Agni - Digestive Fire
Agni means fire. In Ayurveda, it refers to the fire in your belly. Agni measures your strength, power and resilience, and may be compared to your metabolism. Agni gives your organs the strength to work well. In your mind, agni gives you emotional strength and stability. Good agni brings vitality, clarity and enthusiasm. Ayurveda pays careful attention to building and maintaining agni. Agni is a Sanskrit word that is derived from the same root as the Latin word 'ignite'.
Your body stays healthy and maintains balance by protecting itself from change. In contrast, the environment is always changing. These changes threaten to knock your body off balance. Your ability to process and handle changes in the environment around you, or the food you've eaten, is a measure of your ability to heal. Disease comes about when we are unable to process change. Agni measures the strength of your body to 'digest' these changes and maintain balance. Agni is best definied as your body's processing power.
The Ayurvedic model of digestion reaches beyond mere digestion of food. It also encompasses digestion of chemicals, hormones, and all physiological changes. Perhaps a better word for digestion in Ayurveda is 'processing'. In fact, everything that happens to you must be processed. If you catch a chill, processing includes restoring your healthy temperature of 98.6 degrees. Information coming through the five senses, trauma, and any residual emotions must also be processed or 'digested'.
Good agni in your body feels clear, dry, hot and light. When your agni is strong you will notice that
- You feel energised.
- You feel light, fresh and clean.
- You have mental clarity.
- There is a brightness in your eyes
- You have a good appetite
- Your have regular elimination from your bowels.
- Your stools are well-formed, like a banana in size, shape and consistency.
Why is Agni Important for Good Digestion
In the digestive tract, good agni builds a healthy appetite and helps you digest food. When your digestive organs have good agni, they secrete plenty of enzymes, absorb nutrients well, digesting and transforming the food you eat so that wastes can be moved out of the body in a regular and timely fashion. When agni is working well, it 'cooks' the food you've eaten, turning it into nutrients.
Many feelings which may seem like hunger but are not, are known as 'false hunger' in Ayurveda. For instance, the hunger for comfort and satisfaction, which might feel like hunger for food, but is in reality an emotional hunger. False hungers masquerade as appetite, causing you to eat when you are not truly hungry. They also distort your food cravings, triggering you to eat food other than that which is healthiest for you. False hunger thus perverts the ultimate purpose of hunger itself: to refuel your body so you have the energy and nourishment you need for life. Instead, false hunger destroys your energy and vitality.
Recognising false hunger is the best way to restore your natural appetite and food cravings. Through awareness and attention, you will gradually learn to recognise instantly when your hunger is true or not. This skill is essential to prevent overeating and poor food choices. Perhaps the greatest goal of Ayurveda is the perfection of hunger itself. As a connoisseur develops their palate, through attention your hunger itself will be developed and perfected. As you acquire this skill of recognition, false hunger will diminish in frequency and power, and your will to eat will be naturally ordered towards healthier, life-giving fare.
- When you are adequately hydrated, your body produces plenty of digestive fluids.
- When you have good circulation and strong blood, your digestive organs will be energised.
- When your digestive organs are clean and free of excessive mucous, your enzymes will quickly break down the food.
These are the three most important factors to strong agni. Your intestines should be free of parasites and inflammation. Instestinal flora should be balanced.
The techniques to improve hydration, circulation, blood, and mucus conditions are as varied as the individual, and require the expert advice of an Ayurvedic practitioner. However one of the most powerful techniques to improving your digestion is a glass of warm water as your first drink in the morning. Use substances, such as black pepper, will build the strength of your agni. The fiery qualities of black pepper stimulate blood flow to the stomach, and increases agni. On the opposite side, heavy, cold, sticky foods such as wheat or cheese generally reduce agni.
The following techniques generally improve agni:
- Herbal teas with spices such as ginger, black pepper, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom.
- A wedge of lime with a slice of fresh ginger and a pinch of salt before meals.
- Rice and easy to digest vegetable soups with spices
- Skip a meal or fast for the day until the appearance of true hunger emerges for you.
- Restorative stretching
- Daily use of triphala.
However, if your agni is low because of inflammation and irritation, then you must eat soothing, anti-inflammatory foods instead of the suggestions above.
Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.
Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography
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