So just why is our digestion such an important topic for students of Ayurveda?
Let us discuss now the profound concept of agni according to Ayrveda. Agni is transformation of matter into pure consciousness. Agni is happening all around us and in every cell in our body. This transformation manifests as digestion or metabolism in our physical bodies. There are over 40 different types of agni happening in our bodies at all times. The main agni of course happens in the stomach and is known as jathara agni. There is agni happening in the main organs including the thyroid, liver, and pancreas metabolizing sugars, protiens, and fats. Sense perception is a function of the agni of the eyes, ears, nose, and tongue. Cellularly, agni is our immune system protecting us by keeping foreign troublemakers out and letting the good guys in. We can say that physically, all we are is a result of our agni.
The sanskrit word agni means fire, so we can think of agni as if it were a fire transforming our food into nutrients and minerals our body needs to stay healthy. This fire can burn too strong causing tissue depletion or weakness. We can think of all the qualities of an out of control fire and how those qualities can manifest in the body. We may see skin rashes, acid indigestion, hair loss, anger, or irritability. The overactive agni literally burns the bodily tissue. The fire can be too weak causing diseases of excess. Sluggish thyroid, obesity, glaucoma, lethargy, and deep states of depression are all symptoms resulting from low agni.
When agni is in balance, toxins are burned and removed from the body efficiently through the malas (sweat, urine, feces), we maintain healthy tissue production, and the immune system can properly defend. The body can harmoniously sustain homeostasis, like the perfect symphony it is rather than a cacophony of imbalanced agni. A sharp mind, lusterous skin, daily healthy bowel movements, white sclera, a pink tongue, a balanced appetite, even a pleasant mood are all signs of heallthy agni.
We can directly affect the agni happening at a cellular level and in the deep tissues by maintaining our jathara agni (the one in our stomach). Remember, it is the main agni in our body. How can we pamper our prescious, fragile, and oh so important jathara agni? In Ayurveda we say that like increases like. So let’s think of the qualities of agni by conjuring up an image of a fire. A fire is bright, hot, spreading, and light. To increase the fire in our stomachs we eat foods with similar qualities. Foods that are light, like soups, salads, or (our favorite) kitcheree will feed your fire. Use this simple recipe for ginger pickle thirty minutes before a meal to kindle agni. Warm or at least room temperature beverages will kindle your fire while an iced drink will put it out. Once we understand the concept of agni and begin to eat and live in a way that promotes a robust agni, we begin to experience a healthy body and mind from the inside out.