Why Building Agni is THE Most Important Health Priority
Like the sun to the earth, agni (meaning fire in sanskrit) is a source of life to the body. It must be present in the right places and in the right amount in order to bring about a state of health. Too little and our bodies are cold and digestion sluggish. Too much and we overheat and burn out. It is a delicate balance and one that is essential to find.
Nearly 2,500 years ago Hippocrates said that “disease begins in the gut”. In Ayurveda the idea that health (and thus disease too) begins in the gut is a central teaching. And it all comes down to the strength and quality of agni. Agni is found in all tissues of the body but the main one is jathara-agni (the digestive fire) which affects all the other agnis and is the one we aim to support first.
Your Digestive Fire
If you imagine a pot of rice being cooked on a fire, the strength of the fire will quite obviously affect the quality of the rice produced. If the fire is too low the rice will remain uncooked while if it is too high the rice at the bottom will burn before the rice at the top has had time to cook. Our digestion is the same. If agni is low, it can lead to undigested and unprocessed nutrients, weight gain, and bloating. If it is high it can cause excessive hunger, irritability, sharp emotions and weight loss. If jathara agni is out of balanced it also has the tendency to leave its main site (the digestive system) and go out looking for weak spots in the body. This then causes pain and inflammation in the body and if left untreated can lead to more serious diseases.
When we have a strong, healthy and balanced agni however, we don’t suffer any digestive discomforts, we have plenty of energy (including after meals), our skin is soft and radiant, we have a content disposition and can easily meet challenges. A healthy agni is THE secret to a healthy and happy life.
Assessing Your Agni
The first step to building a healthy agni is to figure out a) if it is imbalanced and b) in what way? There are three ways that agni can go out of balance, each relating to one of the three doshas.
Mandāgni – Slow / low digestive fire – typical of kapha
Tīkṣṇāgni – High / fast digestive fire – typical of pitta
Vishmagni – Variable, high/low, fast/slow – typical of vata
If you already know your prakriti (nature – our dominant dosha/s) you might already relate to the descriptions above. However we don’t always neatly fit in the categories of three doshas , things are not always that simple. It is very possible for you to have a dominance of one dosha while experiencing an imbalance agni of a different dosha.
Tips to Balance Agni
This is probably the key to supporting a healthy digestive fire: stick to a routine. It is most important for vishmagni and tikshnagi but is just a general good habit for everybody. Once you find a routine that works for you you will find that your hunger starts to develop shortly before your allotted meal time. Stick with it.
Add heat (especially for Mandāgni)
For people with a slow digestive fire you can slowly build the heat by eating a teaspoon of the following mixture 20 mins before mealtime.
Cool things down (especially for Tīkṣṇāgni)
For people with a fast digestive fire try to cool things down by eating cooling foods – especially raw foods. Generally raw food is n’t much celebrated in ayurveda because it’s not recommended for most body types however when the fire is too high the coldness and high fiber content of raw foods help slow the digestion down a little bit. You can also try a cooling blend of ayurveda’s famous CCF tea:
One teaspoon each of coriander, cumin and fennel seeds steeped as a tea and drank throughout the day when cooled off.
Favour Carminatives (especially for vishmagni)
Add gently warming digestive aids that are also carminatives (reduce gas and bloating) to your food. Try ginger, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin and asafoetida. You can also try a commonly available formula called Hingvastak (whose main ingredient is hing/asafoetida) which you can sprinkle on top of your food or eat with the first bite.
Make your mealtime sacred
Forget grabbing a bite while madly meeting that deadline, eating in front of tv or eating while on the go. While these are all good time-saving measures, in the long run they hurt us more than they help. By adding stress to our mealtimes our agni gets inhibited and will leave us with less energy to get our jobs done. Even if you feel pressed for time, it will be worthwhile to take a break, slow down and eat your food in a calm and quiet place.
Unsure of the state of your own agni? Always be sure to contact an ayurvedic counselor, practitioner or doctor for advice that’s tailored to you. While these tips are helpful starting points, for more serious conditions a lot more can be done and for that you would definitely need the guidance of a trained professional.
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