Agni, or inner fire, is a key concept in the Ayurvedic teachings. Agni is a representation of the fire element in the body-mind. It describes the biological fire, or heat energy that governs metabolism, and it is often referred to as the digestiver fire. Our agni digests our food, sensory impressions, emotions, thoughts, ideas and experiences. Without agni, we are unable to use what we take into our body-minds, and whatever we cannot digest builds up as residue in our body-mind (which clogs the channels – per the previous blogs). This is why a strong agni is considered paramount to maintaining health.
Our agni performs many different functions in the body-mind – beginning with intelligence and discernment. Intelligence allows agni to digests whatever comes into the body-mind from food to emotions to experiences. Part of the digestive process requires discernment, as the agni separates nutrients from wastes. The nutrients are used to build and nourish tissues, while the waste products are eliminated from the body-mind. This is how agni maintains life and creates energy, radiance and strength. Even our ability to think clearly is, from the Ayurvedic view, described as a function of agni.
Charaka, author of the Charaka Samhita (one three authoritative texts on Ayurveda), describes agni in the following way:
“The span of life, health, immunity, energy, metabolism, complexion, strength, enthusiasm, luster, and the vital breath (prana) are all dependent on agni.
“One lives a long healthy life if it is functioning properly, becomes sick if it is deranged, or dies if this fire is extinguished.
“Proper nourishment of the body, tissues, ojas, etc., depend upon the proper functioning of agni in digestion.”
Ayurveda teaches us that there are many agnis in the body-mind. Each time something gets digested by agni, it becomes more and more refined, so it can be absorbed at a deeper and deeper level. This process of cooking is what allows our knowledge and experience to become wisdom.
Here are some simple ways to support and protect your agni on a daily basis:
Avoid taxing the agni by reducing iced or cold drinks; cold raw foods; heavy or hard to digest foods; and hard to digest experiences
Use herbs and spices to support your digestion – like ginger and black pepper
Make lunchtime your largest meal, since the agni is strongest over the lunch hour
When eating, focus on your food
Be active – regular exercise builds agni
Create a daily routine to stabilize your agni
Yoga, Ayurveda’s sister science, offers many wonderful techniques through postures, breath work and cleansing actions – all which need to be learned from a qualified teacher.
Consider which of these you can easily incorporate into your life, and dive in. Notice the effect this has on your ability to digest your life without accumulating residue. The stronger your inner fire, the more energy you will have to live your life. This is what the Ayurvedis intended – to give us the tools which allow us to live lives of purpose so we can hold up our corner of the universe.
Om shanti & prema (peace and love)