Digestive Problems? What's Agni Got To Do With It?
Do you get hungry and angry ("hangry") like a tiger if you don't eat at lunchtime? Or, do you only eat because you feel like you should but rarely have an appetite? Can you eat 3-4 meals per day and never put on weight? Do you experience burning pains in your stomach? Or does food sit undigested in your stomach for too long? Is your appetite all over the place - sometimes ravenous and other times disinterested? Or, do you put on weight even though you don't eat much? While not ideal, all of this makes total sense in Ayurveda.
Firstly, What's Ayurveda?
For those who haven't heard the word Ayurveda before, it is often translated as "The Science of Life". Ayurveda is a profound healthcare science that originated in India thousands of years ago. It is particularly strong on preventative healthcare and also advises on treatment once people are sick. Ayurveda has its own unique type of functional anatomy and physiology and incorporates numerous therapies and treatments, including: diet, herbal remedies and bodywork (often involving herbal infused oils). It is a truly holistic system of healthcare that aims to address the body, mind and soul. Let's explore some Ayurvedic functional anatomy & physiology by looking at the 'central gastric fire' (jathara agni), and how this can impact our digestion.
Central Gastric Fire
Most holistic health systems place importance on #digestion & Ayurveda is no exception. In fact, digestion has played a central role in Ayurvedic healthcare for thousands of years. In Sanskrit, the language used in ancient India, the word 'agni' means fire. However, for the purpose of this article, I'm specifically referring to our 'central gastric fire' (jathara agni). According to Ayurveda, this 'central gastric fire' is involved in the first phase of digestion, where we break down food, absorb nutrients & eliminate waste.
Ayurveda also recognises other phases of digestion beyond this, where the essence of the food is refined even further and sent to the tissues. However, in this article, we're only going to focus on the 'central gastric fire' because it's considered the most important. Why? Because it influences the function of everything that comes after it.
So, what does this mean for you and your digestion?
Baking Metaphor to Describe Digestive Strength
I’m going to use a metaphor of baking bread to describe the concept of ‘digestive fire’ or strength (if you can’t relate to bread, replace it with rice or another type of food in your mind … it’s just a metaphor). See if you can recognise your own digestive tendencies in the following descriptions.
🔥BALANCED AGNI- imagine baking bread & the heat in the oven is perfectly temperature controlled. The finished product is perfectly baked - neither undercooked or overcooked. The digested material can go on to nourish the body & appetite is healthy. This is the ideal state of digestive strength.
🔥🔥🔥EXCESSIVE AGNI- imagine trying to bake bread in an oven that is too hot. The heat will consume the dough until it’s burnt, leaving little nourishment behind. Appetite is likely to be very strong but insatiable. With nothing left to consume, the digestive fire can start to irritate the digestive lining.
🔥❄️IRREGULAR AGNI - imagine trying to bake bread & the heat in the oven keeps alternating between too high or too low. In this situation, some parts of the bread would become burnt while other parts would remain uncooked. Appetite would also be up & down. Not ideal.
❄️WEAK AGNI - imagine trying to bake bread but the heat in the oven never gets high enough to cook it properly. What's left is a sticky, heavy, uncooked substance that is difficult to digest. Appetite is likely to be low as the previous food is still poorly digested. According to Ayurveda, ‘Weak Agni’ is responsible for more diseases than the other types.
Did any of these seem familiar to you?
A practitioner with knowledge of #Ayurveda will always assess the state of a patient's 'central gastric fire' or digestive capacity, before providing dietary, herbal or other treatment advice.
Rachel Hull has a Bachelor of Health Science (Western Herbal Medicine) & runs The Urban Herbalist in Geelong. She has a background of Yoga & Ayurveda & is currently completing an 18 month Ayurveda Bridging Certification (for health professionals) with Ayurvedic Dr Amruta Athale.
At the current time (Covid-19), all consultations are being held online. Remedies can be posted Australia wide or picked up (Geelong locals).