Ayurveda Basics: Agni, Our Digestive Fire

Learn more on optimizing your digestive fire, what food is best for your dosha and so much more in my book In Your Elements on Amazon.

Agni, our digestive fire, is responsible for processing and absorbing the foods we eat. The function of agni is the main contributor to our physical and mental health and when agni functions properly, we thrive. But when agni malfunctions, we get sick and we can accumulate ama (toxins)

MOST (like 90%) disease and imbalance is caused by malfunctioning agni.

Visualize agni as a little fire burning behind our belly button, responsible for digesting and assimilating our foods. But, agni needs to function properly or there will be problems. Let's think about real fire for a sec: Fire functions properly by burning and transforming substances. Or, fire can go wild and crazy if there's too much wind (think, heartburn). Or, fire can get snuffed out by too much wetness or heaviness (think, weight gain). Or, fire can have a slow low burn, like red coals, and if we keep piling food on it, the food will hang out for a very long time (and not get digested).

In Ayurveda, we are not what we eat, we what we digest.

Meaning, we can choose to eat whatever we want, but if we don’t digest it properly, we will be on the path to getting some sort of health problems. 

In either case, malfunctioning agni can create ama. Sometimes ama is simply part of the transformation process, but other times ama can turn into toxin. The old food stuff hangs out for too long without being burned and used properly which results in soggy old food building up in our systems. Ama is undigested food — leftover goo that clogs, sticks, blocks, clouds channels in the body/mind and creates disease. 

Healthy agni is essential to feel vital in our bodies and minds, so let's talk about how to recognize healthy agni. 

Signs of healthy agni

• tongue is pink
• we feel real hunger for next meal
• regular bowel movements
• well formed poop
• clarity of mind
• clear skin
• good daily energy and stamina 
• your at a weight feels comfortable for you

Signs of malfunctioning agni

• whitish coating on tongue (sign of ama)
• weak or loss of appetite
• poop that sinks or is hard little balls
• clouded thinking
• bloating, gas, constipation, distension
• lethargy or grogginess

Vata people have varied agni.

Pitta people tend to have very strong agni because of their natural heat, however pittas need to make sure that their agni doesn't get too hot. Agni that is too hot can burn the tissues which also results in ama.

Kapha have low agni which results in kapha imbalances like lethargy, obesity, heaviness, and dullness of the senses.

Tips on keeping agni strong

• Small breakfast. Our agni is just a tiny fire in the morning...just barely burning from last night's fasting. We should have a small breakfast to kindle the little fire because if we eat too much, we will squelch it.

• Large lunch. Agni is strongest at noon, so lunch should be the biggest meal of the day. It makes sense because agni relates to the sun. It's all about nature...when nature is warm, so are we, so let's use nature to our advantage!

• Small dinner. The sun is going down and agni follows suit, preparing for sleep. If we follow the regimen of eating a large lunch, we shouldn't be starving at dinner.

• Eat with peace of mind. If our mind is focused elsewhere (eating lunch while working) we are not present or aware of what we are putting in our bodies. That's 1/2 of digestion right there!

• Ghee. Great for kindling agni for pittas and vatas.

• Spices. Digestive spices (fennel, cumin, cinnamon) and pungent spices (ginger, black pepper, sriracha!) increase internal heat.

• Less Water with food. Don't drink a lot of water with the meal. Some water is necessary, but too much will put out the fire. Drink water about an hour after the meal.

• Hunger pangs. Wait until there is real hunger and you have clear burps (sounds gross, I know) before eating the next meal.

You might also find these videos from my YouTube channel helpful:
5 Uncommon Digestive Tips
Why Ayurveda Does Not Recommend Yogurt
Different Types Digestion for Each Dosha

Have fun practicing as we keep bringing Ayurveda to life!

Monica B.



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