Updated: Jun 2, 2021
Agni, or digestive fire, and Ama, which is toxicity, are the two most important concepts in Ayurveda. An understanding of how to balance agni and burn ama through how and what we eat is key to taking charge of your health. With better digestion, you’ll enjoy a stronger immune system, glowing skin, a sharper mind, and more vitality.
Agni is literally the Sanskrit word for “fire”. So this digestive strength or heat is responsible for the digestion, absorption, gastric fire, enzymes, metabolism, assimilation and transformation of food into energy.
Agni is strongest in the stomach as hydrochloric acid (HCL), it covers all digestive enzymes. The process of digestion, absorption and assimilation begins with the enzymes in the saliva that soften what we eat so it continues into the esophagus as a paste. Then the esophagus ends in the stomach. There, foodstuff is turned acidic by the Hydrochloric acid for further digestion by peptin and gastrin before it enters the small intestines where the acid is neutralized, allowing bile and pancreatic juices to come out and further digest it and pass it finally along to the large intestine for the last stages of digestion and the natural elimination of wastes. This is modern science’s description of how agni works! Yet this description has existed in Sankrit for over 4000 years.
When digestion is working well you feel clear, light, radiant, confident and energized.
When digestion becomes unbalanced or agni becomes weak, it creates ama.
Ama is any undigested food, thoughts or emotions held within the body and it is the precursor to all diseases! And why we say thoughts and emotions as well is- that even thoughts and feelings can get sticky and stuck in our psyche and require their detoxification.
If Agni is low, then food won’t be digested properly and undigested food will create toxic metabolic waste. This toxic Ama is very sticky by nature and clogs up internal channels in the body...channels meaning blood vessels, lymph the digestive system and any tubule through which any substance travels in our system. Toxins accumulated in the body weaken the immune system and make us vulnerable to infections; they adversely affect our digestion and eventually can lead to serious neurological problems.
So, low digestive fire or agni and excess production of toxins in the body is the main reason that we get sick.
You have heard the saying - you are what you eat---well, ayurveda would say ---you are what you can digest and eliminate.
So what are the signs of Ama?
Some signs of Ama are chronic low energy or pain, a coated tongue, bad breath, high cholesterol, candida, late onset diabetes, constipation...and again, this toxic build-up, or ama results in low functioning agni which leads to disease. In fact the key to healthy agni is the intake of easily digested, fresh, lightly cooked, compatible foods eaten in conscious awareness at regular times.
Some easy tips to increase agni are to avoid Cold drinks which extinguish the heat of the digestive fire, drinking too much fluid along with meals or immediately after meals, excessive sleep, overeating, emotional eating, eating old leftovers, too much cheese, meat, or caffeine, eating when stressed or anxious and eating when not actually hungry can all dampen our agni.
There are simple ways to kindle agni immediately before we eat so that the digestive fire can effectively process our foods and burn previously accumulated toxins. You can to take a short walk just before eating... And my favorite: is eating a pinch of fresh ginger dipped in salt just before a meal.
The best way to increase low digestive strength is to do an Ayurvedic Cleanse at the change of seasons or even once a year.
Well digested food becomes readily available nutrients, which creates healthy cells, muscles, lymph, blood, bones etc... this is the benefit of good agni.
In the Vedas, the ancient texts of India, agni was worshipped in its Divine form as the bringer and sustainer of life. There is a beautiful Sanskrit prayer that shows this devotional aspect of eating: It says:
Annam Brahma raso Vishnu
pakto devo maheshvarah
evam jñaktva tu yo bhunkte
anna dosho na lipyate
It means: The creative energy in the food is Brahma, energy of creation.
The nourishing energy in the body is Vishnu, energy of sustainance.
The transformation of food into pure Consciousness is Shiva, energy of transformation .
If you remain conscious of this, then any impurities in the food you eat will never become a part of you.