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Did you know that several diseases and health conditions begin in the gut?
It means that if you maintain a healthy gut, you can live a healthier life and enjoy greater well-being. According to Ayurvedic principles, you’re not what you eat but what you digest.
Today, we’ll discuss what Agni, the digestive fire, really is and how it improves health.
What is Agni?
The word ‘Agni’ means fire in Sanskrit. You may be surprised to hear that the name of the Vedic god of fire in India is ‘Agni”.
In Ayurveda, it refers to the digestive or metabolic fire in our body. This digestive fire is responsible for regulating body temperature, supporting the digestive process, absorbing and assimilating nutrients in the stomach, and converting food into energy. Hence, we can say that the characteristic of Agni determines your specific digestive capacity.
Agni is the force of intelligence within the body. While it directly impacts various functions, it can also be the root of body imbalances and diseases. An unhealthy diet, poor lifestyle, and unresolved emotions may impair Agni, which in turn, disrupts the functions of the body.
Agni and the 5 Elements
Agni is one of the Panchabhutas or core elements that lay the foundation of Ayurvedic philosophy. It implies that everything in this world is made up of these five elements. The Agni element is known as the Teja Mahabhuta and it is a governing factor for our health, strength, energy, immunity, radiance, vitality, and life. Well-balanced Agni represents healthy life. It is also essential for us to survive.
Agni and the Three Doshas
Agni is present in each of the three doshas. People with a prominent Pitta dosha generally have a high digestive fire. They do not tend to gain weight even if they eat a lot. On the other hand, Kapha people usually have a slower digestive fire. Their metabolism is slow and hence, they are more likely to gain weight. Lastly, the digestive fire of Vata people is quite variable and depends on their activity level and emotional state.
13 Types of Agni
In Ayurveda, there are 13 types of Agni, classified into the following three large groups.
Jatharagni is the main digestive fire located in the stomach and small intestine. It is responsible for the digestion of food. There are four variations in this digestive fire.
This digestive fire is produced from excessive Vata and leads to indigestion, irregular appetite, gases, anxieties, and neurological problems.
This intense digestive fire results from the excess of Pitta. It can cause acidity problems, heartburn, and skin alterations.
This slow digestive fire causes obesity, mucus, and allergies. It results from the excess of Kapha.
This digestive fire indicates that all doshas are in balance. It allows the optimal absorption of essential nutrients and the necessary elimination of waste and toxins.
In Ayurveda, this digestive fire is located in the liver and is associated with the five core elements found in every food. It stimulates the molecular metabolism and ensures adequate absorption of nutrients from the food you consume.
Each of the five elements has its own digestive fire:
- Parthiva (Earth)
- Apya (Water)
- Tejas (Agni)
- Vayavya (Vayu)
- Nabhasa (Akash)
3. Dhatu Agni
Dhatu Agni is the digestive fire of the seven tissues (plasma, lymph, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, and reproductive tissue). According to Ayurvedic experts, each of the tissues has its own fire responsible for converting and obtaining the necessary nutrients.
The following are the seven digestive fires in this group:
- Rasa Agni
- Rakta Agni
- Mamsa Agni
- Meda Agni
- Asthi Agni
- Majja Agni
- Shukra Agni
The Relationship between the Gut and the Brain
Ayurveda takes into account the whole organism instead of its respective units. All the systems are believed to be connected. The main source for maintaining these systems is the gut. If anything is happening in the gut, it’ll send signals or waste products to the body tissues, resulting in abnormal changes.
According to Ayurveda, the human brain is large-sized bone marrow. As long as we eat healthily, the tissues in our body keep performing at optimal levels. In case there’s an abnormality in the gut, the output raw material will not support the tissues but will be a hindrance and cause disease or deficiency.
The gut biome is a part of the Agni where the microorganisms boost our metabolism and food breakdown. They are supportive and enhance the process of Agni. Certain foods in Ayurveda meant for increasing the quality or taste will improve specific nutrition for these gut bacteria. This, in turn, will help keep the gut environment healthy so that the tissues are in good condition.
You must keep the ratio 1:9 in mind for promoting your gut health. For every cell, there are 9 microorganisms in our body. These organisms depend on your food and nutrition to survive unlike the popular belief that they consume waste. If the food is high-quality and is packed with nutrition, it will allow the microorganisms to exist in a symbiotic relationship rather than parasitic depending on your body type and season.
Which Food to Eat in Different Seasons
According to Ayurvedic principles, everything we need to eat for each season is provided by nature.
Ayurvedic experts believe that if you can grow your vegetables in your backyard, it will significantly promote your health by matching your Agni or metabolism to locally grown food. If you feel your rate of metabolism is low, you should consider eating food that tastes pungent, bitter, and astringent.
In the spring season, nature produces an abundance of leafy greens, sprouts, cilantro, arugula, and dandelion. If you’re looking for something bitter, you can go for napa cabbage, whereas the pungent taste can be obtained by consuming ginger, turmeric, or wasabi. These food items may help correct the stagnation caused due to Kapha that increases in the spring season.
A strong appetite in the winter season is coherent with sweet, salty, and sour tastes that feel heavy on the stomach. During summers, you need a Pitta-balancing diet of sweet foods. Coconut meat, raisins, cooked oatmeal, rice, and quinoa are all good options. You can eat salads for bitter taste, and for astringent taste, lentils and mung beans will do.
You should focus on different tastes to balance out your metabolic needs of the season. You may not realize this but the food you eat has a close connection with your mind. While you enjoy the taste with your tongue, you should eat mindfully. In Ayurveda, eating with a focused mind with no distractions is important.
A Few Helpful Tips
- Eat a moderate meal for breakfast and save the largest one for lunch. For dinner, eat something light, like soup and salad.
- Avoid eating heavy food items during the summer season.
- If you have a good appetite, consider eating something sweet, like a couple of dates, before digging into your meal. This will curb your cravings. Also, save bitter-tasting food items for the end.
- Make sure your diet offers all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent, and bitter) to fulfill your nutritional needs and keep your Agni well-regulated.
- If you feel there’s a thick coating on your tongue, it may be due to indigestion. For this, you must eat light and drink hot water and ginger tea.
It is crucial to understand the role of Agni in our bodies. It doesn’t only ensure proper digestion and excretory functions but also benefits our emotional health and general enthusiasm for life. Imbalanced Agni can manifest in various ways. It is crucial to look for the root causes of your symptoms and determine the nature of the imbalance. An Ayurvedic practitioner can help you in this regard and recommend a customized treatment plan to support your Agni.