According to the principles of Ayurveda, the key to health begins with good digestion. Agni is the biological fire that governs metabolism & digestion. It is part of the Pitta system of the body and is the heat-energy of the Pitta dosha. Many different enzymes are responsible for the transformation of food into substances that can be absorbed by the body and nourish the tissues. Agni is the term used to describe these metabolic processes. The acidic nature of agni means it literally ‘cooks’ the food to allow the body to digest and assimilate it. If agni is not strong, the undigested material accumulates and becomes toxic. Over time this toxic material or ama accumulates in weak areas of the body and leads to illness and disease.
So how do we keep our agni or digestive fire strong? Firstly, knowing our own individual body-type or primary dosha (Vata, Pitta or Kapha) is very beneficial as then we can decipher which foods are best suited to our digestive processes and which should be avoided. Only eating when we are hungry is also important as this means the digestive juices are flowing and agni is ready to ‘cook’ the food. Fresh ginger can ignite agni and can be taken with a pinch of salt as an appetiser to help digest a meal. Wait at least 3-4 hours before eating again after a main meal to allow the food to be fully assimilated. Otherwise digestive fire becomes overburdened and digestion grows increasingly less efficient. Midday is when the Pitta dosha in our body is the strongest and as Pitta governs digestion, this is the best time to eat our main meal of the day.
Freshly cooked food is best and try to avoid frozen food and leftovers as they are more heavy on digestion and the mind. Here are some other tips for when you eat your meals to assist with optimal digestion:
- Always sit down to eat. Sitting applies the right amount of pressure to the stomach for the most efficient digestion.
- Allow enough time to eat well. Give the body time to register the fact that it is being fed.
- Never eat when you are upset or angry. Eating during emotional upheavals contributes to poor digestion.
- Before eating, pause in silence, close eyes and say a brief prayer to offer the food to the Supreme Source.
- Eat in a settled, serene atmosphere with pleasant table conversation, soft music, or comfortable silence.
- Try to sit quietly while you eat, pay attention to the tastes, textures, and qualities of your food and enjoy it. Avoid television, loud music, getting up and down, reading or doing anything else while you are eating.
- Eat comfortable sizes of food and chew thoroughly. Don’t talk while chewing as this lets air into digestive tract and hinders digestion.
- Just a few sips of warm water during the meal will assist digestion. Drinking too much liquid during and for an hour after meals dilutes digestive juices & hinders digestion.
- Eat very lightly in the evening and be finished before 8 pm so digestion can be finished before bedtime.
- Eat until just satisfied but not full. If you are still feeling hungry, eat one or two more bites of food and see how you feel. Eat enough to fill two-thirds of the stomach – about what will fit in two cupped hands.
The concept of agni and digestion is a very complex process that involves much more than just food. Another factor to consider is the digestion of daily experiences and emotions. Toxins can also be created by emotional factors and if we don’t digest experiences in a healthy way then repressed emotions can also affected our organs and physical health. Meditation is a highly beneficial practice that will naturally help us process experiences and deal with emotions.