The age-old tradition of Ayurveda teaches us that health and wellbeing is influenced by our ability to 'digest' everything we take in from the environment. This includes not simply tangible substances such as food and drink, but also our emotions, experiences, and the impressions we take in through our sensory portals (our eyes, nose, tongue, ears, and skin). You must have heard or read the term 'Agni' in advertisements of Ayurvedic products or in Ayurvedic journals. It is the Sanskrit term for the 'digestive fire' that breaks down the food among other things we ingest from our surrounding, assimilating what is useful, and gets rid of the rest.
When our agni (the ability to digest) is strong, our body create healthy tissues, and eliminates waste products efficiently, along with producing a subtle essence - called ojas. Ojas is a Sanskrit term, it means strength, it can be thought of as the innermost vital essence. Ayurveda says that ojas is the basis for clarity of perception, immunity and physical strength. On the other hand, if we weaken out agni through lack of activity, improper eating, unhealthy daily routine, or negative emotional energy then our digestion will go haywire and the toxins produced which need to get flushed out will get stored in the body. This stored toxic residue, according to Ayurveda is known as ama - it is believed to be the root cause of disease.
Whether you are dealing with weight issues or uncomfortable GI symptoms for example gas, bloating, or indigestion - the most common underlying root problem is weak agni or poor digestion. Well, the modern medicine doesn't believe in asking questions such as 'how strong is the digestive fire?' Its main point of concentration lies on monitoring the food that goes in the body. Agni, ojas and such things are believed to be ancient mythic terms. When we go with a digestive issue to our doctor, he treats us with conventional allopathic medicines - this sort of treatment helps, yes, but it only deals with controlling the symptoms. The allopathic treatment options usually advise you with medicines, they do not really treat the underlying cause but only controls the symptoms for your issue.
Even when your health provider's approach may include testing and elimination of foods that upset your stomach, this still remains to address only part of the problem. While this kind of treatment addresses the food or the agent that is being ingested, it doesn't always pay heed to why the food is not being digested properly. Though steering clear of foods that are causing trouble can often alleviate symptoms, but most of the times it is difficult for patients to avoid those foods continually. This process can often start to disrupt the quality of your life.
The Ayurvedic concept of agni lets us expand the conversation into digging about and answering the most important concern - 'Why did our body begin to digest improperly, or not tolerate, this food?' also, 'How can we eliminate the offending agent as well as increase our agni or digestive power?' This kind of approach secures the possibility of re- introducing the food which may be causing trouble now at a future time, allowing you to fully experience these foods again.
There are plenty of ways to support and strengthen your agni. A simple way to describe agni is sharp, dry, light, hot, mobile, luminous, subtle, and clear. Generally, substances and experiences which are full of these qualities will provide support to your agni, while substances and experiences which are predominated by qualities which oppose agni will cause disturbance to it.
Every bit of that nourishment we ingest - either physically and emotionally - is a submission to the agni. This submission is not made just by sacred intention, it can very well be made mindlessly. We can put grave emphasis on foods and similar forms of nourishment that we think will honour and escalate the qualities of our agni - or we can consume experiences and substances that might dilute and oppress the sacred fire. Either way, the power of agni will be affected throughout your system. Some practical tips for shielding your sacred fire are explained below.
Food is the only thing which comes to everyone's minds when they find themselves wondering why their digestive process has gone haywire. Food indeed plays a major role in the process of digestion, what you're eating, when you're eating it, how much you're eating are all important things you should be careful of. Likewise, food is also the most potent ways to invoke the equilibrium of your metabolic fire or agni.
An intake of a wholesome diet of simple, easily digestible, light, and sattvic foods stimulates the agni and enhances natural hunger, developing a habit of eating meals regularly every day helps a great deal too. Having an appropriate quantity of food in each meal (the appropriate quantity being about two handfuls) also strengthens the agni.
It is equally important to give the digestive fire enough time to fully process one meal before you eat again. The recommended amount of time is at least three hours - often four to six hours - between your meals. Simultaneously, sipping small amounts of ginger tea or even a bit of warm water with a meal will also support proper digestion.
The central digestive fire known as the 'Jathara Agni' resides essentially in the stomach, but it nourishes and feeds the agni throughout your body. Therefore, when we are really present with the food that we intake, when we bestow our entire attention to the act of being nourished - the agni which is present everywhere in the body is nourished.
