzle with your oil.
- Open the shutoff for a moment NS allow enough solution to flow to expel the air from the enema tubing.
- Lubricate your anal area with a generous amount of oil.
- Lie down on your left side, with the left leg straight and the right knee flexed. Your left arm should be behind your back and if the shutoff is properly positioned you will be able to control it with your left hand. Your right hand will comfortably rest under your head.
- Gently insert the tube 3 to 4 inches into the rectum. Rotate or twist the tube back and forth to make for easier insertion.
- Open the shutoff valve and allow the solution to flow. At the first indication of discomfort stop and wait a few moments. Then release the shutoff and allow the enema to resume. Feel free to interrupt the flow as frequently as is necessary to assist in minimizing any discomfort.
- Take slow deep breaths. As the enema progresses a feeling of fullness will develop. This is normal and discomfort can be minimized by clamping the shutoff valve as needed.
- When the bag is empty, clamp the shutoff and slowly remove the rectal tube. Remain in position and retain the solution for as much time as possible if performing an oil enema or 15-20 minutes if doing a herbal decoction.
- Clean the equipment thoroughly and hang it up to dry.
After doing basti, you should take care to follow vata balancing recommendations. Eat light, grounding, warm and oleative foods. Rest and avoid vata provoking activity, including excessive talking, extremely windy or cold weather, travel, and busy activity. In this way, basti can be used to keep vata balanced on a routine basis, cleanse vata during seasonal transitions, and manage more extreme vata imbalances that are causing issues in the deeper tissues.
There are some general situations where a basti is not recommended, including:
- Inflammation of anal region
- Bleeding from rectum
- Extreme debility and weakness
That being said, basti is generally well tolerated by most people and it should result in 1-2 bowel movements, followed by a feeling of lightness.
What is the purpose of having an enema?
An enema encourages better colon function and elimination. By introducing fluids into the colon, waste material (dead cellular tissue, accumulated mucous, parasites and toxic waste) is softened, loosened and eliminated through natural peristalsis.
Are enemas painful?
In my experience, enemas are painless, but if you are experiencing discomfort, there could be two possible reasons: the wrong position or temperature. Wrong position: make sure you are lying on your left side. Do not give yourself an enema while you are seated on the toilet. Wrong temperature: If your solution is too cold, you can experience excessive cramping. If too hot, it can damage the lining of the bowel. Slightly above body temperature (98-105F) is just right.
What’s the difference between a colonic and an enema?
Perhaps the single most important distinction is that a colonic infers the use of specialized equipment administered by a hydrotherapist in a clinic, while an enema can be performed in the comfort of your own home with a do-it-yourself kit.
Have you ever tried an enema at home? Share your experience and tips in the comments!