A eureka moment came a few months ago, when I realised that everything I teach and have learned has its foundation in balancing Agni.
The Agni I refer to so liberally in my Ayurvedic Yoga classes and Ayurvedic education is the digestive fire that is within every dhatu(tissue), it is the cellular power to transform nutritional sources. These sources are vast, but they are as much for the material body, in food and liquid, as they are for the subtle body; the mind, emotional body and the causal body. What information we gain through our senses is nutrition for our mind and Heart.
In plain speaking terms, Agni is fire.... in Vedic tradition, He is the God of Fire. He is manifested in 5 material or natural ways:
1:In Fire itself
4:Jatharagni, our personal digestive fire, the main agni of the body
5:Destructive fire, such as a forest fire
The value of Fire is unlimited, due to Life depending upon its heat for growth of Life and sustaining it.
In Ayurvedic and Yoga terms fire is the power to transform one thing into another. This is shown through photosynthesis in plant life, which uses the energy from light to be nourished and then grow. The process of fermentation is another example, both using the subtle power of Fire for change.
And it is this power to change things that we are seeking to keep in balance for our own Agni.
For those who need a more medical thought process, Agni is a metaphor for the physiological function of chemicals in the body.
Agni has the ability to change something, but not be changed itself, which is also the definition of an enzyme. (Enzyme: special proteins in the body that modify something, but the enzyme is not modified itself.) Agni has a special intelligence, not a multi-faceted intelligence like a dosha, but Agni intelligence is based on its understanding of exactly how to breakdown, digest and assimilate food and substances.
Agni is our first protection against pathogens that come in to the body. This fire burns with protective power. If our Agni is completely balanced we are stronger in fighting colds, flu's and viral infection.
Agni also prevents toxicity from building up in the body. Toxicity is known as ama in Ayurveda, build up of toxicity begins first through improper digestive process. Where there is proper functioning Agni, no ama can survive.
Ama is that which is not assimilated or evacuated from the body (the true definition of digestion is that which IS assimilated or evacuated). Ama is undigested food particles which first cling to different parts of the digestive system(the place that ama moves to depends upon any weakness of the dosha or weakness in the digestive system itself). If you can imagine one small particle not being digested from every meal. For example; since the age of 7 years old? Left in the body over years this paste like sludge, accumulating and confusing the natural functions of the body.
The first sign of ama is fatigue. To alter the symptoms of fatigue and ama build up, we need to work on the balance of Agni and make some efforts, if possible, to work on the dominant constitutional dosha at the same time. As the dominant dosha rules the activity of Agni, as explained below.
Ama creates fatigue because of the effect it has on the digestive system. It makes the digestion work harder and longer to get the same job done. The qualities of ama are damp, sticky, oily, sludge like and cold. It has no intelligence at all, it just attaches itself where it can until it is shifted through the creation of some form of heat.
This substance coats the digestion and interferes with its natural process. The digestion chugs along to transform food into nutritive powers, even though the Agni power has been affected in some way due to ama present.
We need to work on how our Agni operates to assist in creating better digestion. And if ama is present, then certainly Agni is not functioning at optimum.
As I was saying earlier, the dominant dosha rules the Agni, and here is how:
There are Four distinctions with Agni that help to identify the Agni process. Each dominant dosha has a direct effect upon the resident Agni. This is reflected below- and the one we all would strive for is the balanced Agni.
Three states of Agni:
Balanced - correct functioning of the digestive process, the Agni that brings health
Variable - when there are states of high, states of low and states of balance, and this variable state includes the element of irregularity due to the ether/ air element of Vata. This can be moving fast, or very slow or even constipation.
High - signs too much fire due to the Pitta dosha, excess and or over function or too fast, this can be running fast or feelings of high acid or excess heat in the digestion.
Low - signs of dullness, slow, sluggish, due to the earth element of Kapha.
If you can pick three to five of these recommendations, and work on them for two weeks, you should, with awareness, notice a difference in your overall Agni function.
Nutrition: We can improve our digestive balance in a few extremely simple ways.
1 Never ever drink ice cold or very cold beverages at meal time. And to be honest, very cold drinks at any time create Agni imbalance. It has the same effect as putting a bucket of water on a fire. We have damped our Agni down, and to rekindle the fire and bring it up to optimum functioning takes alot of energy. Tepid or room temperature drinks are the best to aid Agni at meal time.
2 The time we eat our meals is important, but we often find we are struggling with work and life happenings to follow this simple rule. We need to make our health a larger priority. Eating at the correct time, and the correct amount of food are vital Agni rules.
