You hear me mention the digestive fire a lot in class, how the aim is to have a healthy, strong one. Let's speak a bit more about it than!
Photo credit: Monica Bloom
Ayurveda says that the health of the digestive system is at the center of optimum health! If you can absorb and digest life's experiences, whether physical or emotional, then you are healthy. With a healthy digestive fire you can manage life's challenges and will not be held back by past undigested 'meals' or experiences.
What is the digestive fire? Imagine cooking your dinner. Getting your ingredients ready, putting them in a pan/pot and turning the fire on. After a while your food is cooked - ready to eat. Delicious. Imagine doing the same, the preparation, putting it in the pan, and then NOT putting the fire on. You wait a while. Your food is still not edible...No matter what lovely bio, free from everything food you prepared, unless you cook it, it won't be enjoyable. The other scenario can be that by turning the heat on too much, your food will probably burn -still not edible.
The same goes for our digestion. If we are lacking in the fire, no mater what wonderful food we put in, we won't be able to digest it. What happens than is the undigested food just sits there. Eventually it starts to rot and becomes toxin, which unfortunately starts to circulate in the body, causing all sorts of havoc. Same goes for undigested thoughts, emotions and experiences.
I hope you got the picture, why we need to keep the fire at the optimum level.
Before we go into how to do that, I would like to expand on the Sanskrit word Agni, which is generally translated as the digestive fire. Agni means so much more than 'just' digestion. It's functions other than digestion also include:
Agni is in charge of our metabolism, our mental assimilation, our immunity, the sparkle in our eyes. It links mental well being to physical well being. When the Agni is balanced emotions such as courage, cheerfulness and intelligence our guiding us. When Agni is unbalanced fear, anger and confusion araises.
After all that I am sure you are eager to find out how to balance Agni.
The best advice is to follow the body. Try to eat only when hungry, gently stoking the digestive fire with small meals and trying not to smother it with foods that are excessively cold, heavy or wet. Do not aggravate it with excess spicy, oily or fried foods.
Ayurveda recommends to eat your biggest meal at lunch time, and not to eat after the sun has gone down. Why is that? You may be used to it by now, that Ayurveda guides us towards being in tune with nature. In the macro cosmos the Sun is the fire. When the sun is high on the sky, the digestive fire gets stronger. When the sun goes down, the fire goes out.
Ayurvedic dietary guides to balance Agni:
To increase Agni:
Leave 4-6 hours between meals with no snacking,
The sign that the previous meal is digested is when the breath is fresh,
Drinking hot water between meals stimulates Agni,
Treat Agni with occasional fasts; use a mono-diet (rice, kichari), hot lemon water and a seasonal cleanse to keep digestion healthy (I personally follow intermittent fasting, not eating between 5.30pm and 8.30am, a total of 15 hours, at least 3-5 time a week)
Agni is increased by pungent, sour and salty flavors. It is beneficial to start a meal with these flavors.
A low dosage of bitter taste taken before a meal increases the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
Agni stimulating and increasing herbs are ginger, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, Use a small dose (1-2g) before meals to enkindle the digestive fire or sip from a tea made from these herbs between meals.
Yoga cleansing techniques to balance Agni: Agnisar, Nauli, Kapalabhati
Yoga postures to balance Agni: Sun Salutation, Paschimottanasana (forward fold), Matsyendrasana (fish pose), Mayurasana (peacock pose)
What dampens / weakens the Agni:
Eating in between meals weakens the Agni,
Eating foods with cold, wet and heavy qualities weakens the Agni,
Drinking cold water with meals weakens the Agni,
Overeating dampens the Agni
Regularly choosing foods that are heavy and earthy (sweets, refined foods, thick smoothies, cheese, high amounts of meat) dampens the Agni
Not eating according to our Dosha dampens Agni (how to ear for your Ayurvedic Dosha blog post)
According to Ayurveda there are 4 types of digestive fires:
Dull, slow - (Kapha Dosha related) - the fire is low, with slow metabolism, food takes long to time to digest, we can feel heavy and sleepy after meals, it can even kill the appetite
Strong, intense - (Pitta Dosha related) - the fire is extremely strong, aggressive, out of control, can cause heart burn, acidity in the mouth, rashes on the skin, bowel movement right after a meal, ulcers in the stomach, irritable, getting hungry quickly even after eating recently before, too fast metabolism
Variable, can be low or high changing regularly - (Vata Dosha related) - the fire keeps on changing between high and low
Balanced - fire is optimum level, we are hungry 3x a day, 4 hours after eating the food is digested, food adds to energy not feeling tired after meals, any Dosha can achieve this