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How To Improve Digestion & Build Strong Agni With An Ayurvedic Diet

Written by John Immel, Asheville, NC
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What is Agni?

Literally, Agni means fire. In Ayurveda, Agni measures your strength, power and resilience, and may be compared to your metabolism. Agni gives your organs the strength to work well. In your mind, agni gives us emotional strength and stability. Good agni brings vitality, clarity and enthusiasm. Ayurveda pays careful attention to building and maintaining agni. Agni is a Sanskrit word that is derived from the same root as the Latin word 'ignite'.

Your body stays healthy and maintains balance by protecting itself from change. In contrast, the environment is always changing. These changes threaten to knock your body off balance. Your ability to process and handle changes in the environment around you, or the food you've eaten, is a measure of your ability to heal. Disease comes when we are unable to process change. Agni measures the strength of your body to 'digest' these changes and maintain balance. Agni is best definied as your body's processing power.

The Ayurvedic model of digestion reaches beyond mere digestion of food. It also encompasses digestion of chemicals, hormones, and all physiological changes. Perhaps a better word for digestion in Ayurveda is 'processing'. In fact, everything that happens to you must be processed. If you catch a chill, processing includes restoring your healthy temperature of 98.6 degrees. Information coming through the five senses, trauma, and any residual emotions must also be processed or 'digested'.

Signs of Good Agni

In your body, good agni feels like the following:

Use substances, such as black pepper, with the above qualities to build the strength of your agni. The fiery qualities of black pepper stimulate blood flow to the stomach, increases agni. On the opposite side, heavy, cold, sticky foods such as wheat or cheese generally reduce agni. When your agni is strong you will notice:

  • You feel energized.
  • You feel light, fresh and clean.
  • You have mental clarity.
  • There is a brightness in your eyes
  • You have a good appetite
  • Your have regular elimination of the bowels.
  • Your stools are well-formed, like a banana in size, shape and consistency.

Why is Agni Important for Good Digestion

In the digestive tract, good agni builds a healthy appetite and helps you digest food. When your digestive organs have good agni, they secrete plenty of enzymes, absorb nutrients well, and move wastes out of the body in a regular and timely fashion. When agni is working well, it "cooks" the food you've eaten, turning it into nutrients.

How do you Strengthen Agni in the Digestive Tract?

When you are adequately hydrated, your body produces plenty of digestive fluids. When you have good circulation and strong blood, your digestive organs will be energized. When your digestive organs are clean and free of excessive mucus, your enzymes will quickly break down the food. These are the most important three factors to strong agni. Your intestines should be free of parasites and inflammation. Instestinal flora should be balanced. The techniques to improve hydration, circulation, blood, and mucus conditions are as varied as the individual, and require the expert advice of an Ayurvedic practitioner. However one of the most powerful techniques to improving your digestion is a glass of warm water a half hour before meals. The following techniques generally improve agni:
  • Herbal teas with spices such as ginger, black pepper, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom.
  • A wedge of lime with a slice of fresh ginger and a pinch of salt before meals.
  • Rice & easy to digest vegetable soups with spices
  • Skip a meal or fast for the day until the appearance of true hunger.
  • Restorative stretching
  • Daily use of triphala.
Note: If your agni is low due to inflammation and irritation, eat soothing, anti-inflammatory foods instead of the suggestions above.
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About John Joseph Immel

About the Author

John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.

John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.

John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 7 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.

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