In Ayurveda, our state of health depends mostly on the condition of our Agni (digestive fire). Looking at the state of our Agni is usually the first thing to address in our healing and will be the most important thing in our longevity. Good health is not just about eating healthy; it does not matter how well we eat if our bodies can’t absorb or assimilate the nutrients. Stoking our internal fire is a daily practice that helps to maintain proper balance of all the elements in our gut.
Imagine for a moment that your digestive system is a campfire for cooking. A cooking fire needs wood or fuel, air, spark of fire, a pot or vessel and food & water. Our small intestine is the fire pit that holds the fire. This is called grahani and is the seat of Agni and the digestive enzymes. The food from the day before should act as the fuel for the next days fire. The air element is feeding the fire by blowing gently on the flame. Our stomach is like the pot, containing water and the food we just ate. The cooking of this food and water is what allows our bodies to break down and absorb the nutrients we eat.
Without this proper cooking, food goes undigested and can create Ama (toxins) throughout the body. Poor eating habits can also cause Ama buildup. These may include eating incompatible foods, over eating, raw/uncooked/cold food, fried food, old food, emotional stress, irregular eating, eating food with opposite qualities to dosha/season and eating foods without considering your state of Agni. Ama can be treated in many ways, but its best to not allow it to accumulate.
Agni expands beyond the food we eat and includes all of our sensory experiences. There is at least one Agni assigned to each sense (tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, hearing). There are 40 main types of Agni in the body that encompass digestive fire in the tissues, down to cellular Agni and to Brāhma Agni (the fire of attention). The first and most important Agni is Jatharagni. This is the fire in the stomach and small intestine that is the first fire to interact with what is being swallowed. The next group is the bhūta Agni’s, which are the 5 elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth). The bhūta Agni’s reside in the liver and create liver enzymes. The nutrients from the liver are then carried into the blood stream to the 7 layers of tissues, where dhātu Agni takes place. This is the fire within the 7 tissues of the body (plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bones, bone marrow and reproductive tissues). All of these digestive fires throughout the body are responsible for assimilating cellular nutrients and helping to compose the body. They are also helping to detoxify and cleanse on a cellular level. Our bodies are a dynamic organism, constantly digesting and transforming everything from the inside out.
There are 4 main varieties of Agni that we experience.
Which one resonates the most with you?
Sama Agni: Balanced metabolism. Digestion, absorption and elimination are all functioning best. This provides mental clarity, happiness, longevity, great immunity and awareness.
Vishama Agni: Variable; imbalanced through Vata vitiation. Air and wind cause gas, bloating, gurgling, constipation and sensitivity to cold and raw foods. This vitiation causes appetite fluctuations, anxiety, fear, forgetfulness, worry, indecisiveness and insecurity. Dry skin, dry mouth, muscle spasms and insomnia are also results of vishama Agni.
Tikshna Agni: Sharp; imbalanced through Pitta; hyper metabolism. Inflammation of the GI tract, acid, heartburn, nausea, dry throat, sourness, sensitive to spicy, cravings for sweets, diarrhea, anger, irritation, frustration, jealousy, judgmental and hot tempered. Desire to eat lots of food.
Manda Agni: Slow or dull; imbalanced through Kapha; hypo metabolism. Slow digestion, heaviness, sleepy, easy weight gain, allergies, coughing & congestion, dull appetite, sadness, depression, overly emotional, lazy, greedy and mental fog. This type of Agni is considered to be the cause of all disease.
Can you tell which state your Agni is in?
Below are some suggestions on how to balance Agni:
Vishama Agni ~ consume oily, nourishing and warm foods. Choose heating spices and food that is cooked, not raw. Before eating a meal, eat a slice of ginger with a pinch of salt, a few drops of lemon or lime juice and ¼ teaspoon of honey.
Tikshna Agni ~ consume cooling foods and spices. Enjoy mint, fennel, coriander, pomegranates and cilantro. Practice meditation and light exercise. Consume demulcent foods like oatmeal, nopales, potatoes, avocado, flaxseed and marshmallow tea to soothe inflamed tissues.
Manda Agni ~ consume light, heating and easily digestible foods. Drink warm beverages, minimize snacking and only eat when you are hungry. Practice a stimulating exercise that gets the blood pumping to help the metabolism. Consume warming foods and spices and bitter greens. Before eating a meal, eat a slice of ginger with a pinch of salt, a few drops of lemon or lime juice and ¼ teaspoon of honey.
A good practice for all dosha types is to eat the biggest meal of the day at lunchtime. This is when the sun is at its peak and the digestive fire is strongest. Eating too much in the morning can cause sluggishness or sleepiness. Eating too late at night can cause undigested food to stay in the digestive tract and create Ama. It is also best to not mix liquid and food at the same time. Try to stop consuming liquids 30 minutes before a meal and don’t drink much for 2 hours after eating. Triphala is a great herb to balance all types of imbalanced digestion, but please research yourself and consult a doctor before consuming these strong herbal formulas.
May your Agni be strong and may you be well 🙂