Keeping your agni balanced during the holiday season - by Dr. Leena Athparia, ND
Agni is considered as the "digestive fire" in Ayurveda. From a physiological perspective, digestion is a complex multi-step process which breaks down food into smaller particles which are then absorbed, transported and incorporated into our bodies.
The ayurvedic concept of agni allows us to transform food into nutrients while burning off waste products. As digestion is important, elimination of waste is equally crucial to stay healthy. Agni refers to the principle of processing food, in addition to processing experiences, memories, emotions and sensory impressions. We not only physically digest our food, but we need to "digest" and process our experiences on a daily basis.
Agni is the foundation to health. In an ayurvedic assessment, your state of agni is assessed and treated accordingly. When agni is unbalanced, digestion weakens, toxins linger in the body, illness takes a hold and vitality diminishes. Balanced agni is essential for well being !
According to Ayurveda, we are each born with a different constitution - our tendencies in our agni is based on our constitution, as well as environmental and lifestyle factors such as climate, daily routine and the food we eat. During the holiday season, we may be shifted from our regular routines, and may be enjoying food in excess ! Below are the variations of agni and tips on how to help balance your agni:
VISHAMA AGNI : irregular metabolism
Often associated with excess vata, vishama agni is erractic with digestive patterns that alternate between fast and slow. This may be evident in conditions such as IBS, diarrhea, constipation (or alternating between the two), gas and rumbling in the abdomen. Appetite may be irregular, and elimination may be erratic.
How to Balance Vishama agni:
- Establish routine: regular meal times & avoid overeating in one sitting
- A pinch of cumin and rock salt can be ground and chewed before meals
- Spices such as ginger and black pepper in the diet
- Vata care if present in your constitution (Vata pacifying diet & lifestyle)
- Regular abhyangas
- Herbs such as Triphala (dose and timings should be customized by an ayurvedic practitioner)
MANDA AGNI: slow metabolism
Often associated with excess Kapha, manda agni indicates slow, sluggish digestion. Only small meals can be eaten, and undigested food sits in the stomach and intestines leading to heaviness in the body and mind. There may be associated kapha conditions such frequent colds & coughs, mucous, congestion, swelling, lymph congestion, oversalivation, excess weight, cold clammy skin etc. Thick white coat may be observed on the tongue first thing in the morning.
How to Balance Manda agni:
- Tongue scraping in the morning
- Practice yoga that is invigourating and rejuvenating (surya namaskar, hatha yoga)
- Chew on fresh ginger before meals to stimulate agni
- Use spices such as cinnamon, clove, fenugreek, ginger
- Prepare food that is colourful, fresh, and pleasing to all the senses
- Focus on 2-3 main meals a day: avoid snacking and make lunch the largest meal
- Kapha care if present in your constitution (Kapha pacifying diet & lifestyle)
TIKSHNA AGNI: fast metabolism
Often associated with excess Pitta, tikshna agni is when digestion is too strong and fast. Appetite may be insatiable, desiring large amounts of food which may pass too quickly through the digestive tract. Symptoms may include burning sensations, acid reflux, diarrhea, hot flashes, inflammation and low energy.
How to Balance Tikshna agni:
- Follow a Pitta pacifying diet
- Avoid pungent spices such as garlic, chilli and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol
- Incorporate cooling foods and spices such as cumin, fennel, coriander, mint, dill etc.
- Drink lassi (buttermilk) after meals - customiz with spices suiting your constitution
- Herbs such as amla, licorice and aloe juice can be beneficial for Pitta balancing
- Meditation and rejuvenating yoga to balance and calm the system
SAMA AGNI: the balanced state
When agni is balanced, you can enjoy healthy digestion and a clear state of mind. Individuals with sama agni can digest a reasonable amount of food in any season and enjoy balanced digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients along with a strong immune system and happiness in their lives. They are also able to process and handle new situations, experiences and emotions with strength and balance. Unfortunately in our modern lifestyle, sama agni is rare ; processed food, erratic & high-paced lives throw agni off balance very easily. However the earlier an imbalance in agni is detected, the easier it is to correct with ayurvedic guidance.