The concept of ‘Agni’ or ‘Digestive Fire’ in Ayurveda is vital and central to Ayurvedic medicine. The objective is to keep this digestive fire stoked, without allowing it to get too big or smothering it to death. Briefed in this article is the concept of ‘Agni’ in Ayurveda, its importance, and some tips to keep this ‘Agni’ burning.
What is ‘Agni’ or ‘digestive fire’?
Agni basically refers to our ability to process food. When looking at it in a broader aspect, ‘Agni’ refers to our ability to process all aspects of our life basically, which includes food, experiences, sensory impressions and memory. In other words, Agni or digestive fire is responsible for absorbing nutrients and other essential elements required by the body when it is burning off waste products.
‘Strong Agni’ vs ‘Weak Agni’
We all have different digestive capacities. How do you know if you are digesting your food properly? When our ‘agni’ is strong, we can digest food more efficiently, while if our agni is weak, our body will not digest food well, creating toxic residue or ‘ama’ that lodges deep in our cells. After eating, if you feel satisfied and energized, it implies that you are digesting your food properly. Your bowel movements too will be well formed and timely, and you will feel hungry shortly on waking up in the morning. A strong ‘agni’ basically leads to excellent health and well-being, while the accumulation of ‘ama’ can lead to slow deterioration of the body.
Meanwhile, if you are experiencing exhaustion, lethargy, pain or discomfort after eating, you are not digesting your food properly. Some other indications like constipation, diarrhea, lack of appetite and overall feeling of sluggishness, are also indications that your food may not be digesting well.
Ayurveda suggests eating based on individual body constitution. Along with determining how to eat properly based on your unique constitution, it is ‘agni’ which decides how and what we should be eating. Our ‘agni’ or ‘digestive fire’ can get compromised if we overeat, under-eat, or eat the same foods all year through irrespective of season change, drink too much water with meals, eat at irregular times, stay up late and do not exercise.
Tips to keep your ‘agni’ or ‘digestive fire’ kicking:
- Follow your own body’s signals, and eat only when you are hungry. Resist the urge to snack throughout the day, as your body needs time to digest your previous meal.
- Exercise regularly. Some form of daily movement is essential, whether it is yoga or a daily walk, or both. However, do not exercise for two to three hours after you eat a meal, else, your food will not digest completely.
- Always eat foods that balance your body type, eat based on seasons, and in proper proportions. Do not eat more food than our stomach can accommodate, as we cannot properly digest it. The body tends to produce more acid, causing reflux or indigestion. Ayurveda suggest that we leave at least one-quarter of our stomach empty to allow our body to easily digest the meal. Eat in a relaxed, quite atmosphere, enjoying the taste of what you eat.
- Several studies have confirmed that meditating for 20 to 30 minutes a day can help in restoring the body’s homeostatis, including the process controlling digestion. Ensure that you include meditation as part of your daily routine.
- Ayurveda considers ‘ginger’ as the universal remedy for digestion. Due to its immense health benefits, it has been used for years to treat digestive issues. Ginger can relax smooth muscle of intestines, helping to relieve symptoms of gas and cramping and stimulates digestion.
- Largest meal of the day should be lunchtime. This is because our bodies can digest food at its best during mid-day, when our digestive fire is at its peak. Several studies have found that our digestive system secretes highest concentration of ‘digestive juices’ around noon, thereby making it the best time to eat the largest meal.
So, just as Ayurveda believes ‘We are not what we eat, but, we are what we digest’. Therefore, our aim should be to strengthen our digestive ability, which is the foundation for good health and vitality.