Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of health and healing has a unique understanding of body. One of the important aspects of Ayurvedic approach to health care is maintaining digestive energy, agni. Digestion is the process of breaking down food into smaller particles/nutrients followed by absorption and assimilation of those nutrients.
Digestion is important because…
The health and vitality of all tissues depend upon the nutrients they receive; and there for digestion. That’s how digestion actually determines the quality of your life. Digestion is not complete without proper absorption of nutrients by body. However carefully we select and eat healthy food, dietary supplements, multivitamins and/ or other nutrients our body will not be benefitted from them until they are absorbed. We can see that people with healthy diet having anaemia or other deficiency diseases.
There for it is quite important to take proper care of our digestive and absorptive power. In Ayurveda all functional particles responsible for digestion and absorption are generally referred as agni (literally means fire). As you may know the functional particles (doshas) in our body are mainly grouped into three, vata (air factors), pitta (fire factors) and Kapha (water factors). Agni is abundant in pitta, but it needs vata to maintain its intensity and kapha to protect the body from its intense actions. There are different types of agnis; one at the level of abdomen digesting food. Another type of agni works at the level of tissues and the third group (agni of elements) acting even deeper and affecting mind as well. Agnis of tissues are involved in proper nourishment and synthesis of tissues. It is very important for healthy blood, muscles, bones, reproductive tissues and so on. Agnis of elements are responsible for nourishment and health of mind and special sensory tissues.
States of Agni
Agni acts perfectly when they are in a balance. When Agni is intense, food will be digested beyond the level of nutrients –as if we burn during cooking- and/or moved through alimentary tract so quickly that body can’t absorb them. When the Agni is low, food won’t be digested into absorbable particles. Instead they will remain in the alimentary tract for a long time gradually turning into unwanted then toxic materials (ama) that can lead to diseases. Ama is the one of the prime reasons for many of non-infective diseases.
If agnis of tissues are low or intense metabolism will be affected resulting into various disorders like obesity, hyper/hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. For example in obesity imbalanced agnis of tissues result in over nourishment of fat tissues and undernourishment of bones and reproductive tissues leading into osteoporosis, low libido, erectile dysfunction and/ or infertility. If agnis of elements are deranged, micronutrients and micro circulation will be affected leading into disorders of mind, sense organs and complex biological processes.
Even though some of the agnis are deep seated, digestive agni is in alimentary canal and can be maintained and treated comparatively easily. Moreover, deeper agnis will be healthy only if the agni of digestion is good. If the agni is optimum, body will be able to extract all the nutrients of food after digestion. If all the nutrients are extracted properly, tissues and elements are well nourished.
You agni is good if….
You have a good appetite and regular bowel movements. You will feel hungry in 2-4 hours according to the quantity and complexity of your last meal. Ideally you should have 1-2 satisfactory and easy bowel movements per day.
As if with any process/ tissues within the body agni will be imbalanced when the doshas (functional particles) are imbalanced. Then your appetite can be low, lost, variable or intense. Similarly you may suffer constipation, diarrhoea or a combination of them. There will be other digestive symptoms like bloating, discomfort, pain, acidity, nausea, etc. A whole lot of issues like fatigue, mal nutrition, poor sleep, menstrual disorders, low libido, low fertility, osteoporosis, obesity, etc may follow if the problems remain.
Your agni will be improved…
By proper diet (considering your body type as well; something good for your friend may not work for you!) and eating practices. Vata and kapha persons can maintain agni at optimum by chewing a small piece of ginger before eating. A few drops of lime or butter milk make agni perfect in pitta persons.
Food and agni are the two sides of a coin. As an inappropriate food/eating habits can imbalance healthy agni, appropriate eating can turn even an irregular agni to normal. So eat only when you are hungry. Eat only up to a level of satiety and happiness, not to a level of discomfort. Eating in a good mood, good company and good place can enkindle your agni to an optimum level. Have warm, light food with gentle spices like soup, kichdi, porridge, etc when you feel that your digestion is slow. Use pickles and spices only to enkindle agni, not to fire it. Coriander and fennel seeds can help to slow down agni. Cinnamon and basil can improve agni. Fresh ginger, lime and basil can normalise irregular agni.
Your agni will be disturbed…
By overeating, eating before you are hungry, skipping meals, abuse of hot and spicy food, oily and fried foods, alcohol, coffee, tea, cigarettes, etc. Constipation, imbalance of doshas, poor sleep, some medicines, chronic diseases, etc can also affect your agni.
The first step in an Ayurvedic treatment is the correction of your agni. Then only we can ensure proper absorption of food and medicines. Healthy agni also prevents further formation of ama, so breaks the pathology. So maintain your agni, and take the first step towards total health.