In Ayurveda, there is a saying;
A man is as old as his ‘Agni’
What is Agni in Ayurveda?
Agni is the fire element whose primary function is digestion, absorption, assimilation and transformation of food and sensations into energy. In short, if the individual’s Agni is in optimal condition, his/her immune system is healthy.
Agni is also responsible for removing waste products that build up in our cells and tissues. Hence if the fire of Agni is low, we have low nutrition coming into our body and thus poor elimination of waste. This leads to feeling weak, lack of energy and low immunity. If our Agni is robust and healthy we feel energetic and rejuvenated.
Interestingly, the presiding deity of Agni – Agnidevta has two faces. One face represents the creation of new cells and that other governs the destruction of old cells. He has three tongues that represent the three doshas: Vata, Kapha and Pitta. His three legs represent the physical body, the mental body and the consciousness. Thus, Agni represents the unified functioning of these structures and energies!
पञ्चाग्नेस्तस्य चान्यौ द्वावधिकं ज्वलतः क्षुधा । जठराग्नी सभार्यस्य दरिद्रस्य प्रजाधनैः
(Jāṭharāgni (जाठराग्नि, “metabolic fire”) is of the prime importance in the maintenance of health as well as causation of diseases. Food which is consumed by the person shares the major responsibility for being healthy or manifestation of diseases. The relation between food and health is mediated by Jāṭharāgni (the metabolic agent in Ayurveda).
Jatharagni, the central fire is very important as it acts as a doorway to digestion. In other words it governs the initial digestion, all food that we intake first pass through this Agni.
How to Maintain a Strong Agni (Digestive Fire)
Having a healthy digestive fire is extremely crucial for digestion and overall well-being and immunity. There are many ways to keep our Agni healthy and here are some:
- Eat well but eat only when you are truly hungry. Eat till you are satisfied and not completely full. Genuine hunger is an indicator that the previous meal has been fully digested and Agni, or digestive fire, has re-awakened.
- Keep that water intake coming. Drink warm or room temperature water between meals.
- Eat foods that are rich with Prana! (life). This translates to eating food that is light and well cooked. Certain raw foods, such as lettuce, parsley and sprouts have high Prana, so we can eat them raw as the body can digest it.
- If you feel heavy post a delicious lunch, then try lying on your left side for 5–15 minutes after lunch.This position activates the solar energy channel, which is linked to agni, so it is not only relaxing and rejuvenating, but also very supportive of good digestion.
Hence we understand that the role of Agni in digestion is very important and that maintaining a balanced Agni is very crucial towards achieving great health and longevity. It not only governs our digestive process but it also plays an important role in governing our emotional well being.
Reference: Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda Vol III: General Principles of Management and Treatment. Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press, 2012. Print. 64-69, 134-135, 140.