The Sanskrit word “Agni” has roots relating to the Latin word “ignis”, which means “ignite”. Agni thus translates to mean “that which ignites”. Serving as the body’s gastric fire, it is the catalyst for digestion and metabolism.
Responsible for the breaking down of, absorption and assimilation of the food that we consume, Agni functions on a cellular level to transform matter into energy that the body can then utilize. It provides nutrition for and is present in every cell and tissue in the body and is responsible for the maintenance of the immune system. The healthy functioning of Agni is so important that Ayurveda considers it to be the main source of life.
Related to longevity of a well-lived life, Agni also governs intelligence and comprehensive understanding both on a cellular and cognitive level. It protects the flora of the organs by destroying toxins and bacteria from the stomach, small and large intestines. In this way, Agni is a key component of supporting the health of the immune system and its functioning.
Ayurveda acknowledges that foods are broken down according to the properties, gunas, or “qualities” of what we eat. Consider Agni to operate in much the same way as a cooking fire. If we have, for example, a pot on the stove and toss in cold and heavier foods such as dairy and meat products, it will take a considerably longer time for the “pot” or digestive fire to break it down compared to something such as a warm vegetable soup. With this, one can make meal decisions based on an awareness of how the body processes foods with different gunas differently.
If Agni is impaired, one will experience a depletion of metabolism, immune system functioning and a lack of clearness in the mind. This impairment causes undigested and unabsorbed food to accumulate in the small and large intestines, circulating toxins or Ama (which we will discuss further in a future article) throughout the body. If untreated, Ama will eventually affect the tissues and various bodily systems.
If addressed early on, Ama can be cleansed from the body quite easily by making shifts in diet and lifestyle choices. Ayurveda explains Agni to be in a state of health when food is properly digested in a timely manner with at least one bowel movement per day, providing the body with sustained energy and the mind with awareness and clarity.
Some tips for supporting healthy Agni: drink warm water throughout the day (option to add lemon and fresh ginger), have lunch as your largest meal(when the digestive fire is strongest), avoid snacking between meals, abstain from drinking cold or iced beverages and enjoy some form of exercise during the day.