previous arrow
next arrow

Cancer Mentality additional information — Our Relationship With Poo

This major function of the body is so integral to every part of health that it deserves to be understood better. The health of our elimination processes is obviously vital to our overall health — how can it not be?

Our knowledge of our bodily functions is often shallow, incomplete, or even faulty (as mine was before I got sick). This is especially so in areas such as Poo, such as any bodily waste, such as sexual functions, because we’ve learned to be embarrassed by these matters, and so the “ick’ factor perpetuates. Whatever knowledge we do have usually stems from what little we might pick up from those around us, even from strangers in the advertising world who want to sell us something. It is often not borne of our own experiences and observational inquiry. Being traditionally a ‘taboo’ subject, even the most well-intentioned parents don’t speak to their children about the wide range of issues surrounding our bodies’ various wastes, nor do teachers, doctors, or other trusted members of society. Thus a cycle has been set up long ago that we perpetuate still; our children revile at hearing of the body’s waste because they have not heard much about it and logically assume it is to be locked away, or have been rebuked for trying to talk about it. I’m sure you know what I mean there (I could go on).

It’s understandable that unless one has a health issue, it is not always obvious that we need to manage lifestyles, diets, attitudes, etc., for the best performance of our bodily functions. However, health conditions may not get the chance to build, or continue to a serious state if we understood our body’s processes more. Let’s learn to talk about these really very miraculous processes!

As well as discussing what physically goes on in waste elimination, I want to talk about our relationship to our waste as it has a lot to do with the Mentality aspect of my Cancer Mentality book. Observing patterns in our toileting helps us to understand ourselves and our health more completely, but I think being disgusted by this part of life is telling of a more general separation from the magic of life somehow, and our need to keep this so private and hidden is not so healthy. I fully realise that this is a personal matter, but I hope that you will see my reasoning.

Why is our excrement given such a bad name when it is (can be) such a wonderful part of life? Surely, we have all experienced that wonderful feeling of having a really satisfying poo. For me it is at once a feeling of relief, of ease with life, a little celebration in my whole lower abdomen, a warm and loving awareness of the joyous functions of my body, a sign of reassurance, a marker of how well I am travelling with my health and my moods (my overall satisfaction with life), and a glorious reminder that my body has control of so many aspects that I don’t even need to think about. How fantastic! What a lovely feeling. I wish that for everyone because I know that this is not everyone’s experience of poo. Also, I am writing as someone who had a tumour in the colon, so I am perhaps more aware of these things than others might be. A brush with serious dis-ease will do that.

I’m pretty sure I know how we came to be repulsed about the subject of poo. Think about how many times parents or caregivers clean up poo-covered bums of babies and toddlers until they can use cleaner, easier facilities such as potties or toilets, or even learn to squat for themselves. Unless they are aware of this reaction and how it can stay with the child, it’s easy, understandable, and very common for the cleaner of the bum to react with words such as “yuk!”, “gross!”, “pew!”, even “that’s disgusting!”. Repeated hundreds of times in that little child’s early life, is it any wonder that they start to think of poo as bad, possibly even of themselves as bad for having done that to their carer? Then smells and needing to clean up such things becomes a self-perpetuating bad experience, potentially for generations to come as similar reactions are repeated.

How it works (roughly)

As part of digestion, poo is formed in the later part of our colon (large intestine) once the stomach and small intestine have done their parts in extracting energy from foods and have worked to eliminate the unwanted components including toxic matter. Our gut microbes work to gather nourishment along the way, and the trillions of these microbes that we co-habit with mostly concentrate in the last part of our colon so that they can do their best work. Water (fluid, moisture) is both extracted from and reintroduced to this mix of waste products as our intelligent gut does its work for us, sending nourishment off for further processing through amazing transportation systems such as blood and lymphatic flow, and continuing to prepare waste for elimination.

To illustrate how this aspect of life can become a health challenge, here is an example. If the small intestine feeds the large intestine a difficult task through what we have consumed, and the large intestine (aka colon or bowel) is not in good condition, meaning it is not filled with an abundance of healthy microbes and a free-flowing path, it will struggle to do its job. Science shows that some food remnants will remain longer than other pieces, perhaps because the gut wants to re-treat it, or because the extraction of nutrients is a little harder than it is for other pieces, and in that case other food should be able to just flow past. However, if waste remains in the colon (which has many tight bends) for a long time and is not helped through the ‘pipes’ and out the ‘valves’ by fibre and moisture then we can develop challenges with our body. These challenges can be shown through symptoms that are localised to the bowel or even the anus, exacerbating the problem by creating even more inflammation, sensitivity, and in some cases producing distended pockets in the walls of the colon that hold food waste and make it difficult for them to be eliminated. Symptoms of an unhappy gastrointestinal tract can present in abdominal areas, or they can affect other systems of the body such as the stomach or oesophagus, can have knock-on effects to other organs, and can even create trouble in the blood or nervous systems.

