Agni- we are what we digest
In the world of food everyone is debating which food are the optimal piece of the health puzzle, but what if I said that how you digest your food is much more important than the food you are eating. From an Ayurveda perspective it is the importance of agni that makes this statement true.
It is also important to understand that you need a personal relationship with food. One persons food is another persons poison and understanding the food you need for your constitution makes food either a nectar or a poison.
In Ayurveda we are a microcosm of the macrocosm called Mother Nature and our agni is comparable to the sun, the stars, a fire or anything that transforms in nature. Agni is about the transformation and assimilation of your foods into you.
Food is more than just the food we put in our mouth, it is also the water we drink, the air we breath and everything that comes in through our senses of taste, sight, sound , touch and sound. This is all food in Ayurveda.
Agni means fire and fire is a basic element of all of life. The human body needs fire for the mechanism of life to continue, and the tissues of your body depend of the quality and quantity of agni to utilized food correctly and nourish the different locations in your body. All chemical and hormonal reactions are part of agni system. Pitta is a synonym for agni,
Let’s have a look at the agni in digestion and metabolism. Everything that needs to be transformed in you body includes your ideas and thoughts needs the correct agni.
In Ayurveda there are 13 basic types of agni. and agni exists at multiple levels in your body, The major and most important one is Jataragni and it is in your GI tract. The other levels of agni are through out your entire body. When this agni is not functioning properly then you will form what is called “ama”. Ama is a toxic substance produced by improper digestion of food that your body can recognize or utilize and because the body can not assimilate this ama( IT IS A FOREIGN SUBSTANCE TO YOUR BODY)and it start to create disease. The beginning of disease can be something as simple as constipation or diarrhea. Ayurveda says that most disease is manifested through improper digestion and ama.
Once the food is broken down by the gut it then is broken down further by the bhutagni in the liver. This bhutagni now converts the digested food into elements that the tissues can use. These elements are earth, water, fire, air and space and they each have their own metabolic fire (agni). The tissues agni (or dhatu) then use specific element for their growth and repair and the production of tissue waste.
All of these agni need to be kept in homeostasis for the body to be healthy and free from disease. If there is a slow down or back up of the food ( raw material) transformation then there is a problem.
In Ayurveda, all system in the body are interrelated and work together and the heart, brain, lungs, endocrine system, etc are all connected to the GI tract.
This includes the microbiome. You bacteria in your body are supported by your agni and the types of tastes you consume.
When we eat health and digest food properly all tissues in the body are supported but when ama is produced it will not support the body or the mind. Improper digestion created many types of mind issues like foggy thinking etc.
There are 4 types of agni and they are linked to your dosha makeup. Please remember the the three dosh of vata, pitta and kapha are meant to have “SAMA “or balanced agni most of the time but the propensity of each dosha is to react in a specific way when you eat the incorrect food, or at the wrong time or not following the rules of eating in Ayurveda.
How do you experience your digestion:
Vishama or irregular agni is Vata type of digestion. It can create irregular bowel movements, gas and bloating or constipation
Balance Vata digestion does not have chronic constipation bloating or gas.
Tiksha or sharp agni belongs to Pitta. It will create a strong apppetite tissue breakdown if not eating enough food and acid reflux.
Balanced pitta digestion is light, digests food well and keeps the body warm.
Manda agni is a Kapha. Mild type of agni that is slow. There can be heaviness, lethargy and coating on the tongue.
Sama agni is a balance of all three of these agnis. There is no indigestion, acid, gas, bloating, constipation or diahrera and bowel movements are regular. The energy is good in the body.
Indigestion or bloating need light, warm cooked food. Like nature, a fire needs twigs to start and then you can add a log. You are the same.
Agni is strongest at the middle of the day just like the sun. so lunch is the biggest meal of the day.
We need all six tastes ( rasa) in every meals. These tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent.
Start your meal with a sweet taste like a couple of date and in the middle use sour and salt and end with pungent and bitter taste.
How to eat for the season
Spring metabolism is the lowest.( Bitter, astringent and pungent- arugula, cilantro, dandelion, ginger and turmeric (pungent)
In summer the appetite is moderate. Use Pitta balancing foods and spices with sweet (oatmeal rice raisins) bitter and astringent tastes( lentils and mung beans. In winter you have the strongest appetite so the use of sweet sour salty is important.
It is important to always be mindful of what you are putting in your mouth, how you breath, how much and what kind of water you are dinking and what you are taking in through your senses and then be aware of how you digesting all of these foods.