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Healthy Agni Digestive Fire
Agni Digestive Fire is one of the pillars of good health in Ayurveda. You cannot have overwhelmingly good health unless your Agni is strong. Strong physical Agni enables you to convert foods and liquids into energy.
Good mental Agni is what creates psychological resilience, and enables you to convert experience into wisdom. Agni tends to be strong in Pitta types, and weak in Vata and Kapha.
Your Agni Is Health When You Have
- normal hunger
- no discomfort after eating
- no belching with the meal
- a light feeling after eating
- a feeling of satisfaction and well being after meals
- regular excretion of wastes
- normal consistency of wastes (bowel movement well formed like a ripe banana)
- wastes have a mild odor
- an absence of respiratory and other infectious illness
- good immune system
- healthy joints
Ama Digestive Toxins
Ama is the toxic sludge that develops in the gut when Agni is weak. It can also develop in people with naturally strong Agni who weaken their Agni through unhealthy diet and lifestyle (see, below). Ama is one of the bases for disease in Ayurveda.
Ama digestive toxins accumulate in the Large Intestine for Vata dosha, in the Small Intestine for Pitta dosha, and in the Stomach for Kapha. If left to fester, over time the Ama overflows into the shrotas (channels) and tissues associated with your primary and secondary dosha. This then leads to disease in those tissues.
Your Ama Digestive Toxins Have Accumulated When You Feel or There Are:
- Thick or Greasy Tongue Coating
- Sinus Congestion
- Heavy Feeling in the Gut
- Foggy on rising in the morning
- Weak for no reason
- Lethargic and Unmotivated
- Chronic cough
- Exhaustion, Physical or Mental
- Loss of Appetite or No Zest for Food/ or Food seems tasteless
- Catch Colds too frequently
How To Weaken Your Agni Digestive Fire
Digestive fire is weakened by overuse of cold and liquid substances. This is really critical. I have seen many many patients who have damaged their Agni by force feeding water because of the misinformation about drinking 8 glasses of water a day. There is no science and no tradition behind this idea.
Why People Believe its “Healthy” to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day
In the 1920’s an American scientist did research on how much fluid an average adult male American consumes in a day; that includes the water in your steak, in your green beans, in your espresso, even in your dried apricot. He concluded the average was 8 oz.
Somehow, chiropractors and naturopaths grabbed onto this tidbit and began prescribing 64oz. of water a day. Try drinking that much. It is not easy. It completely cools and dilutes your digestive fire.
Water is Inherently Cooling
Water is inherently cool, that is why in the desert when you come upon moist soil it is cooler than dry soil. Sometimes in their zeal to combat the ravages of the industrial revolution on workers in England, naturopathic minded physicians went to the opposite radical extreme. We see that in the heavy use of purgative laxatives, as well.
Ayurveda believes in paying attention to your thirst, and drinking when thirsty. The problem is that many people get busy and ignore their thirst. The remedy is to pay attention, not to force feed cold fluid.
Overconsumption of Raw, Cold, Iced, Heavy Foods; Lack of Spice
Why Raw Food Can Damage Agni
So Agni/digestive fire is weakened by over consumption of liquids and cold foods, and that includes over consumption of raw food, especially for Vata dominants.
Raw food is inherently cooling because your gut has to provide the fire to cook it. It takes the body’s Agni to break down cellulose. Raw food cools you off, in Summer. But if your Agni digestive fire is weak, then you want to fire it up, not cool it off.
Pitta types, with fierce Agni, can have more raw food. But even Pitta have to eat less of it in cold or rainy weather.
Why Iced Beverages Damage Agni
Iced beverages, particularly in cold weather and in winter; damage Agni immediately. Iced beverages are an American invention; they are a luxury, never in human history have we placed ice packs on the lining of our stomach.
Cold inhibits movement. It retards the flow of blood. Good digestion involves increased movement and blood flow to the lining of the stomach. Some people crave iced beverages because their Pitta is overheated. But you can cool down Pitta in healthy ways with cooling foods like fresh fruit and meditation.
Agni is also weakened by over consumption of heavy foods such as wheat and meat, especially if cooked without spices or eaten without condiments of pickles, which stimulate agni; by eating before the previous meal is digested; by improper food combining; by a lack of fermented foods; by bread made with baker’s yeast, not natural sour.
