Agni translates directly as fire. In Ayurveda, it represents the inner, transformative fire within the body, one of our ultimate keys to health.
There are 13 different classifications of agni, with our digestive fire being the biggest, strongest, and most important.
When our digestive fire is strong and balanced, we digest our food well. Properly digested food is able to be absorbed and assimilated into the body as nutrients, creating the cells and tissues of our physical form. We believe – “We are what we eat” or the more appropriate Ayurvedic saying “You are what you digest.”
Well digested food becomes readily available nutrients, creating healthy cells and tissues, thus creating a healthy, strong, well formed body. Someone with a healthy fire on all levels emanates a healthy glow. They have ample energy, enthusiasm, vision and motivation.
In opposition, improper digestion can become one of the first and foremost ways to create health issues and disease.
An excess of agni, or one that isn’t flowing in the proper direction, can be seen as acid reflux, heart burn, ulcers, hot flashes, irritability, impatience, red eyes, skin rashes, and more. Sensitivity to tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilies, oily foods and citrus fruits are common.
An insufficient agni cause heaviness, cloudiness and congestion in the body. It may be felt as a lack of appetite or the inability to break down heavier foods or raw/rough vegetables. Lethargy, weight gain, mucous, allergies, a weak immune system, lack of vision or ambition are just a few of the effects from a diminished agni. Ama is essentially created in both scenarios.
Creating a strong, healthy, balanced agni is different for each individual.
If you naturally have more vata in your system, having consistent meals on a regular schedule is one of the best ways to strengthen your appetite and digestion. Making sure to eat when you ARE hungry, not ignoring it, is also paramount. Warm, well seasoned food with plenty of spices including food with high quality salt is great.
For kapha dominate people, using heating spices such as black pepper, mustard seeds, ajwain, hing cumin and especially ginger is an easy method to increase the internal heat and fire. Having warm to hot food is helpful, only drinking warm to hot beverages, only lightly sipping a room temp water while eating (without drinking directly before or after the meal), not eating until truly hungry, exercise and fasting are all awesome ways to build and strengthen agni.
For those who carry more pitta characteristics, meal timing, stress reduction, having warm and freshly prepared whole foods, ghee, cumin, dry ginger, and a light cleanse can be the best ways to rekindle or balance the agni. Excess bile or digestive fire is more likely the culprit for this body type, and and having dry or toasted items, refraining from anything with oil, spices, instant/ fast foods, fermentation, citrus, night shades, or excess heat is essential.
When your agni is functioning properly you feel clear, light and energized. You can eat most foods without any digestive issues. After a meal you fell easily satisfied without being weighed down. Your bowel movement is regular- you have at least one complete evacuation at the beginning of the day and it resembles a brown ripe banana.
Another key practice to stay aware of your digestive health is examining your tongue. A bright pink, moist tongue represents a strong and balanced digestion with healthy organs. A tongue with a white coating, cracks, spotting, dryness, excess saliva, scalloped edges or other signs indicate imbalance or issues within.
Beyond just the physical, our agni impacts our emotional and subtle bodies. It allows us to digest ideas, feelings, and experiences. It influences our ability to process, discern, vision and actualize. When the cellular connectivity is clear and open, we are clear and open. We have less blockage, disconnection, fogginess and therefore have the impulse to make better choices for our over-all health. Energy flows easier, allowing us to flow easier with life. The space and clarity within the minute and subtle channels of our being allows consciousness love, bliss to emanate.
As Dr. Vasant Lad famously put, “The ultimate fate of your food is to become bliss.”
May your inner fires be a transformation unto radiant health and love!