The healing tradition of Ayurveda teaches that health and wellbeing depends upon our ability to digest everything we take in from the environment. This includes not only tangible substances like food and drink, but also our experiences, emotions, and the impressions we take in via our sensory portals, namely our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. Agni is the Sanskrit term for the “digestive fire” that breaks down the food and other things we ingest from the environment, assimilating what is useful, and eliminating the rest.
When our digestive ability, or agni, is strong, we create healthy tissues, eliminate waste products efficiently, and produce a subtle essence called ojas. Ojas, which is a Sanskrit word that means strength, can be envisioned as the innermost vital essence. According to Ayurveda, ojas is the basis for clarity of perception, physical strength, and immunity. On the other hand, if our agni is weakened through improper eating, lack of activity, negative emotional energy or unhealthy daily routine, our digestion will be hampered and we produce toxins that get stored in the body. According to Ayurveda, this toxic residue, known as ama, is the root cause of disease.
Uncovering the Root Causes of Digestive Issues
Whether we are coping with weight issues or uncomfortable GI symptoms such as bloating, gas, or indigestion, often the underlying root problem is weak agni, or poor digestion. Unfortunately, in Western medicine, we aren’t trained to ask the key question “How strong is my digestive fire?” Instead, we concentrate solely on the foods going in. When a patient goes to a health care provider trained in conventional allopathic medicine, the treatment options for digestive issues are typically medications, which serve to control symptoms, but do not treat the underlying cause.
Even when a provider’s approach includes testing and the elimination of offending foods, this is still only addressing part of the problem. While this treatment addresses the agent (or food) being ingested, it doesn’t look at why it is not being digested properly. Although eliminating foods that are bothersome can often alleviate symptoms, it is often difficult for patients to continually avoid those foods. It can often begin to disrupt their quality of life. The Ayurvedic concept of agni allows us to expand the conversation into answering the most important questions: “Why did the body begin to improperly digest, or not tolerate, this food?” and “How can we both eliminate the offending agent and concurrently increase agni or digestive power?” This approach opens up the possibility of re-introducing the food at a future time, allowing the person to fully experience foods again.
Ayurveda recommends a variety of practical techniques for keeping our digestive fire strong. Incorporating these practices into your daily life can strengthen agni and, in turn, facilitate weight loss, improve the metabolism of food, and minimize uncomfortable GI symptoms.
Here are six powerful ways to strengthen your agni:
1.) Meditate on a regular basis—Studies are increasingly confirming the genetic changes that occur with regular meditation, which can help restore the body’s homeostasis, including the processes controlling digestion. To achieve maximum benefit, meditate for 20 to 30 minutes, twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. To get started with meditation or to deepen your meditation practice, please visit the Chopra Center’s Meditation Resource Library.
2.) Do some form of daily movement, whether it is a little yoga every morning, or a daily walk—A recent study published in Diabetes Careshowed that a short 15-minute walk after each meal helped to control sugar spikes after eating. These short post-meal walks were more effective than taking a longer, 45-minute walk once daily.