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Agni - The Fire Within

From the Ayurvedic perspective on digestion, there are two important primary concepts to be familiar with: agni and ama. Agni is the principle of transformation throughout the body. When agni struggles to completely and fully digest and assimilate the food you eat, the undigested food particles begin to putrefy creating a morbid, mucoid plaque that Ayurveda calls ama.

Agni : Fire, transformation, digestion, metabolism, absorption, assimilation, heat

Qualities of Agni : Hot, Light, Dry, Sharp, Penetrating, Pungent, Luminous, Transforming.

Ayurveda teaches the importance of strengthening our digestive fire, and being nourished by what we take into our body is imperative to our mental and physical state of health. But digestion goes deeper than just the food we eat, Ayurveda takes into account how we process emotions, thoughts, feelings, experiences and our environment, and how every cell in the body is inextricably linked. It is said that if an individual’s agni is strong, disease cannot reside.

Agni is not only present in every single cell, tissue and organ in our body, but everything on this earth. It is a central concept in Ayurveda’s approach to health and preventing disease formation. When our agni is not functioning correctly, this allows its antithesis - ama - to increase in the body leading to imbalance and disease.

There are 40 distinct subtypes of agni which are present everywhere throughout the body (otherwise known as Deha agni). The mother of all of them being Jathara agni which lives in the stomach (Amashaya) and small intestine (Grahani) and is responsible for the initial digestive process. If Jathara agni is weak, it will put extra pressure on other vital organs used in the digestive process and eventually lead to disease.

There are 4 States of digestive fire, they are as follows:

Sama agni (Balanced agni) – Most desirable agni

  • Natural hunger

  • Type 4 stool on Bristol stool chart

  • Food is easily absorbed with no counter effects

  • Agni is neither too strong nor too weak

  • A sign that all doshas are in balance

Vishama agni (Vata/Irregular) – Irregular, erratic agni

  • Erratic digestion/hunger

  • Irregular eating patterns

  • Tendency towards constipation

  • Food is only partially digested

  • Vata related diseases/imbalances

Tikshna agni (Pitta/Strong) – Penetrating, sharp, piercing, hot agni

  • Very robust digestive fire

  • Generally type 7 on the Bristol stool chart

  • Large and ferocious appetite and get cranky if don’t eat on time

  • Needs to eat immediately upon waking, and a hunger late at night

  • Suffers pitta related diseases/imbalances

Manda agni (Kapha/Slow) – Sluggish, dull, heavy, cold agni

  • Digestion is weak, slow and sluggish. Food is only partially digested

  • Low appetite but gains weight easily

  • Heavy, mucus stools

  • Fluid/water retention

  • Kapha related diseases/imbalances

When agni is balanced…

  • We have vibrant energy

  • Mental clarity

  • Glowing skin

  • Clear white eyes

  • Fresh breath

  • A balanced sensation of hunger for our next meal

  • Good immunity

  • Restful sleep/natural energy

  • Courage

  • Our tongue is clean with no Ama

When our Agni is imbalanced…

  • We feel sleepy after a meal

  • Our appetite can be either very weak, or too strong

  • We can get gassy, bloated and have loose stools

  • Our energy can be very low, we can feel fatigued

  • Our emotions can sway towards anxiety, depression, anger and confusion

Assisting a healthy Agni - Your digestion follows the sun, so keep breakfast small, enjoy a larger lunch and consume smaller portions in the evening. A few other suggestions:

  • Plain hot water then ginger and lemon tea first thing and throughout the day

  • Use digestive spices like cumin, fennel, mustard seeds, cardamom, black pepper, turmeric

  • The majority of your diet is best absorbed if it's seasonal, freshly cooked and eaten warm

  • Limit or avoid 'fridge-cold' foods and beverages as this will reduce your agni (digestive fire)

  • Avoid drinking too much with a meal to prevent diluting your digestive enzymes

  • Take 3 mindful breaths prior to eating

  • Try and take a few minutes to relax at the end of the meal as this helps digestion

  • Wait until you've fully digested your previous meal before eating again

  • Try not to eat late in the evening (ideally by 7pm) as agni weakens after sunset

  • Do not aggravate it with excess spicy, oily or fried foods

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