Monday, November 12, 2012

Keeping Strong and Sharp with Agni

Judi Harvin

Last post we talked about agni, the "digestive fire" that aids in transformation.

The really cool thing about agni is that is relates not only to food, but also to thoughts, ideas and knowledge. Are you a student, trying to learn? An artist, brainstorming? Trying to master a new language or instrument? Solving a perplexing problem? This is agni at work.

Anything we bring into our body goes through a process of transformation. Then, it may become a part of us, such as a healthy food or a new idea. It may also be eliminated, like un-utilized food, ideas or knowledge. That healthy veggie stew you ate for dinner? Of course you want those super-vitamins transforming into your vibrant cells and tissues. That great quote from the Gita that your instructor offered in class? With healthy agni, you can digest it in a way that might open your mind to a new dimension.
Ayurveda looks at qualities, and the qualities of agni include:

Kind of like fire...or an engaged, active, focused mind, perhaps?

So, if we want our digestion strong so we feel physically and mentally nourished, strong, active and sharp, we need to cultivate healthy agni.

The last blog looked at the characteristics of poor agni; bloat, lethargy, heaviness (mental or weight), etc. You certainly know if these apply to you, but you may not have thought of it in terms of poor digestion. Let's do an experiment. If you suspect your agni needs a little stoking, try to incorporate several of the following steps for the next couple of weeks, and observe the effects.

Eat three meals at the about the same time each day. Allow 3 hours between meals to rekindle agni. "Foraging", or eating smaller amounts frequently, depletes agni. It takes three hours to fully digest a meal and let the system rest a bit.

Eat your biggest meal at noon. Agni is strongest at this point.

Eat until you are 3/4 full. Overeating suffocates agni. Feed your fire an appropriate amount of quality food.

Do not partake in long fasts. You need to feed your digestive fire fuel to keep it burning. Fasting starves agni.

However, you can rest agni by skipping an occasional meal. The most appropriate meal to skip to rest digestion is dinner.

Eat cooked, nourishing food. Cooking food initiates the first digestive stop. Digesting raw food may be fine if agni is strong, but will be asking too much from depleted agni. And, of course, good quality food will best regulate the digestive fire.

Focus, chew and breath. Chew completely. This is the first step of digestion. Try not to read or watch TV. Avoid agitation; stress depletes agni.

Avoid cold foods and drinks. Take the ice out of your drinks at dinner. Small sips wouldn't douse a fire with water and expect it to burn, would you? Drink plenty of water, sure, just not when you're eating.

Increase heat through movement. Stimulating exercise; jogging, walking, biking, vinyasa yoga create body heat, enkindling agni.

Make meals tasty with herbs. Lots of herbs are known for cultivating agniGinger, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, asafoetida, pepper, and more add flavor variety to food. This makes it more satisfying, and stimulates digestion.

Yoga. The full body movements, core work and twists in a yoga class target the organs of digestion. Yoga also has techniques, such as Kappalabhati and Bastrika pranayama, and agni sara that sound complicated, but are not that tough to learn, and easy to bring into your day. Ask your instructor about teaching these in class so you can learn with guidance, and practice at home.

This is quite a punch list. Some of these changes may require effort, so don't try to implement too many at once. But, as you experiment, observe, and add more, notice the results. Do you feel lighter? More energized? Even tempered? Mentally focused? Less cravings? This is the result of healthy agni.

If you'd like to learn more about agni, ama, Ayurveda, as well as some of the herbs, foods, yoga techniques and routines that complement strong digestion, consider our workshop Cultivating Healthy Digestion with Ayurveda. I'll be presenting it this Wednesday from 1:00 - 2:30pm. Register here.