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Metabolism and Digestive Fire: The Key to Improved Health

What do we need to know about our metabolism and digestive fire? Ayurveda provides a comprehensive guide to digestion that helps us understand the importance of digestive fire.

Our metabolism is the chemical process that converts the food you eat into energy, thus allowing you to function in your day-to-day life. During this complex process, calories in nutrients are combined with other elements like oxygen to release the energy that keeps the systems, organs, and cells working in optimal order.

When someone has a “slow metabolism”, it means that they have a low basal metabolic rate (BMR). This term refers to the minimum energy it takes your body to burn the maximum calories. In other words, it’s the amount of energy your body uses to carry out its basic functions like heart beating, circulating blood, releasing hormones, breathing, growing and repairing cells, and all cell functions.

BMR depends on several factors:

  1. Heredity: The way your metabolism works may be in your genes. Every function in your body is determined by your genes, including basal metabolism. The expression of those genes, like the rate in which your body burns fat, may be inherited.

  2. Age: For many, metabolism decreases 5 percent each decade after the age of 40. This is due to a loss in muscle mass. Muscle takes more energy to properly function, so it burns calories faster than fat or any other tissue.

  3. Body size and composition: People with a larger body mass burn calories faster.

  4. Gender: Men tend to more muscle mass than women, and therefore BMR is generally higher for men.Though this does not apply to all if you have more muscle mass.

The other factors that determine the way your body metabolizes food and burns calories:

  1. Digestion: Absorption and transportation, food processing, and even storage burn calories. If you have a healthy digestive system, or a powerful Agni (the digestive fire, as it’s known in Ayurveda), digestion usually requires a steady amount of calories.

  2. Physical activity and exercise: All of your body’s movement accounts for the rest of the calories it burns on a daily basis. This includes exercise, but even doing things like eating requires energy.

Although there are some medical conditions that can slow BMR, like digestive syndromes or thyroid diseases weight gain rarely depends solely on slow BMR. This is why digestion and lifestyle are so important!In Ayurveda, the concept of metabolism is Agni, your digestive fire. Agni, is the element of fire and leads to transformation. Your Agni’s primary functions are digestion, absorption, assimilation, and the transformation of food into energy. Much of our concept of metabolism is driven by the idea of dieting. Ayurveda does not believe in fad diets or the concept of “one size fits all”. Digestion affects not only the food you eat, but also your mental capacities and energy levels. In Ayurveda, Agni is responsible for digesting food into nutrients and for helping process feelings, emotions, and thoughts. This is why there is so much more to our health than just weight loss. Aggravation of the doshas can dramatically affect our Agni in the human body. According to Ayurveda, the condition of the digestive fire determines the health of our entire being, which is why it’s important to monitor how well your inner fire is burning.

In our workshops we often talk about Agni like a cooking stove. If your turn up the heat too high you can burn your food. If you turn the heat down too low your food will take a long time to cook. You want to find the perfect heat for your optimal digestion!

An important concept in Ayurveda that goes along with Agni is Ama. Ama is understood as toxins or undigested food, emotions and thoughts that get stored in our fat cells. Ama (toxins) depletes Agni (your digestive fire), which leads to gained weight, food allergies, and low energy levels. Ama clogs the digestive tracts, visceral organs, and even arteries. This build up of Ama depletes Agni, and a depleted Agni cannot properly digest, assimilate, or absorb food. Thus creating more Ama and a cycle of decreased health.

When the digestive fire is disturbed it generates Ama. A number of things can trigger the absorption and generation of those toxins in the body, including:

  1. Eating impure foods

  2. Breathing chemical smells

  3. Poor digestion

  4. Eating the wrong foods

  5. Combining foods in unhelpful ways

  6. Pollution

  7. Pesticides

  8. Drinking unclean water

  9. Emotional and/or physical stress or trauma

The beauty of Ayurveda is that it gives you the framework to modify your lifestyle and optimize your bodily functions. Ayurveda provides a way to step out of those cycles of dieting, low energy levels, and illnesses. Here at Santa Cruz Ayurveda our main goal is to heal the gut, because once we heal the gut everything else will fall into place. Our six-month gut healing protocol works with you step by step to improve your Agni (digestive fire) and get rid of Ama (toxins).

In our Protocol we start with detoxification, restoration, and then rejuvenation. Our six- month gut protocol was created to have long term shifts, not quick fixes. By understanding your Dosha (your physical, emotional, and mental constitution or tendencies) you can begin to have awareness for what foods can be best suited for you. You can find out your Dosha (body unique body constitution) by doing this quick, simple quiz on our website, By understanding your Dosha we work on bringing the digestive fire back into balance. Ayurveda isn’t about counting calories or going on extreme diets. It’s about truly becoming attuned to who you are. What can you do to improve your health today?

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