November 5, 2014

Pooping, Mindfully.

Nick Fortino

Beware: the content you are about to read is incriminating to the author.

This may engender feelings of awkwardness and is not meant for the prude, delicate or glamorous types. This passage is about human development in one very specific domain: defecation—one of the most vital processes and indications of health in the human body.

Although we’re all well practiced, it’s no given that people are adept at doing it. Defecating properly and hygienically is one of those instincts that has atrophied in many humans during all of their intellectual development.

I was one of those humans.

I’ll attempt to narrate the story of my maturation as a defecator with the eloquence of a poet and the uninhibited honesty of a five-year-old. I hope to inspire you in your developmental journey of defecating like an instinctual, mature human being and I promise not to surprise you with any images while you innocently scroll.

I consider myself an embodied person, meaning that I am keenly aware of my inner bodily sensations. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to sports, dancing and skillful movement in general. I’ve been working as a personal trainer for over a decade.

I practice and teach Yoga Asana every day, a very overt exercise of body awareness. And most of my meditation practice in life has centered upon inner body awareness; this has always felt more natural for me than imaginative or cognitive meditation techniques.

I practice bringing awareness into the right hemisphere of my brain, for example, perceiving blood pulsing in that area, then I’ll switch to my left hemisphere, then my brain stem and move my awareness down my spinal cord. I can feel the waves of pressure radiate from my beating heart into my extremities.

I can concentrate and sustain awareness in any region of my body and, to some extent, isolate organs. I can intuit with precision the postural adjustments necessary to prevent injury and/or alleviate discomfort. I can detect tension in deep layers of my tissues and release it. I can track chewed food down my esophagus and feel it pass into my stomach.

My proprioception is quite refined and I can coordinate my moving parts with relative grace. I try moving through my daily life like a panther flows through the jungle.

I can willfully connect my mind and body.

But in defecating, I found myself a mindless, disembodied numbskull.

When the bowels summoned my bathroom getaway, I would slyly snag my phone or a book and mosey into the lavatory. I’d plop onto the porcelain, lazily slouch my spine, set an elbow on a knee and read, scan Facebook, shoot off a few texts, tinker with my fantasy football team or speedily swipe through a “fun facts” application—ungratefully demanding my digestive system to dump these demons quickly so that I could move on with my important day.

This, of course, was after slamming some coffee to hasten the process.

The urge for a last second push finally would wake me from my reverie. Once I felt empty enough, I’d clean myself with an unnecessary amount of toilet paper, flush it all down and never think of it again, making no connection between the consistency of my feces and the food I had recently eaten.

The whole process would be a nine minute ordeal and I usually didn’t feel satisfied at the end. Developmentally, as a defecator, I was no different than a child sitting on the toilet for 20 minutes playing with his toys, occasionally wondering if any poop will come out.

I might as well have asked someone to come wipe my butt for me too so that I could keep thinking about other stuff.

I had to grow up in this department.

I do my best to cultivate the art of presence and connect with my body and yet I would go absent in a process central to my health. There I was, increasingly seen by others as a Yoga teacher extraordinaire, an emblem of embodiment and meditation practitioner—shitting like a kindergartner.

I could no longer deny it; this was a hole in my integrity.

My mom used to say that a good man does the right thing when no one else is looking. Well, no one was looking at me defecating and without that accountability, I succumbed to a mindless, absent, disembodied, careless relationship to the process.

Frankly, I was compromising my health.

Now, I have come a long way. Certain changes in my life’s circumstances have encouraged me to reinvent myself as a defecator. I moved to an abode in the forest, with an outhouse. Now, pooping is an opportunity to embody awareness.

I squat with my feet on the toilet seat, erect my spine and focus on the movement of matter, relaxing and pushing in just the right moments to keep things moving. I have shed all distractions, learning that Facebook, interesting books and my fantasy football team are all still there when I’m finished pooping.

I examine the consistency of my feces, briefly but not hurried—and recall the former meals that constitute them—and moderate my diet according to that raw data. I learned that my squatting position usually prevents any fecal matter from touching my external surface, forgiving me from the need to stick my hand down there and wipe (yes, I give it at least one wipe to be totally sure).

My lifestyle of embodiment isn’t so compartmentalized anymore. I have matured as a defecator. I’ve embraced my animal nature and realized that shitting doesn’t require thinking.

As with any practice, I have much room for improvement, but nowadays I walk out of that quaint little outhouse under the redwoods, with pep in my step, feeling a pound lighter, clean, and meditative. All in just three minutes!

I’m growing up.

Don’t be sorry about Poop! Poop can Save the World!


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Author: Nick Fortino

Apprentice Editor: Melissa Horton/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: courtesy of the author

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