Inside you there is a fire that you must tend mindfully in order to nurture good health. Give that fire too much fuel, it will become too strong. Throw sand on that fire, it will smolder and become weak. But when it is tended properly, given enough wood at the right intervals, that fire will give you the energy you need to live happily in a state of true health.
In Ayurveda, true health begins in the digestive system. Agni, the Sanskrit term for digestive fire, is the energy responsible for this health. When you have strong agni, your body is fully able to absorb the prana, or life force, from your food and eliminate ama, or toxins. When agni is weak, digestion is slow and toxins accumulate. This is the beginning of the disease process.
How to balance agni
It’s important to tend to your agni on a daily basis. Even though the constitution you were born with determines the tendencies of your agni, constitution is not destiny – anyone can take steps to create a balanced fire. If you have a primarily vata constitution, you may often forget to eat or leave a long time between meals, which makes agni fluctuate between too strong and too weak, but you can resolve this by setting regular meal times. If you have a lot of pitta, you may be drawn to spicy foods that make your fire burn too hot, but eating cooling foods brings the fire down. If you have a lot of kapha, you may tend to overeat in a sitting, which slows agni, but sipping ginger tea throughout the day stokes the fire and speeds things up.
You are what you digest, not just what you eat
When it comes to agni, how you eat is just as important as what you eat. Many eating behaviors that are “normal” in our modern times are actually detrimental to agni. Just think about the common practice of eating in front of the television. Distracted by what you’re watching, you’re less likely to chew thoroughly, taste your food and know when you’re full – all significant factors for maintaining a strong agni. And if you’re watching something violent or upsetting, your body doesn’t have any way of knowing that it’s just the television show that is causing all those stress hormones to flood your system and slow down digestion.
Give your agni the chance to do its best work by treating mealtime as a space only for eating – think of it as an altar for your sacred fire.
Be a student of your own body
Even if you have been doing things that are like throwing sand on your digestive fire – eating before the previous meal has digested, drinking cold beverages, eating while driving or standing – there is always a way back to your natural state of health. The first step is to understand your current state of health. Use this daily wellness journal to track how and what you eat and how you feel as a result. Over time, you’ll begin to understand how your body functions normally and how it functions best. With this awareness, you have the tools you need to improve your agni and tap into the natural state of health you were meant to enjoy.
Tips to build a balanced agni
By making small changes to what and how you eat, you can stoke your fire properly and come back to the natural state of health you were meant to enjoy.