This is a big, big topic in Ayurveda and one that you will hear me refer to again and again. Agni is described as a fire that burns within us all. It transforms all food and sensations into energy, and absorbs the nutrients in food into our tissues.
We will start with the most basic concept. Agni is a fire and you need to tend a fire very carefully so that it does not go out. You also need to pay careful attention it it so that it does not get out of control. Too little wood and you will be cold, too much and it will burn the house down! Both undesirable outcomes as I am sure you will agree.
Our digestion needs just as much care and attention so that our fire burns brightly without burning us dry or over heating us. In the morning our agni is not very strong as we have been sleeping, resting and in a sense fasting all night, so we need to carefully add enough to the fire to get it burning but not so much that we put it out. Noon is when our agni is at its strongest and therefore should be our biggest meal. This is the time to put on the logs so to speak. By the end of the day our digestion begins to slow down again and the power of our agni is much lower. We are winding down from the day and making the transition into the evening, a time when we tend to rest and be less active. Our bodies do not need the energy or fuel that they did earlier. This is not the time to throw heavy logs onto the fire!
A good way to think about it is -
eat lunch like a king,
breakfast like a prince and
dinner like a pauper.
Remember our bodies have been around long before electricity and our bodies evolved under the sun. The sun is fire, agni is fire and they are strongly related. If you eat in accordance with the sun then you will be eating as your body intended. Just keep in mind - the higher and stronger the sun is in the day, the stronger your digestion.
It is food that nourishes our bodies so it is very important how and when we eat. Your individual constitution will also influence your agni. Vatas tend to have the weakest and most variable digestion with pitta's fire element giving them the strongest of all the doshas.
Here are some signs that your agni is not healthy:
- gas, bloating, belching, gurgling etc
- constipation or diarrhea
- cloudy, discoloured urine
- bad breath
- loss of energy
- loss of motivation
- loss of or reduced appetite
- loss of luster in eyes and skin
- white coating on the tongue
So what can you do if you have any of these symptoms?
- One of the best things you can do is eat according to the sun as explained above. We tend to over eat a lot and our meals are becoming bigger and bigger. We often eat far more than we need or even want. So eating smaller, lighter meals is highly recommended. Remember we only want to keep the fire going, not smother it!
- Eat with awareness. Do you find yourself rushing your meals? Do you eat on the run? Do you eat while watching TV, working, surfing the net? Slow down, stop and enjoy your food. Let you body eat. You are not filling up your car at the petrol station! Enjoy your food. Respect your food and the process of eating.
- Drink some hot water with fresh lemon and ginger before your meal.
- Don't drink too much with your meals.
- Go for a walk after you eat.
- Do some yoga, especially poses that work your abdomen such as twists.
- Have cumin, coriander and fennel in your meals or as a tea.
- Have an Ayurvedic consultation.
- Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry and enjoy the experience!
Do a little experiment. If you often wake up heavy and slow try eating a lighter earlier dinner and see how you feel the next day. Often the heaviness we wake up with is due to the heavy meal that our body has been trying to digest all night.
Play with the other recommendations and see how your body reacts. You will find it will talk to you if you are listening.
So this is an introduction to agni and it is not complete. There is a lot more to it all than that, but that is a start. I will do an Agni part 2 soon and fill you in on some more interesting and wonderful facts about how we digest all that we eat, see, hear, smell, touch, taste. How our mind digests as well as our digestive organs. It's not all about the stomach.