When Agni is strong and in balance it allows us to digest our food properly and to assimilate our experiences and memories; absorbing what our bodies need and burning off what we don't.
However, Agni can become weak or aggravated, particularly during and after periods of overeating or when we might be eating richer foods than usual. When you think of Agni as a fire it needs some kindling and spark to get going but if you throw too much on the fire it will be smothered.
According to Ayurvedic thought we will have a general tendency for either weak or aggravated Agni depending on our dominant dosha: Vata, Kapha or Pitta. There are lots of online tests to help you find out your dosha, or you can visit an Ayurvedic practitioner for a full assessment.
When Vata or Kapha is dominant or unbalanced, Agni tends to be weaker. Symptoms include not absorbing nutrients properly, constipation or diarrhea. When food is not digested properly it gets broken down by fermentation instead and this is what can cause gas.
When Pitta is dominant, Agni can be excessive or aggravated, leading to things like heartburn and acid reflux.
Try these ideas to help keep your Agni strong and balanced.
Use spices in your food to help digestion – ginger, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne and cumin. These help to break down the food during cooking and also stimulate the digestive juices in the mouth and stomach. Also, apple cider vinegar can be taken before meals and adding lemon juice to your food will aid assimilation.
Stimulating Agni tea
This homemade tea recipe will stimulate your digestive fire.
- 1 litre of water
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 2cm (3/4 inch) of ginger root chopped or grated
- 1 to 2 teaspoons of rock salt
- 2 tablespoons of maple syrup or other natural sweetener
- Juice of 2 limes
Bring all ingredients to the boil except for the lime juice. Simmer for 20 mins. Cool for a few minutes then add lime juice. Keep the tea in a flask and drink it warm 10-20 minutes before meal times.
Chew a slice of ginger with rock salt and some lime juice 10 -20 mins before meals.
Calming Agni - Balancing Pitta
Pitta imbalance - and aggravated Agni - can result from excessive hot, spicy, oily or salty foods and from excessive alcohol. Bitter, sweet and astringent tastes can help to rebalance and curb the digestive fire. Teas like cooling mint (sweet), green tea (astringent) or dandelion tea (bitter) are great and also help the detox process. Eating less slows digestive fire.
For more tips on balancing Pitta including Pranayama exercises see Esther's blog on Sitali cooling breath.
Here’s a great short Yoga sequence to help your digestion generally.