Agni in Ayurveda
Agni is one of the key concepts in Ayurveda. It’s a digestive fire and main characteristic of Pitta dosha. Agni could be compared to a metabolism in Ayurveda. Pitta dosha contains warm energy that helps to digest the food. Technically Pitta and Agni are the same thing, where Pitta is a vessel and Agni is that which is in the vessel.
Ayurveda is based on digestion, starting from food handling and preparation (ingredients, place, energy, fire, water, air, spices etc). Same conditions are needed for an internal ‘preparation’ of the food. The internal place of preparation becomes intestine and Agni is the fire of digestion that plays role of a wood for the fireplace. All these processes organized by the life force energy – Prana. The ventilation air that speeds up the fire is called Samana Vayu, which is sub-dosha to Vata dosha.
In the stomach, like in the pot, the food is on Fire(Agni). The stomach juice acts like water in the pot, and let each grain of food to be heated by the fire.
The digested food from previous days provides ferments for the fire.
In normal healthy state Agni supports vitality, good health and longevity. It provides ojas to the life of a person. In Ayurveda, Ojas means ones vigor, radiance, and effect life of an individual starting from immune system, physical strength, health of a skin to a spiritual inclinations, sleep and mood. Agni also interdependence with Prana, when Prana supports the whole process of digestion, same Agni protects life force and maintains body in perfect state.
In case, when Agni does not function properly, the person start feeling not well- the digestion is poor, which leds to low energy level and, even, death.
Central Agni located in the stomach. It’s a stomach acid that breaks down the food and stimulates digestion. The number of all the Agni, that regulate all the processes of digestion and metabolism in the human body, is thirteen. Five of them are located in the liver and the remaining seven are located in the main tissues of the human body.
There are many factors that could potentially negatively affect the Agni and healthy lifestyle, starting from bad food combinations, quality of food to suppressed emotions, bad sleeping habits and stressful lifestyle. All these leads to an imbalance of doshas, poor Agni, that cannot properly digest the food. Undigested food turns into a toxic, harmful, sticky substance, metabolic waste that is called Ama.
Ama is the key reason for many diseases. When all three doshas are erratic, the metabolism is unbalanced and the toxic undigested waste cannot be utilized by the body and stored in the big intestine and other organs. This leads further to weakening of the immune system, feelings of fatigue and low energy. The toxins got absorbed by the body and start circulating in a blood stream creating blockages in different organs and body tissues, leading to bad digestion, gasses, bad breath, constipation and diarrhoea as well as heart problems, arthritis, diabetes etc. One of the signs of high ama presence in the body is a thick coated layer of plaque on the tongue.
Depending on which dosha is aggravated, Agni could be balanced,random, high and low.
Types of agni in Ayurveda:
Sama agni– balanced agni. Individuals with this type has balanced body constitution, and agni provides balanced metabolism. They are usually in good health and have a stable mental and emotional state. They are more likely to live long and healthy life.
Vishama agni– random agni, usually associated with Vata dosha. Agni could be affected if the Vata dosha (air) is aggravated. Cold properties of Vata slowing down agni and make it unpredictable. The person with high Vata could experience heaviness in the stomach after food, stomach ache and bloating, gas and/or constipation. This agni type could also be represented by dry skin and joints, mouth dryness, pain in the lower back, insomnia, anxieties.
Tikshna agni– high agni, usually associated with pitta dosha. This type usually has a high metabolism. This type might have high appetite but poor digestion. The person with high Pitta might experience dry mouth and throat, burning sensation in intestine, heart burn, skin irritations and diarrhoea. Emotions that are connected with type could be envy, jealousy and anger. The person might become bitter and critical.
Manda agni– low agni, usually associated with kapha dosha. Heavy, wet, cold energies suppress the hot, light and spicy properties of Agni. This person with this type usually has a low appetite and a slow digestion, hence low metabolism. Even small amounts of food leads to heaviness in the stomach and indigestion. This type of teen has extra weight or obesity, lethargy, cold and sticky sweat, high blood pressure and diabetes. Emotions connected with this type greed, lethargy, laziness and procrastination.
Cooking food with Ayurvedic principles helps to maintain the healthy Agni function on the body. Using correct food combinations and proper spices as well as knowing the nature of Agni of each person could help to regulate the Agni and fire it up if needed. And these improve digestion, metabolism, general health and well-being.
A Few Ayurvedic Diet Recommendations:
Agni is increased with sour, salty and pungent flavours. Some of the spices recommendations to maintain strong Agni include ginger, black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper.
Eating snacks between meals weakens the Agni. It’s good to keep 4-6 hours, depending on main doshas, between the meals to keep Agni active and working properly.
Cold and heavy food slows down the digestive fire. Excess spicy, oily and fried foods aggravate the Agni. Sipping hot water between meals helps to stimulate and balance Agni.
The most active Agni during high sun hours, between 11-2pm. Is a good habit to plan the heaviest meal of the day for this time.
Yoga poses to balance me stimulate Agni include: Agnisara kriya ( done on empty stomach push and pull the stomach vigorously in and out), abdominal massage, paschimottanasana ( forward food bend), surya namesake ( sun salutations).