What is Agni? The word translates from Sanskrit as ‘fire’, but it is so much more. Instead of being some quaint term from ‘ancient’ India, it is a complex concept encompassing the ability we have as human beings to transform; it is the ability to become, the capacity to grow, the very process of creation. The better our ability to transform what we eat, the air we breathe and the sensual experiences that we encounter daily, the more ‘healthy’ we are.
Whether it be our food or our mood, our strength of “digestion” dictates our well-being. A balanced, healthy Agni gives a balanced healthy body. An imbalanced Agni then produces something called Ama in the body, which is a sticky, toxic, unintelligent substance that blocks and damages healthy tissues. Akin to ‘free-radicals” Ama creates a toxic environment which at a minimum impedes proper flow of nutrients to cells, and at its worst, it covers cells and causes cell differentiation and serious illnesses like cancer.
Agni is at the core of all health and healing according to Ayurveda
When a piece of food enters our mouth there is a change of consciousness. Immediately the whole organism makes ready for the incoming nutrition. Every food or substance has its message to give to the body/mind and through its taste (Rasa), energetic (Virya) and post-digestive effect (Vipak). Its consciousness becomes part of us and forms who we are and how we think. Kapha goes into action immediately secreting enzymes and saliva to start starch digestion and help us to swallow. Prana is there to get the show organized with movement and breath. This is the first of six different stages of digestion according to Ayurveda. However, it is the great Agni that is at the core of all health and healing according to Ayurveda.
I talk to so many people who have trouble with their digestion, in fact, today it seems that the western world is rife with food and substance ‘intolerances’ and ‘allergies’ that are now seemingly epidemic.
Why is that? It is complicated, but it is ultimately about Agni. If we have a powerful ‘fire’ then we can transform our intake into a healthy self and burn up what is not needed and discard the rest through the feces, urine, sweat and our dreams. Why dreams? Because it is Agni’s job to ‘digest’ all the sights, sounds, smells, etc…of the day. If our digestion is poor then our sleep will be restless, our minds agitated and our bodies unable to rejuvenate in deep rest in the night when the identified ego is not present.
How to make your Agni better, more efficient?
Eat moderately, eat regularly, eat a balanced diet. The body LOVES routine (just like kids do) and eating at the same time every day. Whether you are aware of it or not, the body is preparing for your next meal and if you eat at the same time every day the digestive juices will already in action even before you eat.
Don’t drink cold drinks before, during or after meals! In fact don’t drink if hungry, don’t eat if thirsty! Hot tea is the best, ginger tea or hot lemon water work well, but only in small amounts.
Employ proper food combining. Generally, that means don’t eat fruit with else, especially not melons with other foods, don’t combine seafoods and dairy products and drink milk on its own. Basically try to eat foods that take similar times to digest and avoid putting foods that needs loads of stomach acid to digest with those that need very little. The one will bock the other.
Use some warming spices in your home-cooked meals and avoid spicy restaurant foods. Some good warming spices are fresh ginger, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, turmeric and small amounts of black pepper.
Not hungry in the morning for breakfast? Eat less in the evening and don’t sleep within 90 min and ideally 2-3 hours after a meal. Want to gain weight? Sleep just after a heavy meal, it will do the job quickly!
Agni has its roots as a concept in the Veda and beyond. Every culture in the world has bowed down to the awesome power of ‘fire’ and fire rituals are the oldest and most essential in all the religions the world at some point in their history. It is because we all know that without it we would never be, nor become what we want to be.