This becomes simply logical if you imagine festering food waste outside of the body; what toxicity and challenge would this same putrefying create within us?

The study of our gut microbes — those trillions of bacteria (1-2kg of them!) that live in our intestines — is now showing strong links between the health of our gut ‘flora’ (microbiome) and the health of our brain, our nerves, and all that are associated with them. We live in incredibly resilient bodies but when they are pushed out of balance long enough, even by our mentality or attitudes, symptoms will show in unexpected areas.

Continuing the discussion of the on-flow effect of disorders in the gut, the bestselling book Gut by Giulia Enders explains “During an acute phase of their condition, patients with a chronic inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may have real sores in their bowel. With these conditions, the trouble is not that even tiny stimuli are transferred from the gut to the brain – their threshold is still high enough to prevent that. The problems are caused by the diseased mucous membrane of the gut. Like patients with irritable bowel syndrome, sufferers of these conditions also show increased rates of depression and anxiety.” Highlights for me in this text is both “diseased membrane of the gut” and the linkage between bowel conditions and psychological afflictions like depression and anxiety. There is so much more to our health than initially meets the eye, and it’s an exciting time to be alive when research is steaming ahead on topics such as our gut microbiota and their connection to the rest of our lives – our psyche and our physiology.

Poo mentality

This subject is generally a taboo to talk much about. It’s a private thing, and we prefer to have everything to do with this subject just quickly removed so that we can zip back up, look around for reassurance that no-one is judging us, and move quickly back into the stream of life as if ‘that’ experience didn’t happen. Why has this repulsion arisen? Is it ok, or does it create dislike of bodily functions enough to contribute to dis-ease?

Taking this wish to not see our waste to an extreme, we can now buy fancy toilet bowls that are designed to hide the excrement from us by including a ledge above where the poo sits, keeping this ‘unmentionable’ from sight. In the usual Western toilet bowl, as you know, the majority of the poo sits in the water until we flush it away, but in these newer versions it sits covered from view by this ‘ledge’. In removing poo from sight, we remove chances to understand our ongoing health trends, and I think we limit our ability to relate to the needs of our bodies.

Being fearful of changes in stools can create strife. There are officially recognised charts that science uses to describe the types of stools we produce (complete with caricature-type pictures), and some give a quality rating from smiley face through cool sunglasses to sad face. The Bristol Stool Chart shows stools ranging from small and thin to large and fat, from runny to hard-packed, and from small hard balls to very watery consistency. As an amateur, I have been surprised that the quantity eliminated is not also detailed, but in the right (knowledgeable) hands this chart can no-doubt be helpful. I raise this is to express a small warning about how you view this information.

When well-meaning professionals show us charts like this, if they do not take a good amount of time to explain its use clearly, it can make people feel (believe) that they are ‘faulty’ when they see (or are told by a health professional) that a stool they have produced at any time in their lives is sub-standard, or not in the range of ‘desired’ or ‘perfect’ stools. This too-brief advice by health practitioners could be troublesome if we are not guarding ourselves well and getting a thorough understanding of what it all means, as we can easily retain the mindset that we are substandard or faulty, which reduces self-esteem and creates fear.

My body produces varying stools at different times in my life, as do other adults, and I’ve seen this in my young kids’ lives as diets vary, moods vary, the body cleans itself, and various life circumstances create influences on stool size and style. Becoming fearful because of what the Bristol Stool Chart shows to be ‘bad’ poo whenever there is a change in stool appearance is not helpful. It’s fair enough to use these guides to educate, and I know that some folks have long-standing issues with unusual (or ‘bad’) type of poo, but in the main, I see that a healthy person can produce the whole range of stool types at different times in their lives. So the whole range of poo shown on the chart can be just fine if it is not accompanied by other serious symptoms, and is not chronic. To reiterate, asking for more information from our health professionals will allow us to clarify what their words mean, what a diagnosis means, what it means to have this type of stool or that one, and even what the stool chart means.

