We recently had a wonderful chat with @the_ayurveda_coach aka Claire Paphitis, Ayurvedic Consultant and author of the brilliant and insightful book “Balance Your Agni". Below she answers the simple questions of "what is the Agni?" and "how can we balance it?" for better health and digestive systems.
When many of us start to discover Ayurveda we begin with the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When I first picked up a book about Ayurveda in the early 2000s this was the entire focus and was actually what initially turned me away from this ancient holistic practise. I felt overwhelmed by the various descriptions of what these three doshas were - their ‘qualities’, ‘attributes’ whether they were ‘aggravated, vitiated or depleted.’ I tried a quiz in the book to discover what my doshas was, but lacked an understanding of why the shape of my nose or the temperature of my skin had any bearing on what I should eat or what sort of lifestyle I should adopt. I felt strongly that Ayurveda had many answers just waiting for me to discover and learn if only I could get past this conundrum of the doshas.
Many years later, I came back to Ayurveda and this time I stumbled across a line from Acharya Vagbhata who tells us ‘Roga Sarvepi Mandegnau’.
‘The root cause of all disorders is an impaired Agni ( digestive fire)’
I stared at that line for quite some time slowly taking in the full weight of these words and their meaning. The ROOT cause... ALL disorders…. AGNI! Bingo. A thousand light bulbs came to life and at that moment I found my foundation to having a better understanding of how I could adopt Ayurveda into my life and later, how I could use this incredible insight to help others change their lives too. You see, if we take care of our Agni, then we produce very little ama (toxins) and this, to me, seems an excellent place to start and something we can all integrate and adopt into our lives in simple ways.
To understand the concept of Agni, it is necessary to first understand that everything that comes into contact with our bodies - from the food and drink we consume, emotions or trauma we may suffer to something we witness while watching the evening news - all these things go ‘in’ and have to be processed or digested, by the body.
The Agni represents the fire- power of this engine system. The place where all things are processed and sorted. The Agni helps us to distinguish the ‘good’ elements and allow those to nourish and nurture our body and sort and separate the ‘toxins’ which pollute our bodies and minds and cause disruption to their function, imbalancing the doshas and eventually leading to disease. If the Agni is working nicely, the toxins are eliminated. If the Agni is not working well, the toxins stay in our system and accumulate. Thus, the root cause of all disorders is an impaired Agni.
So what can we do to take care of our Agni? There are five simple steps we can all begin with.
If you imagine the Agni as a little flame, a candle if you like, burning a little light inside you. Now think carefully about what sort of ‘fuel’ the candle would best receive to burn steadily throughout the day without producing too much smoke or ash.
- Incorporating warm, cooked foods and warm drinks into your diet is the first place to start. These are immediately easier to digest than cold, raw foods or iced drinks. Try our Serenity Tea.
- Listening to hunger ( or a lack of!). It is important to fuel the body when hunger calls. A little bit of something to eat is preferable to dampening the flame by pouring on a glass of water or a coffee. We often do this in order to subdue our hunger, but it has a negative effect on the Agni by weakening it and making it less able to function properly when we do then eat. A ferocious appetite or feeling ‘hangry’ is a sign your Agni is too high and needs calming down ( usually by following a pitta reducing diet). Similarly, a lack of hunger suggests the Agni needs building up.
- Using culinary herbs and spices such as cumin, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper etc will help further aid in the digestive process. These spices help to stimulate taste receptors and increase the production of saliva ( why else would delicious food be ‘mouthwatering!’) and this helps to wake up the Agni and give your digestion a boost.
- Keeping heavy and hard to digest foods to a minimum. Foods that are particularly hard work for the digestive system and therefore the Agni include hard cheeses, meats, heavy creams and sauces.
- Taking time to eat your meals. Try not to eat on the run or when you are stressed or in a hurry. Take time to chew your food well and eat with gratitude.
I mentioned earlier that everything that goes into the body has to be processed by the various Agni - and that this stretches beyond food and drink and includes our emotions and experiences too. Just as when we eat a banana for example - it goes in, is processed and sorted by the Agni taking nourishment to the tissues and expelling that which is not needed. So too can you view your emotions in the same way. Allow them to come into the body without any fight. Let them stay a while to take anything you might need from them which could benefit you and then allow whatever doesn’t serve you to be expelled and let it go.