The root cause of many common diseases
According to Ayurveda, the science of life, low Agni (digestive fire) is the root cause of many diseases. When an Ayurvedic consultant works with you, your Agni is one of the primary factors that is assessed. But why?
The answer is because Agni is responsible for disease in an unbalanced state but equally, in a balanced state, it is responsible for maintaining premium health.
So let us start by asking the question - what is Agni?
Agni is primarily a Vedic term that refers to ‘burning, transforming, or perceiving’ from the root. It also means ‘to burst forth’. The transformnative power of Agni defines how efficiently we use the five elements in food, extract the nutrients, and convert them into bodily elements. In a broader way, we digest all that we eat, see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.
Agni plays a significant role in maintaining correct metabolism of the body and is responsible for carrying out these vital functions:
- Bala (strength)
- Varna (colour)
- Swasthya (health)
- Utsaha (enthusiasm)
- Upachaya (body development
- Prabha (complexion)
- Ojas (essence of bodily tissues)
- Tejas (valour)
- Vaya (age)
Life (Ayu) is dependent on Agni and its correct functioning.
In short, life (Ayu) itself is dependent on Agni and its correct functioning.
Here’s the breakdown of Agni into its component parts. Essentially, Agni has been classified into 13 types, given the activity of the Agni and its location in the body:
Jatharagni – The Agni present in the stomach and duodenum.
Bhutagni – Five forms of Agni, corresponding to the five basic elements.
Dhatwagni – Seven forms of Agni, one in each of the seven tissues (dhatus).
Residing in the stomach and small intestine, this digestive fire gives energy to all the secretions and enzymes involved in the digestion process. Not only does this fire aid in digestion, but also it helps in eradicating pathogenic micro organisms in the gut. If this fire is low, improperly digested food leads to residues and toxins in the body.
BHUTAGNIS, OR FIVE ELEMENTAL FIRES:
Each of the five elements carries its own digestive fire. They live in the liver, and are responsible for converting digestive fire into Agni that corresponds to each of these five elements. If their function gets disturbed, the associated element will not be created adequately in the body.
DHATUAGNIS, OR SEVEN TISSUE FIRES:
Each of the seven tissues (dhatus) in our body has its own digestive fire, accountable for the adequate formation of the corresponding tissue. When Agni becomes too low, excessive amounts of tissue of low quality are formed. In the case of the high content of Agni, inadequate tissue is formed. For example, if the Agni corresponding to the reproductive tissue (Shukra) is not adequate, then infertility may follow. According to Ayurveda, when Agni or digestive fire remains
at an adequate level, it averts the accumulation of toxins in our body; keeps the mind and senses clear and precise, and energizes our mind and body. When it becomes inadequate, it leads to the build-up of toxins, which further causes heaviness, dullness, stagnation, and murkiness of mind and understanding.
MAINTAINING THE RIGHT LEVEL OF AGNI
The secret to preventative health lies in maintaining the right level of digestive fire (Agni). According to Ayurveda, it needs to be stoked and provided with the appropriate fuel so that it does not go out. This balance varies from person to person according to their constitution (prakruti). There will also be daily variations, for example in the morning Agni is stronger and later in the day Agni weakens. Seasonal variations also occur, for example in winter the Agni is weaker.
Some general tips for Agni balancing:
- Don’t overeat
- Taste and enjoy your food
- Eat slowly and in a relaxed setting
- Don’t eat late
- Go for a walk for few minutes after a meal
- Add mild spices to your cooking
- Don’t drink too much water with meals
- Do not fast or skip meals
THE FOUR LEVELS OF AGNI
There are four different conditions of Agni – variable (Visham), high (Tikshna), low (Manda), and balanced (Sama). This classification of Agni is based on the dosha dominance.
VARIABLE AGNI (VISHAMAGNI)
Digestive fire is found to differ in Vata types, with their varying nature and nervous digestion. Generally, it is caused by a diet that is either too heavy or too light. activities that promote Vata, which further causes Vata-type disorders. Some of the symptoms of Vishamagni are bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and general discomfort in the abdomen.
According to Ayurveda experts, in the case of Vishamagni, it is recommended to have oily (ghee), mildly spicy, sour, and salty foods along with remedies to balance the digestive fire. In particular, two formulations, Hingwashtaka Churna and Lavanbhaskar Churna are very effective in treating the uneven balance of Agni.
HIGH AGNI (THIKSHNAGNI)
This type of digestive fire is usually related to excessive levels of Pitta. Pitta’s light, hot, intensive, and subtle qualities generally support Agni but in excess, they tend to aggravate it—activating the overactive, hypermetabolism that defines Tikshnagni. In this scenario, nutrition often gets burned and passed through the digestive tract very rapidly, leaving the tissues malnourished.
To treat this condition, it is better to avoid hot spices and take digestive bitters like guduchi, chamomile, dandelion root, rosemary, and amalaki. Laxatives can also be used to lower the digestive fire.
LOW AGNI (MANDAGNI)
The agni remains low in Kapha types, categorized by slow metabolism and a habit of gaining weight, even without eating too much. Kapha dosha is dominated by the earth and water elements and tends to be heavy, slow, oily, smooth, soft, stable, gross, and gloomy. Mandagni is caused by taking heavy, oily, indigestible, and sweet foods such as cheese, cold drinks, and cold foods. Its major symptoms are excessive wind, slow digestion, frequent cold and coughs, sluggish bowels, and a feeling of heaviness.
Spices are powerful in stimulating Agni. Experts recommend bitter and astringent foods.
THE FINAL WORD
Always remember that it is a specific type of Agni that affects your digestion which further influences your overall health. So, if you want to maintain health and vigour, work in a focused manner on balancing your Agni levels.
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By Dr. Satyadeepa Gandhi