Don’t be afraid to question the health practitioner’s comments so that you can either gather more clarity for yourself, or even challenge the accuracy of the statistics around the use of the chart, especially if it doesn’t sit well with your own experience. We should not be guided to buy into the fear of having something ‘wrong’ if a stool is unusual in size, shape, texture, or whatever. The point here is to be empowered with a little knowledge and consult professionals if your stool experience is dramatically unusual or you are concerned about long-standing changes in habits.

The pressure we put our bowel under could be an issue for us too. I’ve noted in my book Cancer Mentality that cancer rates are much higher for Westerners than for Asians, wondering if this isn’t in part a cultural effect, aside from the diets that differ. Regarding colon cancer and its many-faceted Mentality, I have wondered whether our Western caution around poo elimination and even flatulence could contribute to illness as we strain to hold gas until it’s appropriate to release it. This idea stems from time spent among Asian tourists in my job recently, when I noticed several times that tour group members farted gently, but loud enough to be heard, and no-one acknowledged at all. I could see that others noticed, but it just wasn’t an issue at all. Is their society more ok with this natural part of life than ours, and could this contribute to their reduced rates of health defects associated with their colons?

I know of people who will hold off from nature’s call for a poo until they have access to a familiar toilet. This can mean hours, or even a whole workday or school day of delay after the bowel gives the signal that it wants to eliminate something. For several physiological reasons this is not healthy, the least of which is that we are training our body not to send signals. Over time this creates challenges with the messaging between the organs and the brain that can be difficult to normalise. Giulia Enders’ book Gut has excellent detail on such matters.


I have learned that the number of people in Australia who are constipated is alarmingly high, and this seems to be prevalent across the developed world. From reading and from talking to wellness practitioners on this topic, I was saddened to learn that some folks poo so rarely that their colon is super-enlarged, caked with faeces that are very old and very difficult to eliminate. This is no doubt scary for them, potentially painful, and no doubt quite sad that they have reached that extreme point, but it is not an irreparable situation.

I think our taboo over the unmentionable subject of poo has helped to create a world in which we don’t know what is normal, what is acceptable, and therefore what is a problem, and this ignorance might exacerbate any challenging situation that arises, because we may be late in getting help. Resources like the Bristol Stool Chart mentioned above will help to start good conversations with health professionals, but it is up to us – the patients – to ensure that we ask enough questions and explore the responses so that we are well-informed. As I said earlier, this chart is also an example of well-intentioned information that can lead to distaste, fear, and even shutting down of the whole subject if not dealt with lovingly and completely.

I’m glad to know that doctors and the like are starting to interrogate patients about the details of their diet, digestion, and excreta as this is such a fundamental part of life. Although we may feel uncomfortable answering questions about such detail, it’s important to work through our inhibitions to give good detail. Our toileting patterns and indeed our responses to health professionals’ questions could heavily influence outcomes, even disguising symptoms if not detailed well. The way we poo, the style of stool we generally create, the volume, the regularity, and more issues can be markers of other health matters for the trained professional. These markers can point to some of the causes (or even to the effects) of other symptoms that we are concerned about in life, even if we wouldn’t link our other symptoms to waste elimination. It’s that influential.

Constipation can be uncomfortable, and even painful. From my experience of constipation as a much younger man (30 years ago), it was mildly painful at times, and hard to diagnose (at least it evaded the doctor and naturopath that I consulted). Part of the reason this evaded the health workers was that the mild pain was in the front, lower part of my abdomen, more likely to be thought of as bladder than bowel, but this example shows how challenging diagnoses can be. Because of the lack of discussion around pooing habits I think we can too easily go along assuming we have normal bodily functions and not know that we have a minor challenge going on there. I taught myself to improve my mild constipation as a young man, doing some research to find simple ways to improve my pooing habits via diet, increased water intake, and by improving my emotional state (becoming more accepting, trusting, happier), yet I wish I had a wiser person to speak with about this so that I didn’t have to invent that wheel when I had pain that professionals couldn’t fix.

I found that I could adjust my diet to help constipation. I included more fibre (especially from fruit, vegetables, and whole grains), more natural food and less processed food, and found very quick improvements in my comfort levels.

I learned to drink more good quality water. As soon as I started to drink at least 2 litres of water a day my bowel movements were markedly easier. There was more volume passing through my colon, of smoother and softer consistency, and I was more regular than before. I have read that many of us in developed countries are severely dehydrated, and that is just astounding to me. I learned that air-conditioned environments (homes, offices, shopping centres, cars) are drying environments, which adds to our need for replacement fluid, so we need to watch ourselves.

