Agni our Digestive Fire
Did you ever hear of Agni; Sanskrit for digestive fire? Eight years ago I came across this word. Back then not realising how important it is to fully explore its meaning and its manifestation in the body. For years I have had troubles with my digestion. I was suffering from cramping, loose stools, abdominal pain and flatulence. Not the most charming symptoms to talk about. Since these problems are so common these days, I want to remove the taboo from it. So I will elaborate a little further on it. ;) Back then I thought it was quite normal. Many friends had similar complaints. Until the day that I discovered blood in my stools. Only then I visited a doctor not knowing back then that it would be a turning point. And I am still grateful that it happened. It was the starting point for self-development and my spiritual path. Also, my journey into food and nutrition started.
What is Agni?
So what is Agni? Agni also known as ‘fire’ is responsible for all our transformational processes in our body and mind. All metabolic functions in the body are controlled by our Agni. This means our digestion, cellular metabolism, but also the perception of our senses and the processing of mental experiences. Yes, Agni doesn’t only exist on a physical level it is also present on the mental level; all affecting each other. This makes sense why many health gurus speak about eating in a quite and peaceful environment, right? Eating in front of television is absolutely a no go in Ayurveda. The more digestion takes place either mental or physical the less focus there is. So light a candle, sit comfortable and focus on all sensorial experiences of the food. :)
How can we improve Agni?
The number one rule is to eat only when you are hungry. With this we mean in Ayurveda when your body gives off signals like a growling stomach. This sound and feeling is provoked because of the air in the stomach: a sign that your stomach is empty. So unfortunately, just a mental longing for food is not sufficient to grab a bite.
- In general leave 4 - 6 hours in between meals. Vata/Pitta types can eat smaller portions of food more frequently like every 3 - 4 hours. Kapha types should stick to the 6 hours.
- Don’t snack. Digestion takes about 6 hours, depending on the constitution you have. Pitta types have the fastest digestion, Vata is irregular so it depends on the day and Kapha types have the slowest digestive capacity. If you snack in between you are asking your body to restart a process that has not been finished yet. The body is still repairing and working, snacking will remove the energy from the parts that need it. In short, it weakens Agni.
- Sip some ginger / lemon tea before and after the meals.
- Agni is increased by pungent, sour and salty flavours (note: these flavours aggravate Pitta so be careful Pitta’s). These flavours are especially beneficial for Vata and Kapha types.
- The bitter flavour helps to break down proteins. It is a stimulant for the secretions of hydrochloric acid. Besides aiding in the digestion of proteins, hydrochloric acid is responsible for the liberation of vitamin B12 from food and it kills unwanted bacteria. It is good to either combine it in your dinner or eat / drink something bitter after the meal.
- The astringent flavour should not be consumed before the meal. It is cooling to the body and therefore has a contracting action on the body. Before the meal this will shut down the channels (blood vessels, digestive tract), called srota's in Sanskrit, in the body. Rose, Chamomile, Turmeric, Sage, Carob infusions and green tea all contain the astringent taste and therefore can be best consumed after the meal. Just take small sips since too much liquid shuts down the digestive fire.