What you digest is as important as what you eat; the concept of Agni (the gatekeeper of life)
According to Ayurveda, you are as strong as your digestion. The digestive fire is described as a type of agni in Ayurvedic literature. Ayurveda believes our body has the inherent intelligence to digest not only food but all the experiences in life.
Agni, according to Ayurveda, is the intelligence within each cell, each tissue, and every system within the body. It helps us digest food, emotions, any sensory experiences that we are experiencing in life. It also helps with discernment between which substances enter our cells and tissues, and which substances should be removed as waste. In this way, healthy agni is the gatekeeper of life.
Healthy agni means good digestion, optimal nourishment of all body organs, good glowing complexion, strong immunity, courage, compassion, joy, happiness, and clear perception.
Disturbance of agni is considered to be at the root of all imbalances and diseases.
There are many different agnis described in Ayurveda. We have a main digestive fire in our stomach and in different digestive organs, in the form of stomach acid, digestive enzymes. These enzymes which help us break down our food into simpler nutrients. There are other types of agnis described in Ayurveda that are present at level of liver, cells etc. which can be roughly approximated to our absorption of nutrients from gut, their transformation into the nutrients that body needs and proper utilization of these transformed nutrients by the different cells in body.
How do we know if our agni is strong?
Impaired agni can cause symptoms like
Emotional disturbances, with an increased tendency toward fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, lethargy, or depression.
Low energy, weakness, or fatigue, feeling too cold or too hot
Suppressed appetite or overactive appetite
Indigestion: gas, bloating, constipation, nausea, hyperacidity, loose stools, a sense of heaviness, feeling tired or mentally foggy after meals.
A tendency toward congestion in the sinuses, the lymph, or even the mind.
Short term disturbances, if caught quickly, can be corrected with diet and lifestyle changes but over the long term, impaired digestive fire can cause toxic substance called ama which is capable of disrupting our health.
The type of food we eat can certainly affect the digestion, but so can many other things
Think of the digestion process as a pot of food on campfire. Cooking the food well depends on multiple factors like fire underneath, if there is wind around, and how much water is in the food.
There are different things that can affect the digestive fire.
Some of these are,
1. Season. There is less hunger in summer and rainy season. more in winter season
2. Lack of exercise.
3. Stress and lack of sleep: some people emotionally eat when hungry, some people do not feel hungry at all. If the fire is burning well, one will get hungry. If fire not burning well then there will be less / no hunger.
4. Too much to too little water can impair digestion. Do not drink large amount of water, especially cold water during/ immediately after a meal
5. Inappropriate foods/ food combinations
6. Presence of toxicity/ ama
What can be done to balance the agni?
eat at same time every day
drink warm water 30 minutes before you eat
drink small sips of warm water though the meal , not more than 8 oz. with the meal
Do not overeat. Being mindful while eating, means only eating and not multitasking while eating can help us recognize body's clue that it is full.
Eat only when hungry
Avoid wrong food combination.
Avoid anything ice cold food/ drinks
Eat largest meal for lunch, eat very light to digest meals for dinner. Avoid eating after 7pm
Regular exercise, yoga , meditation, pranayama to enhance circulation and flow of oxygen to all body organs while also destressing
1 Textbook of Ayurveda, Volume 1, Fundamental principles: Dr. Vasant Lad
Yoga practices to strengthen Agni. Different sequence can be chosen based on the students current imbalances and current level of activity and flexibility. If you are new to yoga, it is strongly advised to learn Yoga with a qualified teacher to maximize benefit and reduce chances of injury
Sun salutations . Have the SUN even in their name, excellent to invoke the Sun (Fire Element ) within us.
Here is a link to some other yoga postures that can help with digestion
Here is a link to where I learnt and go to practice Yoga