If you are not drinking enough currently, you can easily start to increase your daily water intake by a glass a day. Thinking of a large quantity (say, 2litres) may sound daunting, but glass by glass it is easier to relate to. Making a habit of pouring yourself a glass to drink each time you pass the kitchen is a simple trick, and I know someone who has a break from work by getting up from the desk to make a cuppa, have morning tea or lunch etc, also pouring that glass of water first to be sure of proper hydration. I also learned that drinking things that contain water, like coffee, tea, sports drinks, soft drink, etc, are not included in my count of actual water consumption as they are combinations that may dehydrate more than hydrate. Some of these other drinks are diuretics, making us urinate more than otherwise, for example, rather than acting to hydrate us.  Further, the quality of the water we drink is vital to our health, as discussed in the section on Water.

Our western sitting toilet pans are a possible contributor to higher rates of constipation as they have taken us away from our natural stance, and I have included a longer discussion on this in further pages.

Exercise can help with regularity and health of the bowel. Try going for a decent walk regularly, doing gentle yoga or tai chi, maybe swimming, at least something that is pleasurable for you. This movement of the body is said to massage the internal organs and can help in attaining and maintaining healthy intestines.

Relaxedness or being stressed have a big bearing on constipation too. In my own case, I found I became constipated when I descended into a rather unhappy period of my life. I know I was a little stressed because I felt I was stuck. I had committed myself to many months of live-in training that I soon found I didn’t like. This was before I discovered the above tips on diet and water consumption, and no matter what I tried, until I accepted where I was and made a plan to shorten my stay and get myself out of there, I was very uncomfortable with little getting through my bowel. Being happy or even being content in life brings smooth, regular, and easy bowel movements for me, so I wish this for others.

Other than constipation pooing experiences

Here are some suggestions on handling differing stool types and toilet experiences (remember I am an amateur, so please consult a professional if you need to):

A bit runny today? This doesn’t necessarily mean you have diarrhoea, which is a more out-of-control or urgency experience (you’ll know the difference). Just enjoy the clean-out and worry not. When detoxifying the body, there is often runny poo as a result, and it’s fine (in my experience) even if this goes on for some days. Keep drinking water, making sure to replenish what the body has used to flush this through — and this process can use quite some fluid, so drink up.

Runny and a little urgent for a few days in a row? Ok, maybe ask a wellness professional about this, but do your best not to get wound up about it. This may just be your body clearing out something you could well do without. Stopping this process with medicines may hinder your return to health and will introduce more toxic material to be eliminated later. Be sensible in your responses here and follow your intuitive leads on the best way to approach it.

Not as easy as usual today? That’s ok, it doesn’t feel great when this happens, especially when you are used to more volume or more ease, but just drink plenty of water and think loving, trusting thoughts, for tomorrow you should be fine. By the way, pushing stools out only creates more trouble for your valves. Relax, and wait for the signals from your body that you are ready to let it go. Once you master this relaxed way of being with it, you will just feel so wonderful, and you’ll want to share it with your friends (and if they are real friends, that will be applauded!).

Not the usual volume today? That’s fine. Your body will be ready to move some more through soon, maybe in a few hours, later today, or tomorrow … again, think happy thoughts, trust, and stay hydrated. Allowing yourself to get anxious about it is going to have the opposite effect to what you want, so relax and let nature do its thing.

More than the usual volume, or number of visits today? Great! Celebrate that your body is working so well! I usually find this makes me even more hungry than usual, and as I love food, I enjoy getting to have another snack after a wonderful clean-out thanks to my body’s intelligence. Keep up plenty of fluids! This takes a lot from your reserves, so drink up.

Having to push and strain to get that stool out? Better to drink more water, eat more fibre and wait in a relaxed fashion until your body tells you it’s ready for an easy elimination. Pushing and straining can have negative consequences if done to the extreme, and in my experience if you are aware enough of what you put into your body – that is, how your body likes to be treated — the need for pushing and straining simply goes away and is replaced with a smooth, easy and quick elimination. No need to take the newspaper in there with you, it will be over pretty quickly.

Another note from this amateur that might help in your experience. When my body is really ready — actually ready — to eliminate poo, I will know it. Half-strength messages don’t always end well for me, but when I let go of when I think I should poop, eventually I will get that proper full-strength message and things happen smoothly and fully. It seems to me that at these times when that complete and proper message is sent, the bowel gets flooded with some type of flushing agent that loosens all the stools up and lets things happen easily. The half message that I occasionally act on seems to not have the good flushing agent happening, and things are ‘harder’ to pass through, making the job difficult and the end result not so satisfying.

