Ayurveda: How to balance your Agni
Ayurveda is having a bit of a moment. You’ve likely seen it mentioned on your social media feeds, perhaps you’ve heard friends and colleagues talking about it. But the funny thing is, there is nothing new about Ayurveda. In fact, this ancient Indian holistic medicinal system is thought to be more than 5,000 years old.
Ayurveda takes a complete 360 approach to healing. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in Ayurveda. The system views every individual as unique, so before starting any new regime, it’s important to speak with a qualified practitioner. This helps you to better understand Ayurveda, what’s involved and your needs. However, it still provides us will all the fundamentals needed to live a healthy, balanced life.
The word Ayurveda translates from the Sanskrit as meaning ‘The Knowledge of Life’. As a sister science to yoga, it is traditional in India to study Ayurveda first, in order to prepare one’s body before moving onto the spiritual work of yoga.
So, where to start? It can seem like a complex and overwhelming subject at first. There is a lot of unfamiliar terminology and the Internet allows us to have a vast number of resources at our disposal. It’s a daunting task. My advice is to take it slowly and start with your Agni.
The word Agni in Sanskrit translates as fire, and in Ayurveda, we are talking about your digestive fire: gut health, digestive enzymes, the microbiome: lots of new, modern words to describe the same thing the ancient Ayurvedic texts discuss in great depth. In fact, there is an important verse in Ayurveda literature that states: the cause of every disorder is an impaired Agni.
Remember to think of your Agni as an energetic force, a ‘fire’. Think of how a fire might react to what you put on it. You neither want it to burn excessively brightly nor smoulder and smoke – or worse, go out entirely.
The quality of Agni varies depending upon one’s dosha and which doshas are creating an imbalance in the body. In Vata and Kapha types, Agni tends to be naturally weaker and the digestive system cold, sluggish, or irregular, which can result in malabsorption disorders, chronic constipation, loose stools, and gas. In Pittas, the Agni can become excessive and cause heartburn, acid reflux, colitis, and other burning sensations.
My top tips to balance your Agni
- Try to avoid raw, cold foods.
- Treat your Agni to warm, cooked and nourishing foods. Vegetables should always be cooked – whether that be sautéed, steamed, roasted or put into a stir fry. Consuming cooked foods aids the further ‘cooking’ process that the Agni has to perform.
- If you feel true hunger, this is your Agni waking up. Eat something! Don’t substitute food with a glass of water or a cup of coffee. The liquid will only dampen the Agni back down, meaning it has to work harder when you do eventually eat.
- Avoid having very cold water or putting ice in your drinks. This will only distinguish the Agni. Try water at room temperature.
And don’t be afraid to use spices in your cooking. Culinary herbs and spices are used to increase Agni before and during meals. In Ayurvedic cooking, it is believed that using spices will support long life, aiding digestion and ensuring that more energy and fewer toxins are taken into the body. This doesn’t mean chilli spice – think cumin, coriander, black pepper, long pepper, liquorice, fennel, fenugreek, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, parsley, basil and so on.
Cooking with spices will also stimulate the secretion of saliva and stimulate the digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestines. Using these kinds of spices will also help to prevent gas. Hing, also known as Asafoetida, is particularly good for this and you only need a pinch!
It’s important to remember that undigested food is broken down by fermentation rather than digestion, and fermentation is what produces gas and Ama. The intestines then absorb these gases, which causes the colon to become toxic. Fennel is another herb commonly consumed as a carminative after meals to prevent gas, discomfort, and fatigue.
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