What is Agni according to Ayurveda?
It is crucial to understand the role of Agni in Ayurveda and its impact on our bodies. In Sanskrit, our digestive fire, is known as agni, and it is responsible for transforming the food and beverages that we intake. Agni also absorbs, assimilates, and converts the food into energy. It regulates the body temperature. A strong agni is essential for health, happiness, vitality, and strength in all areas of our lives. When agni is strong and vibrant we are in a state of good health. When our agni is not at its ideal strength, then our energy is low. This is because agni produces prana, the vital life force that sustains us.
The importance of agni in Ayurveda
Agni doesn’t just ensure proper digestion and excretion. It also impacts our emotional wellbeing and general outlook towards life. Agni is powerful. Ayurvedic expert Robert E. Svoboda explains, “Indigestion is the base of all physical disease, the condition from which all other conditions arise.” According to Ayurveda, the key to good health is properly functioning agni, which in the form of digestive fire helps us assimilate nutrients and get rid of waste, or ama.
Agni and ama
The relationship between agni and ama in Ayurveda is worth talking about. The concept of agni in Ayurveda is extremely important from a gut health standpoint. An overworked digestive system for long periods of time can eventually weaken agni. When your digestion is imbalanced for an extended period, it leads to build up of toxins in our system. This is known as ama. Simply put, ama is a term that denotes all the “bad stuff” circulating in the body. Be it LDL, germs, undigested food that gets absorbed into the system without proper assimilation. Ama clogs the srotas (channels of the body) because of which cells don’t receive the right amount of nutrition and the wastes aren’t expelled efficiently from the body. Ama is agni’s enemy and dims its light. It can lead to a feeling of lethargy, indigestion, bloating, gas, sluggishness, foggy, lack of clarity, sense of heaviness, and much more.
Four basic varieties of agni in Ayurveda
There are four basic varieties of agni in Ayurveda based on digestion. Knowing what kind you have can tell you a lot about the imbalances you’re experiencing.
Sama Agni: Balanced Agni: This is the agni we must strive for. But given the stressors and lifestyle these days, most people lack this agni. Individuals with sama agni can generally digest a reasonable quantity of any food in any season without issue. They can adapt to changes in the weather and the seasons. These individuals can think clearly, maintain stable moods, deal with stress, and whatever surprise life throws their way with grace. They have strong immunity and an enduring sense of contentment and joy. Balanced agni results in good health, happiness, and a calm mind.
Vishama Agni: Vishama agni is associated with irregular and erratic digestion … most often experienced by vata-dominant individuals or those experiencing a vata imbalance. This agni, basically, represents excess vata (Ether and air elements). Vishama agni causes an irregular appetite, variable digestion, indigestion, abdominal distension, gas, bloating, constipation (or alternating constipation and diarrhea), and colicky pain. The symptoms may even show up as pain and very dry skin. On an emotional level, vishama agni causes anxiety, fear, and insecurity.
Tikshna Agni: I have a friend who is hungry every couple of hours. Not peckish, but she feels ravenous. That’s your Tikshna agni. Made up of fire and water elements, Tikshna agni is associated with excess pitta. It causes excess intensity in the digestive fire. Individuals with tikshna agni often have a somewhat insatiable appetite, tend to desire large quantities of food on a frequent basis, and have great difficulty skipping meals. You might think the food “burns fast” in people with Tikshna agni, meaning amazing metabolism. But too much fire in the belly can lead to a hotheadedness and fiery mood. It and also can burn down nutrients before your body has a chance to assimilate them. They can also experience fiery symptoms like hyperacidity, acid indigestion, gastritis, heartburn, hot flashes, acidic saliva, and fever. Tikshna agni can also cause hives, rash, acne, and many other skin conditions. On an emotional level, Tikshna Agni triggers anger, criticism, judgmental behavior, resentment, envy, irritability, and aggressiveness.
Manda Agni: Hypometabolism: Manda agni is associated with excess kapha (water and earth elements). It burns slowly and is weak. Manda agni dulls the appetite and causes heaviness in the stomach, the body, and the mind—especially after eating, but sometimes even without food. Manda agni often leads to frequent colds, congestion, coughs, as well as allergies, edema, and lymph congestion. Manda agni is also responsible for obesity. From an emotional standpoint, manda agni causes excessive attachment, greed, possessiveness, lethargy, and excessive sleep.
How to keep the agni balanced
Even though agni holds a special place in healing, Ayurveda uses a customized approach for healing. It all depends on the individual, their prakruti, their vikruti, their location, the season, their age, and their strength. There are, however, some simple, basic, universal ways in which everyone can take care of their agni.
Honor the Ayurvedic clock:
Eat mealtimes according to the Ayurvedic clock and to the point of satiation. One of my Ayurveda teachers says that the second burp is the sign that you are done eating. Eat your dinner (light) 3-4 hours before going to bed. Make lunch your biggest meal. This is when your agni is strongest.
Eat dosha appropriate foods:
Light, digestible, sattvic, colorful yet digestible meals can strengthen your agni. Eat local, seasonal, freshly cooked, and balanced meals. If your agni is trying to work hard to digest foods, it goes in overdrive, and the more agni is used up in the process. Agni in Ayurveda is pivotal.
Consume with mindfulness:
Don’t eat to the point of fullness. Stop when satiated. Eat warm, cooked, spiced (seasoned + whole foods), and fresh meals. Avoid leftovers or frozen foods. No snacking and leave a gap of 4-6 hours between meals. Ayurveda recommends eating only three meals a day. Give time for digestion between meals. Eat in a calm environment.
Drink warm, digestive, herbal teas and beverages:
Cold beverages (and foods) dim the strength of the agni. Make sure to drink and eat foods that are at room temperature or slightly warmer. Drinking too much water at mealtimes can put out your digestive fire. If you regularly drink ice water or other icy beverages, it can tax your agni and can create low agni, which can lead to ama. Ama can lead to a weakened immune system and eventually, illness. To keep the agni in Ayurveda lit, stick to warm beverages.
Get adequate sleep and rest:
Be in bed before 10pm and wake up before 6am. Rest and sleep are important as the body does the detoxification process while we sleep at night. According to the Ayurvedic clock, it’s best to get into bed before 10 pm and wake up before sunrise. Align your sleeping patterns with the cycles of the day and honor nature’s biorhythms. 6pm-10pm is Kapha time of the evening when the mind starts to slow down and there is a natural dullness induced in the body. Did you know that sleep in the earlier phases of the night is the most restful and restorative?