You can also weaken your Agni by consumption of food at the wrong time–meaning not matched to the season, climate, your age, or your health condition; by sexual over activity and by overwork; by lack of exercise (a quick way to stimulate agni is to go for a 45 minute walk); and by mental causes–excessive amounts of loneliness, fear, anger, sadness, worry, greed, envy, etc.
Unfortunately, the standard USA diet and lifestyle is probably the most weakening to the digestive fire in human history. Lots of gigantic iced beverages, lots of cold foods, a lack of spices, lots of sweet bland and heavy foods, lack of variety, an overabundance of damp producing wheat and meat in the diet, a lack of vegetables, especially green ones; eating old wrecked foods, such as week old prepared foods and frozen foods; eating without regards to the seasons for example drinking Coconut Water in winter or cold rainy weather; rushed eating; multi-tasking while eating, such as the business lunch, or eating at the computer or t.v.; not going to the bathroom when there is urge; over exercise like running marathons, and under exercise, by a lifestyle characterized by excessive speed and stimulation with lack of deep relaxation, or the lifestyle characterized by sloth, couch potato-ness and sitting for hours before the t.v. With lack of mental stimulation.
How does weak Agni lead to disease?
When Agni is weak Ama forms. Ama literally means “raw, unripened, uncooked” Sadly, it refers to food that is absorbed into the body without having been completely digested first. (This is akin to what Chinese medicine describes as a failure of the Spleen’s transformation and transportation mechanism, which leads to accumulation of dampness and stagnant Qi in the Triple Burner.)
This undigested material cannot be processed. It is like sending incorrect input into your computer. It crashes. In our bodies this undigested material, Ama, is toxic; it served to clog our channels of communication, and to disrupt normal physiological functions. Instead of our body getting the pure essence of foods “rasa” (the arisal of the clear in Chinese medicine) as its essential nutritive substance, instead it gets a foul, sticky substance that clogs the channels/srotas, and impairs the tissues/dhatus. Ama is the substance then, that nourishes disease. And mental Ama arises when the mind is unable to digest experience, leaving it stuck and sticky.
Even in the case of infectious diseases, the exposure to disease-causing micro-organisms only causes disease in those folk whose interior milieus are vulnerable and weakened.
The following is a quick summary of ways to engender Agni and prevent Ama:
Agni is engendered and Ama prevented by
- eating while relaxed in an appetizing setting
- chewing well enough
- starting with a little soup, ending with a little tea
- avoiding iced or chilled foods and beverages
- avoiding excessive raw food depending on your dosha
- eating according to your dosha and age
- eating with the seasons
- stopping when you are less than full
- not over-drinking with the meal
- including all 6 tastes in a meal
- eating food that is freshly prepared, or less than 24 hours old if cooked
- sipping some tea after a meal
- going for a brief stroll after a meal
- using spices and herbs in cooking
- using digestive herbs and spices as medicine
- starting the day with some ginger root or fennel tea
- appropriate physical activity (but away from meal time)
Agni is weakened and Ama formed by
- eating foods inappropriate to your Dosha
- or the season or your current health state
- eating the same foods all the time
- drinking too much fluid with meals
- resisting the urge to eat
- eating old or frozen food
- too much rich foods
- consuming poisonous food: pesticides, drugs, etc.
- eating too much of any one taste
- staying up late, eating late at night
- insufficient exercise
- unprocessed feelings, conflicts, etc.
Ama is removed from the Body-Mind by
- Pranayam (Deep Breathing)
- Meditative Practice and “Personal Growth” type work
- Moderate Sweating through exercise appropriate to your Dosha (e.g. Pitta type should not run under hot sun, Vata should not overdo aerobics, Kapha should push themselves)
- Yoga, Tai Qi, and Martial Arts Practices
- Dietary Practices such as Mono Diet Fast:
- Fasting that does not damage Agni, appropriate to Dosha*
- Herbs like Trifala, Guggul, and Neem
- Panchakarma treatment involving Warm Oil Massage, Special Diet,
*Mono-diet Fasting, Silence, followed by appropriate expurgation therapy.
When there is a diet and lifestyle appropriate to ones Dosha, and when the guidelines of Ayurveda are followed well, with lots of good Agni, and little impure Ama, then the end product of digestion is the production of Ojas, similar to Jing in Chinese Medicine, a kind of deep stored physical life force, akin to a savings account full of wealth.
copyright eyton shalom, 2014 san diego, ca, all rights reserved use with permission