This is a metaphor for life. Don’t fear that the things you want to happen won’t happen. Trust that what you want will happen. This is still a big lesson for me.

A final observation that has brought me even more gratitude for my body’s intelligence is noticing the perfect timing that my bowel has (more often than not). Of course, there are times when I have to hurriedly find a public toilet to relieve the pressure, but generally speaking my bowel knows when I have arrived home from a day out, or when I need to leave for work, or when the visitors have gone, and it is easier for me to use the loo than it otherwise would have been. Do you ever notice these things? If not, maybe you could start to look for these things as a way of understanding and relating to your body better. Our gut is now being called our ‘second brain’, and as the ‘gut’ is a large organ that includes the gastro-intestinal tract, liver, bowel, etc, we should pay attention to what this second brain does for us and how it communicates.

Onto the metaphysical ways of seeing such things as poo, I find it comforting to consider trusting my body’s intelligence by accepting that unusual elimination is ‘getting rid of crap that I no longer need’. Taking this further, I have noticed that emotional growth often occurs after a day or two of runny bowel movements, leading me to believe even more in the above idea that my body is either reacting to my mental/emotional state, or is working with my mental/emotional systems to create a void for more nourishment to move into. Either way this feels reassuring, and I love learning to trust life this way.

Pooing posture

No doubt you have heard of the way toilets are in other (especially Asian) countries, where we squat over a moulded ‘pan’ set into the floor, or even over a hole in the ground in some areas. This squatting style of toileting was the only way until not that long ago. Our Western-style seated toilet was brought to us by English inventor Alexander Cumming in 1775. He was granted the first patent for a flushing toilet, with his greatest innovation being the S-shaped pipe below the bowl that used water to create a seal preventing smells from coming back out of the piping to our noses. A little later in the 19th century Sir Thomas Crapper improved on this system and it is his name that erroneously stuck with most of us, thinking he was the inventor of this comfortable luxury that we enjoy daily. Yes, his surname is the origin of the slang word ‘crap’ …

Some researchers see that an unintended consequence of this invention has been an increase in constipation in the developed world. Could it be that this neat and relatively comfortable sitting elimination of our faeces has removed us from the optimum, more natural position further than is healthy? Or it could be that this invention is not to blame completely for the increase in constipation rates but happened to come along when we were changing other aspects of life thanks to industrialisation. For examples, roughly around the same time as the flushing toilet was brought in, we started living amid more pollution, processing our our food more than ever before, we began eating more sugar and fats, we increased the speed of life and our stress levels as we strove for more money and accomplishments, thus removing us from more beneficial eating and lifestyle habits. I’d say increased constipation rates are a result of all of the above, including the belief that we have to work at a job we may not love so that we can pay our bills. The mentality is impacted greatly here.

Back to the squatting toilets, researchers find many benefits from the squatting toileting position (in fact from the squatting position generally), including a relaxing of the abdominal organs and muscles and a straightening of the descending colon, all of which allows an easier passing of stools than we get on our sitting-position throne. Further, there is a muscle that wraps around our bowel a little like a rope, possibly intended to assist our sphincters in holding back the flow of waste while we are standing and sitting. When we squat, however, this rope-like loop naturally loosens to allow free flow of the contents of our bowel through the now-straightened tubes and valves. Giulia Enders’ book Gut explains this really well, sharing studies of the time taken and satisfaction levels (feeling of completeness of the task, or of emptiness) of those using sitting toilets versus those using squatting toilets, and also showing that those cultures who use squatting toilets suffer much reduced rates of many dis-eases. It’s worth a read.

Obviously, this squatting position is not easy for all of us to adopt, especially as we have not been used to getting to this position very much in our culture, but with practice it can help to introduce improvements to one’s flexibility, agility, strength, and internal workings. From this new knowledge come tools to help us use our familiar sitting-style Western toilet pans in a squatting manner, as a compromise. There are many versions of stool or step on the market that sit in front of the toilet bowl and raise our feet higher than the floor, which lifts the knees up and brings more of the squatting posture, opening up the lower abdomen and easing that elimination experience wonderfully. It takes a little adaptation to the usual habits in the little room, but the pay-off is well worth the effort! Look up ‘squatty potty’ which is a brand-name, and you’ll find various interpretations of this idea. A handy person can make a simple step pretty cheaply and easily, or you could even buy a cheap multi-purpose step/stool, storing it to the side of the toilet until needed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *