Agni – the digestive fire in the stomach.
The concept of Agni is another central concept of Ayurveda. According to the science of life: A person with a healthy agni, is gifted with health and longevity. In our experience, regulated agni enables to optimise the functions of the body. It helps us feel strong, improves the immune system and overall health and energy levels.
WHAT IS AGNI?
Agni is a transformative energy in the body. The agni principle, represents the enzymes or digestive juices present in the stomach and gastro-intestinal tract (jathara agni), liver (bhuta agni) and bodily tissues (dhatu agnis).
The main task of agnis (enzymes) is to help the digestion, assimilation and absorption of nutrients. This process takes place continuously in the body. According to Charaka :
This translates as” All disorders are caused by imbalance of agni.” Indeed, when our digestive system is weak, food cannot be transformed into suitable energy form to nourish and sustain the body.
BALANCED VS IMBALANCED AGNI
The state of agni is often related to with individual constitution or dosha.
- Vata predominent consitutions tends to have irregular (vishama) agni
- Pitta predominent consitutions tend to have increased (tikshna) agni
- Kapha predominent consitutions – decreased (manda) agni
If agni is imbalanced then food doesn’t get digested properly resulting in creation of toxins (ama). Toxic unprocessed food then travels through the channels to the weakest parts of the body, and gets deposited there. This is when a dis-ease is created.
What causes imbalances agni:
- Wrong diet and lifestyle habit for your constitution (dosha)
- Wrong use of the sense organs e.g. innapropriate eating habits (eating too much/too little incompatible or aggravating foods, eating before previous meal has been digested, loud environment, food with excesssive taste/smell/temperature etc.)
- Excessive thinking (fire is busy in the head digesting thoughts rather than in the stomach digesting food) and eating when feeling emotional
- Seasonal changes
- Suppression of natural urges
- Lack of sleep
What are the signs of an imbalanced agni?
- Stomach tighness, pain, bloating
- Low energy, heaviness
- Loss of appetite
- Back pain
- Bad breath
- Weight loss/gain
UNDERSTANDING HOW AGNI WORKS
We like to compare agni to a stove. More specifically to the fire that burns under the cooking pot (your stomach).
Think about what may happen to the food in the following situations:
- The fire is on and you throw raw food into the cooking pot.
- The fire is switched off or very low?
- The fire is to high?
- The food cooks nicely, becomes warm, soft and easily digestible.
- The food stagnates, remains raw, and eventually ferments creating toxic substance and acidity.
- The food is cooked too quickly, may become dry, even burn removing all the good qualities of the food and toxic.
Now think about what happens in your body in those same situations.
You may ask yourself how would one know the state of the fire (agni). Have you ever felt sensations in your stomach that could correspond to these various state of agni? What signals do you think you receive to know that your fire/pot is ready to reiceve and cook food? What is this sensation called?
Hunger. We are not talking here about appetite or wanting to eat to fill the emptiness out of boredom, emotional disconfort or by politeness. We refer to real hunger. That is the signal that agni is ready to receive, digest and transform food into pure energy.
Some of the steps we can take to maintain a healthy agni:
- Pay attention to the state of our agni
- Identify the cause of imbalance agni
- Take action to revert the imbalance
With this simple understanding, we can learn to recognise the state of our agni and adjust our behaviour accordingly to maintain strength, heath, immunity and vitality.
Ayurvedic Consultant – DipALN, DipAMT (Ayurveda)
The Ayurveda Centre – Athens