Timing is everything. We should eat when we are hungry. We should not eat if we are not hungry.
If you have a dominant Kapha dosha, you will not be hungry for breakfast.
If you have a dominant Pitta dosha, you will always be hungry at meal times, but more so for breakfast and midday meals.
If you have a dominant Vata dosha, you will have a variable appetite.
And these are all normal, but the more we balance them, the better we will feel and function.
Kapha should not eat in the morning if they arent hungry, as their Agni is still asleep, and wont get going until 10 or 11am and by then they could even wait for the midday meal. This practice of not eating when not hungry will help to regulate the Kapha Agni, by stoking the digestive fire.
Pitta just have to be prepared for their meals and eat well in time. Their appetite can tend to get too high, that they may stuff their system, or eat rubbish or pick at food in a rush to pacify their high Agni.
Vata need to keep to regular meal times, regular sized meals, and yes, they should eat something at these times every day. so as to regulate their Agni.
3 The amount we eat is very important, as I have demonstrated in the other blog. It is said in Ayurveda that once a burp appears,we have reached fullness that allows digestion to be facilitated completely. After that we could be likely to increase our ama levels.
4 Again, Chew Chew Chew. A simple Agni rule. Chew again. And in the Chewing process, breathe and feed the body and a then hint of a smile.
5 Eat with gratitude and in an environment that is pleasant and nourishing. If in company, make sure you eat with people you like, emotional and or mental tension dampens Agni as fast as cold water.
After the meal, sit and be still for at least three minutes. Just to wait, digest, appreciate and allow the Agni to work. Placing your hand on your belly will help bring focus and mindfulness into the digestive power. And smile, your body intelligence is amazing.
6 To eat less red meat, as this is the hardest to digest and takes the longes, 3 days long! Try to eat less meat every day. Most people forget they have ham at lunch, or some sort of meat. It is beneficial to become vegetarian a few days a week...or at least try one day a week, it can test your skills at ingenuity at the start, but is so much easier on our Agni.
Eat more grains! Eat less 'White' foods...such as breads, dairy, sugary foods. We all know the list, but these are culprits to injure Agni because of the amount we eat of them, not because they are dangerous to eat. Bread and dairy have this sticky oily quality within them that is akin to ama.
So the best time to eat them if we are doing so, is to eat them when Agni is highest...most often in the morning or the midday meal.
Using whole foods when we can, will allow us to bring in more Prana and this will assist our Agni too. Processed foods remove alot of the natural digesting process. But processed foods also add in more complicated issues for Agni, such as excess sugars, salt and additives. How we can receive Prana from foods that have been stored for a long time is a great concern for Ayurvedic education. The reason for eating is to receive Prana.
7 Use spices in your food or loose before meals to help Agni power. The lengthy list of attributes for turmeric, ginger, cumin, fennel just goes on. We can try them as a digestive aid in a small warm shot of water before meals. Most people would be up for using spices to to flavour your grains as simple option. (If you need some help or ideas how to do this email me.)
8 To assist Agni function whether it is high, low or variable, making soups and stews is one way to ease the digestion. A slow cooking soup or stew allows a part of the digestive process to start before we eat, as it begins the transformation process in the pot. And best of all, the foods transfer, connect and combine their energetic properties, so that, again, our digestion does not need to work harder.
9 Self study will increase the cellular Agni. When we become aware of our habits and patterns, we have a chance to then change them. The simple matter of daily routine of bedtime, sleep and waking hours is important to whole health. From there you can keep a mental note of what you have eaten in the day. And to let your Agni have a rest between meals.
We should know what it is like to be a little hungry, this is the time that the Agni fire is preparing to build power for the next meal, to burn, assimilate and transform. If we are always full with food, how could Agni have time to complete the digestive process with one meal and start digesting a new meal?
Three meals a day is giving Agni the time and space to complete its functions, with time for preparation of the next day.
10 Moving the body in some form for thirty minutes at least 3 times a week balances Agni function. A simple Yoga asana practice in an Ayurvedic perspective is firstly to balance Agni. So the folding, bending and stretching of the joints and the centre of the body increase Agni and remove toxicity from joints and digestive system. Folding and stretching the middle of the body is Agni maintenance, as if to fan the fire, at the same time aids in pushing ama out.
Ten ways to improve Agni, all viable and relatively easy to do, but have we made ourselves a priority enough to begin today?
Alot of information for one small blog, but hopefully if you have questions, do please ask, and I will try to clarify a very in depth subject.
Text ©2012 by Marie Mills