Burn Agni, burn: The digestive fire in Ayurveda

Ayurveda pays special attention to our digestion. The saying “You are what you eat“ can easily be replaced with “You are what you digest”. Because all the superfoods – no matter how healthy – are not doing anything for your health if you cannot absorb their nutrients properly.

That doesn’t only apply for superfoods: If you feel bloated, sleepy or gasy after your meal, it is a sign that something is wrong with your digestion. 

KEEP AGNI ON FIRE

The digestive fire, Agni, plays a special role in Ayurveda. It describes the biological energy that controls metabolism and is responsible for digestive processes such as absorbing and assimilating our food. Only when Agni is strong and literally on fire, the body can properly digest food and lead a healthy life.

In Ayurvedic medicine it is said that every disease is caused by a malfunction of Agni. If food is not digested properly, the body produces Ama: Toxins or undigested metabolic waste. It is described as a slimy, sticky substance that accumulates in the body. If there is too much Ama in our body, we are prone to develop every kind of disease. Ama then becomes present in all chronic conditions such as skin conditions, diabetes, allergies or fatigue syndrome.

Factors that negatively influence Agni are for example the climate, medication, exercise, foods that are unfavorable for our constitution or suppressed emotions. A strong digestive power is noticeable, among other things, through regular digestion and hunger. After meals we feel fit, alert and energetic and don’t feel like napping.

In the mornings, the digest fire Agni usually needs some time to wake and does not work super efficantly. This is why Ayurveda recommends a light and easy digestible meal for breakfat such as porridge or fruit. Around lunch time, as the sun reaches its zenith, our Agni usually works strongly: Time for the biggest meal of the day. In the evening, Agni looses its strength again. Try to avoid heavy and late meals as your Agni probably will not be able to fully digest it.

AGNI AND THE DOSHAS

Depending on the constitution, Agni naturally burns more or less intense.

Vata types tend to have a more changeable Agni: sometimes it burns better, sometimes worse. This is also reflected in irregular hunger. When Agni is weak, Vata types show flatulence and a feeling of fullness. People with a strong kapha constitution tend to have a weak digestive fire. Their bodies are naturally sluggish and they tend to gain weight quickly. Pittas naturally have strong Agni due to their fire. They show strong hunger, have regular digestion and also tolerate cold and raw food better than Vata or Kapha types.

STRENGTHEN YOUR AGNI: THINGS TO DO AND TO AVOID
  • Only eat when your last meal has been digested properly hence you feel hungry again
  • Avoid snacking 
  • Avoid drinking cold drinks before or with your meal
  • Don’t overeat
  • Try to avoid really cold meals. Warm food stimulate Agni
  • Chew properly
  • Drink hot water throughout the day
  • Increase Agni through salty, sour and pungent flavors
  • Add some Agni stimulating spices and herbs to your meals or have a bit of them before your meal: fresh ginger, cinnamon, black and cayenne pepper

An Ayurvedic diet helps to strengthen Agni and keeps the body in balance. A dosha imbalance is counteracted with foods that have opposite qualities.