Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Agni (Digestive Fire) - How Is Yours?

Agni is known as the 'digestive fire' according to Ayurveda - it is the basis of all major functions in the body and is the foundation for health. Agni is what allows us to process nutrients from food while burning off waste products. Digestion is important and elimination of waste is equally as crucial to maintain health.

Agni refers to the principle of processing food, in addition to processing experiences, memories, emotions and sensory impressions. We not only physically digest our food, but we need to "digest" and process our experiences on a daily basis.

In an Ayurvedic assessment, your state of agni is assessed and treated accordingly. When agni is unbalanced, digestion weakens, toxins linger in the body, illness takes a hold and vitality diminishes. Balanced agni is essential for well being !

According to Ayurveda, we are each born with a different constitution - our tendencies in our agni is based on our constitution, as well as environmental and lifestyle factors such as climate, daily routine and the food we eat. Below are the four major types of agni and tips on how to help balance your agni:

Vishama Agni: irregular metabolism 

Often associated with excess vata, vishama agni is erratic with digestive patterns that alternate between fast and slow.  This may be evident in conditions such as IBS, diarrhea, constipation (or alternating between the two), gas and rumbling in the abdomen.  Appetite may be irregular and elimination may be irregular.

How to Balance Vishama agni:

  • Establish routine: regular meal times & avoid overeating in one sitting
  • A pinch of cumin and rock salt can be ground and chewed before meals 
  • Add spices such as ginger and black pepper in the diet
  • Vata care if present in your constitution (Vata pacifying diet & lifestyle)
  • Regular abhyangas or Ayurvedic massage
  • Herbs such as Triphala (dosage and timings should be customized by your practitioner)

Manda Agni: slow metabolism 

Often associated with excess Kapha, manda agni indicates slow, sluggish digestion. Only small meals can be eaten, and undigested food sits in the stomach and intestines leading to heaviness in the body and mind.  There may be associated kapha conditions such frequent colds & coughs, mucous, congestion, swelling, lymph congestion, oversalivation, excess weight, cold clammy skin etc. A thick white coat may be observed on the tongue first thing in the morning.

How to Balance Manda agni: 

  • Tongue scraping in the morning
  • Practise yoga that is invigorating and rejuvenating (surya namaskar, hatha yoga)
  • Chew on fresh ginger before meals to stimulate agni
  • Use spices such as cinnamon, clove, fenugreek, ginger
  • Prepare food that is colourful, fresh and pleasing to all the senses
  • Focus on 2-3 main meals a day: avoid snacking and make lunch the largest meal
  • Kapha care if present in your constitution (Kapha pacifying diet & lifestyle)

Tikshna Agni: fast metabolism

Often associated with excess Pitta, tikshna agni is when digestion is too strong and fast.  Appetite may be insatiable, desiring large amounts of food which may pass too quickly through the digestive tract. Symptoms may include burning sensations, acid reflux, diarrhea, hot flashes, inflammation and low energy.

How to Balance Tikshna Agni:

  • Follow a Pitta pacifying diet
  • Avoid pungent spices such as garlic, chili and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol
  • Incorporate cooling foods and spices such as cumin, fennel, coriander, mint, dill etc.
  • Drink lassi (Indian buttermilk) after meals - customize with spices suiting your constitution
  • Herbs such as amla, licorice and aloe juice can be beneficial for Pitta balancing
  • Meditation and rejuvenating yoga to balance and calm the system

Sama Agni: the balanced state 

When agni is balanced, you can enjoy healthy digestion and a clear state of mind. Individuals with sama agni can digest a reasonable amount of food in any season and enjoy balanced digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients along with a strong immune system and happiness in their lives.  They are also able to process and handle new situations, experiences and emotions with strength and balance. Unfortunately in our modern lifestyle, sama agni is rare : processed food, erratic & high-paced lives throw agni off balance very easily.  However, the earlier an imbalance in agni is detected, the easier it is to correct with ayurvedic guidance. 

Agni is the key to health. It is the force that processes your food, emotions and experiences. The four varieties of agni help you identify a healthy balanced state of agni versus factors that throw your agni off balance. It is important to understand that each individual will have a unique set of symptoms and need a customized approach to balancing agni. In an Ayurvedic assessment, state of agni is determined by looking at the tongue, pulse, abdomen and other key observations in the consultation. Yoga, meditation, wholesome food and state of mind, balance between work and life, relaxation and spending time with friends and loved ones can help keep agni strong through the winter months!

Dr. Leena Athparia is a Naturopathic doctor & Ayurvedic practitioner at Naturopathic Foundations. If you are healthy and looking into preventing disease or learning more about your constitution, Dr. Athparia can help you. Please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.