Agni - Our Digestive Fire
Ayurveda Describes Agni as a fire that burns within our digestive system. It transforms all food and sensations into energy, and absorbs the nutrients in food into our tissues.
It is without a doubt the cornerstone of our health and well-being according to Ayurveda.
Lets start with the most basic concept. Agni is our digestive fire that keeps us healthy, both physically and mentally. The food we eat and the other stimuli that we digest is like the wood for the fire.
Just like any fire it needs to be respected and tended to in order for it to burn in a way that provides us with optimal power.
When our Agni is over stimulated we become overheated and dry, and if we have too little we will lack stimulation and have issues digesting (burning) our food
Agni throughout the day
In the morning our agni is not very strong. We have been sleeping and fasting all night, so we need to stoke the fire to get it burning. But we don't want to put it out. Slowly does it.
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Doing some yoga or simple stretches will help to waken up your digestion. Drinking warm water or fresh lemon and ginger tea are also highly recommended to get things going. After that you can have breakfast. Something warm and nourishing is the best as it's much easier to digest. Try to resist cold drinks and foods if possible.
Noon is when our Agni is at its strongest. We can digest our food more easily and therefore when we should have our biggest meal.
By the end of the day our digestion begins to slow down again and the power of our Agni is much lower. We are winding down from the day and making the transition into the evening, a time when we tend to rest and be less active.
Our bodies do not need the energy or fuel that they did earlier in the day. It's time to let the fire burn down to a smolder. This is not the time to throw heavy logs onto the fire!
If you were to break it down to a simple formula it would be
eat lunch like a king,
breakfast like a prince and
dinner like a pauper.
The human body has been around long before electricity, and evolved under the sun. It evolved without refrigeration and the ability to prepare lavish meals late at night. We lived and ate by the sun.
If you eat in accordance with the sun then you will be eating as your body intended.
Just keep in mind - the higher and stronger the sun is in the day, the stronger your digestion.
It is not just when we eat but how we eat. Food nourishes our bodies so it is very important that we eat with awareness and care. Take the time to prepare wholesome nutritious meals and eat them mindfully. Scoffing down your food throws too much at your digestion at once and it cannot cope.
Chew your food slowly and allow your body to receive the signal that it needs to receive and process it correctly.
Vatas, being predominately air an ether, tend to have the weakest and most variable digestion. They can easily become bloated (full of air) and need to be very careful to maintain a healthy Agni.
Pitta's having fire as their dominant element have the strongest Agnis. They can however suffer from heart burn if they eat things that contain too much fire. Fire on fire creates inflammation.
Kapha's digestion just like the person is slow and steady. Too much food especially heavy food will slow them and their digestion down. Light spiced foods that stimulate are best to keep this fire burning at its optimal level.
Here are some signs that your Agni is not healthy:
gas, bloating, belching, gurgling etc
constipation or diarrhea
cloudy, discoloured urine
Smelly poop or not pooping every day.
loss of energy
loss of motivation
loss of or reduced appetite
loss of luster in eyes and skin
white coating on the tongue
So what can you do if you have any of these symptoms?
1. Eat according to the sun.
2. Eat smaller, lighter meals.
Remember our Agni is a digestive fire. Think of your food as kindling most of the time with lunch being the time you can add something heavier.
3. Eat fresh seasonal food.
Our body wasn't designed to eat chemicals and highly processed food. It was designed to eat according to the seasons so that it received the nutrients it required when it required them.
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4. Eat with awareness.
Do you find yourself rushing your meals? Do you eat on the run? Do you eat while watching TV, working, surfing the net? Slow down, stop and enjoy your food. Let you body eat. You are not filling up your car at the petrol station! Enjoy your food. Respect your food and the process of eating.
5. Chew all your food carefully.
Chewing stimulates saliva which contains enzymes that help with digestion.
6. Drink some hot water with fresh lemon and ginger before your meal.
Proven to help stimulate digestion. Especially good first thing in the morning.
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7. Don't drink too much with your meal
If you need to drink as you eat then sip small amounts, do not drink large quantities with your meals.
8. Don't eat or drink overly cold food and drinks.
Warm food is much easier to digest. Remember there were no refrigerators when our biological system was developed.
Take your salad out of the fridge half an hour before you plan to eat it to take the chill off it. Nothing will perish in that time and our digestion will think you.
9. Go for a walk after you eat.
Moving your body is one of the best ways to stimulate your digestion.
10. Do some yoga.
All yoga poses are great with the best being poses that work your abdomen such as twists and forward bends.
11. Digestive spices
Have cumin, coriander and fennel in your meals or as a tea.
12. Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry and enjoy the experience!
Do a little experiment. If you often wake up heavy and slow try eating a lighter earlier dinner and see how you feel the next day. Often the heaviness we wake up with is due to the heavy meal that our body has been trying to digest all night.
13. Have an Ayurvedic consultation.
Get some personal advice about what is best for you and your digestion. And then commit to changing your diet and lifestyle.
Ayurveda is not a quick fix or a mask, it is a complete overhaul of how you live and eat to achieve balance and well-ness.
Play with these recommendations and see how your body reacts. You will find it will talk to you if you are listening.