Eating food only when you're hungry also grants support to agni. Genuine hunger can be understood as a pleasant anticipation of food, a sense of lightness, and is appeased by eating. False hunger, yes, that's a thing, can be caused by emotional upset, exhaustion, boredom, and various other disturbances, and most of the times it is resolved with a short rest, or a walk, or by drinking some warm water.
For all the positive and good foods and habits, there exist foods and habits that have a negative effect of your agni. Such negative habits and foods can inhibit the power of agni and cause digestive disorders. Overeating, an emotional imbalance which causes hunger, excessive sleeping and having leftovers, all dampens the subtle nature of your agni. Similarly, foods such as meat, cheese, and mushrooms prey on dulling the sharpness of agni; all types of cold drinks tend to extinguish the digestive heat of agni, that's why Ayurvedic experts usually recommend to avoid them. At the same time, consuming excessive fluids - especially while eating or right after having food - can inhibit proper digestion as it tends to dilute the agni. Not just that, even cloudy weather can have a negative impact on your agni, cloudy weather and heavy foods disrupt the clear and light nature of agni. Excessive caffeine also contributes in disrupting the balance of your digestive fire. Even when you eat out of boredom, or out of emotional disturbance, you remain in a dull state of mind - also, at times you feel as if you're hungry when you're really just thirsty then too the effect of agni is compromised.
This may seem a bit strange, but once you are done eating, it is very important to take a full and deep breath before you get up and move on to your next activity. Developing this little habit will help your body to register satisfaction and retain a level of mindfulness as you get up from eating and continue with your activities.
Some people also find the effect of probiotic drinks beneficial - a small glass or a cup of lassi (a sweet curd shake, made with one part fresh yogurt blended well with four parts water with a pinch f cumin powder and salt) - it aids in digestion. If you tend to feel sleepy after meals then taking a short walk in fresh air will be helpful. Or if the opposite happens, that you overexert yourself then try by lying for five to fifteen minutes on your left side after your mid-day meal. According to Ayurveda, lying in this position activates the solar energy channel linked to the agni, making it not only rejuvenating and relaxing but also making it beneficial and supportive of good digestion.
A dietary cleanse is an extremely powerful and helpful way to reset and kindle your digestive ability. The ancient Ayurvedic school of medicine honours your body's natural intelligence to recover. Performing a dietary cleanse gives your entire physiology a chance to repair, detox, and rejuvenate the body tissues while supporting and rebuilding agni throughout your body.
There are various options when it comes to a dietary cleanse. For some people, a half or full day water- only fast works pretty well - once weekly can get the job done. Whereas for others, that is simply too frustrating and going on a mono diet for one day every week is a better and more convenient choice. This can be either a simple fruit or juice cleanse, or better yet, a more nourishing day of kitchari. Which option will better suit you will depend on your constitution and your existing state of balance.
Still many others opt to go for a deeper, seasonal cleanse (or pancha karma), which is Ayurveda's signature cleanse, done once or twice a year. You can go to a learned Ayurvedic practitioner and they can guide you in choosing a cleansing routine that will benefit you individually - your body, mind, and spirit. Each one of these cleansing regimens is great and are best done under the watchful eye and guidance of a qualified practitioner.
Not just Ayurveda but even medical science places a great deal of importance on maintaining a proper daily routine. This practice is incredibly supportive of agni. A steady daily routine helps in reducing stress and brings about a sense of regularity and consistency throughout the day, it bolsters your natural hunger at regular intervals and gives agni time to prepare and receive food at consistent times. Following a daily routine can also provide a helping hand in maintaining a balanced state of mind and is considered an important part of self- care in Ayurveda.
If you are like me and have no fixed daily routine, then you can start with something as simple as going to bed and waking up on the same time, also, try having your meals regularly at the same time. To some of us going to bed and waking up on time may seem like a difficult task, but give it a try. It'll be incredibly good for you, and if you try once and fail then don't get disappointed, keep trying till you form a disciplined daily routine.
Simple practices such as Pranayama and taking in fresh air can be beneficial not just for your agni but your overall health will get a healthy boost. Just as fire is fed by fresh air, the agni is kindled when you do deep breathing and relax your body. Something as simple and effortless as going for a walk can do the job, or going for a hike in nature can prove to be helpful too. Or, if you want you can opt for a more specific practice of prayanama - consider refreshing the deep tissues with a few minutes of the yogic breathing exercises or simply spend a few minutes doing pranayama.
Hi! I’m Gunjan, a self-proclaimed tea fanatic and intrigued with alternative ways to lead a healthy life. I firmly believe that we should take care of our bodies because it’s the only place we live in.