Digestive Agni

Doesn’t it feel great to glow? Why do some of us glow more than others? Why do we feel glowing one day but dull the next?

The source of our glow comes from within, it is an inner radiation - linked to processes of transformation - and a well known concept in Ayurveda.

How glowing or radiant we are to others and how radiant we feel ourselves is dependent on Agni - our inner fire. Agni is a key concept in Ayurvedic medicine and is crucial for understanding and improving our health. Significantly Agni weakens as we age so it’s important to understand as we get older just what we can do to remedy and restore our Agni - our inner radiance.

Agni works in lots of different ways in the body - it is the process of transformation- but the most obvious way is in our tummy - where it can be labelled our digestive fire. In reality the fire in our tummy is a type of stomach acid - or a hot metabolising fluid - with an ability to digest food in the small intestine once the saliva in our mouths has initiated the process.

We can think of our digestion just like a fire that must be kept strong and active in order to fulfil it’s duty within our body.

Ayurveda takes a unique view on our digestive system - it is not merely a question of the quality of food we eat but also the quality - or strength - of our digestive system, that together, hold the secret to optimum health and glowing inside out.

Just as dull or damp logs would affect the quality of a camp fire, dull or improper food will affect the quality of the digestive fire. Simply tossing non-flammable material into the flames in the hope they will burn is not practical - it’s opposing basic science. But unfortunately, whether we realise or not, that is often exactly what we are doing when we rely too heavily on the so-called modern diet.

The perspective on food and digestive strength that Ayurveda puts forward also explains the increase in food intolerance that is common today. And if - like me - you have experience of food intolerance you’ll know exactly how dull it makes you feel. Ayurveda sees food intolerance as not only a reaction to the food in question but also a dullness to the digestive strength that then impacts on the way we digest, absorb, assimilate and eliminate food through the digestive tract.

So what can we do to support our digestive fire?

  1. Know you Dosha - this immediately gives you clues - as Vata have irregular Agni, Pitta have strong Agni, Kapha have weak Agni

  2. Emphasise regular meals - but only eat if you experience true hunger, fasting is an excellent way to reignite dull Agni

  3. Eat your main meal of the day at midday, when Agni is strongest

  4. If you do start to feel dull cleanse the body until both your body and mind feel bright again - an Ayurvedic Kitchari Cleanse works well with all three Dosha

  5. Exercise stimulates dull Agni but be mindful of your Dosha.

Essentially the quality of Agni must be balanced (not too strong, not too weak).

The Attributes of Agni

Agni has its own attributes that are well worth contemplating - Agni is a sharp, hot, light, luminous, clear, penetrating, spreading and subtle force within the body. These are similar to the attributes of fire.

Consider how the doshas might affect Agni.

  • Vata - like a high wind - would create an irregular flame, causing dryness, bloating, un-digested food, constipation.

  • Pitta would create a fierce, spreading flame, causing heartburn, acid indigestion, dry mouth, hot flashes, and inflammation. 

  • Kapha would dampen the flame, causing slow metabolism, weight gain, allergies and dullness - both physically and mentally. 

The quality of Agni is therefore a primary concern in the Ayurvedic treatment of disease. We aim to create a balanced Agni by using natural antidotes. Dry, cold, volatile Vata-Agni could be pacified with oily, warm comforting foods. Hot, sharp, spreading Pitta-Agni could be pacified with cooling, bitter herbs. Dull, heavy, cold Kapha-Agni could be pacified with select spices, light and heating foods.

The Attribute of Ama

In Ayurveda undigested, non-eliminated foods left in the body from an incomplete digestive process are the beginnings of disease. Ama comes in many different forms (food proteins, bacteria particles or overgrowth, basically anything that dos not belong to the body and cannot be processed by the body -yet lives inside the body). Ama is best understood in terms of its attributes: Cold, dull, heavy, oily/viscous, gross, sticky/slimy, stagnant, foul smelling - not so appealing as good Agni hey.