Meet Agni: The Fire in your Belly

Last month I paid tribute to love that infuses life and oil and fat which provide a sense of love, contentment and warmth. What I deceitfully failed to mention is that oil is nothing if you don’t have the means to digest it. You can’t fry an egg on a cold skillet. Or, as Bruce Springsteen put it so famously in Dancing in the Dark, “You can’t light a fire/ You can’t light a fire without a spark.” That spark is agni, the fire in you that is responsible and necessary for digestion, transformation and metabolism.

“Strength, health, longevity and vital breath are dependent upon the power of digestion including metabolism.”

                                                                         -Caraka Samhita, Vol. I

In Ayurveda,  digestive power is named after the Hindu fire god, Agni, and we all have a little piece of Agni within. It is our agni that takes the other (food) and makes it into something useful…energy and nourishment. It is the agni in our minds that comprehends new information, discerns, and extracts that which is useful. Agni on a cellular level guides metabolism.

The key is to cultivate the right degree of burn and to receive the proper fuel at the proper time. When agni runs too high, you literally burn up and burn out. Conversely, a weak agni leads to sluggishness and toxicity.

Having grown up in a home that was heated by a wood stove, I know well the importance of stoking the fire without smothering it. That same exact principle can be applied to the fire in your gut…and in your mind at that! If you starve the fire, it will eventually weaken and die out. If you overload the fire, the logs will no more than smolder. However, a steady feed of fuel in just the right quantity keeps the fire burning bright. Wood is transformed to heat and the fire remains intact.

I will allow you to draw the obvious connection to your digestive process. Like all of Ayurveda, treatment is highly individualized. Some people need to build a stronger agni; some need to cool it down. However, here are a few general ways to balance your digestive fire:

-Fennel, cumin, coriander tea (see recipe below). This is great for pretty much everyone. It will gently detox your system, kindle the agni, but will not overheat you.

-Avoid cold drinks–no ice! This is true especially at meal times. It is best to drink half a cup of warm water or hot tea with meals.

-Ginger, lime juice, and rock salt before meals. If your appetite needs a kick start, thinly slice fresh ginger root and dress it with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt. Chew on the ginger slices before meals.

-Eat without distraction in calm setting. Avoid working and multi-tasking while eating. Relaxing while you eat puts your nervous system in ‘rest and digest’ mode and you will assimilate your food better.

-Chew, chew, chew and eat until you are 75% full. 75% is not an exact measurement, but more of a felt sense. It is a state of being satisfied but not stuffed.

Fennel, Cumin, Coriander Tea from Dr. Scott Blossom

1 quart of water

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

Simmer all ingredients for 15 minutes, strain, and drink warm or room temperature.

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