Part V - Lord agni! The king of digestive fire.
by Sandra Radja
Agni is considered the fire whilst the God of fire, Agnideva is considered the energy behind the physical fire. He has two faces; one is creation, the other is destruction. The creation of new cells and destruction of old cells is governed by agni. Agnideva has three tongues representing the three gunas (universal qualities present in creation):; sattva (equilibrium), rajas (activity) and tamas (inertia). They also represent the three doshas: vata (movement), pitta (transformation), and kapha (structure).
The God, Agnideva, is also shown as having seven extremities, which are the seven dhatus (or tissues). Each dhatu has it's own agni component. Agnideva has three legs: one leg is the physical body, the second is the mental body, the mind, and the third is consciousness. Thus, agni represents the unified functioning of these various energies and structure - Dr Vasant Lad, Textbook on Ayurveda
The essence of agni is transformation - digestion, absorption, assimilation of food and sensory impressions into energy, or heat. The word ignite from the Latin word ignis, means to arouse or inflame, and agni has a similar definition. A cold person has little passion and perhaps minimal appetite. It requires heat to invigorate and process experiences that come our way.
Agni is physical fire but can also be represented in the human body as digestive fire (jathara agni). The less work your digestive system has to do, the more energy you have for other things. This is why we cook our food in Ayurveda. We rarely have the lifestyles that involve expending massive amounts of physical energy and most of us are stressed, leading to a weak digestive system since you need to be in a relaxed and calm state to digest well. Therefore, allowing the agni of fire to break down the food particles before you chew is an efficient way to ensure you absorb as much nutrients as possible. If your agni is strong then you may be able to break down rough and cold food such as raw vegetables with no digestive upset.
Sensory impressions need strong agni also. I once took an intense Yoga class on the Upanishads. It was Autumn (Fall) and I had a lot on my plate in my personal life as well as a full load during the day at work. The classes were late at night and near the end of the busy week. I don't remember much. All I remember was that I had abdominal distention from trapped gas and was in pain most of the time. Once the classes ceased, my stomach and digestion returned to normal. I had taken on more than I could chew. It was a lesson as to my own personal capacity.
Signs you have excellent Agni
- You feel the same weight before and after eating and your body weight is consistent with your dosha
- Your body retains a moderate amount of heat
- You feel strong
- You have a healthy complexion and glow
- You exhibit aspects of bravery, fearlessness or courage to face problems as they come
- There is joy and contentment in your daily being
- You are content within yourself and able to present your truth to others with confidence
- There is a great interest to live and you lead a vibrant lifestyle
- You have good sense of discrimination and can make decisions easily
- You can be in the now with patience and not have your neck craned to the future
In Ayurveda, Ojas (immunity) is the end product of good agni. We see the body system in seven tissue layers that build on each other (lymph, blood, muscle and tendons, fat, bone, nerves and bone marrow and reproductive tissue). Each subsystem also has it's own agni that creates strong tissue and provides the basis for the next level of tissue formation. The basic message is a strong immunity depends on your total system working well together and it begins with the food and impressions you take in.
4 states of Agni
- SAMA AGNI. This is a balanced constitution. Means you can eat and do what you want. You are not bothered by food or environment. You are not bothered by the change in season, or change in financial situation or that someone flipped you off on the highway.
- VISHAMA AGNI. This is the result of aggravated Vata dosha. Variable appetite and variable routine lead to a variable digestive capacity. Sometimes you eat like a horse and sometimes you forget to eat. The body's system stops and starts and the lack of routine can lead to other disorders like constipation, insomnia, cracking joints, dry skin and anxiety. Vata is connected to nerves and most Vata individuals may eat to calm nerves more than satisfy an apppetite. Because of this bloating and gas (non smelly) can occur. Vata does well by being rested first and foremost before attempting to break down complex meals.
- TIKSHNA AGNI. This is the result of aggravated Pitta dosha. Hot and sharp, it feels like there is no amount of food that can satisfy. It can lead to heartburn and acid indigestion with a sour taste in the mouth. Gas will be smelly. The intensity is too sharp to break down food well and turns it to liquid leading to very loose stools. Anger and annoyance come easily as well as inflammatory conditions. There can also be an inability to break down fats as the liver/gallbladder has been overworked via taking in too much intensity over time. This will feel like fatigue because the organs are too sluggish to break it down.
- MANDA AGNI. This is the result of aggravated Kapha dosha. The qualities of Kapha are cold wet and heavy and this dampens the hot and sharp agni leading to a sluggish digestion. There is a lack of appetite and heaviness associated with eating. Obesity, edema, depression and diabetes are some of the effects that can result from this type of digestive disorder. Kapha can work with very little food, in fact they do well without breakfast and can survive on a couple of meals/day. Light foods are best for Kapha.