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Why we need to nurture our digestive fire
We look to Ayurvedic medicine to explain why digestion issues are innately personal, and what we can do to bring back some balance.
“The healing tradition of Ayurveda teaches that health and wellbeing depends upon our ability to digest everything we take in from the environment,” says Sheila Patel, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of The Chopra Centre. “This includes not only tangible substances like food and drink, but also our experiences, emotions, and the impressions we take in via our sensory portals, namely our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin.”
In Connecting Indian Wisdom and Western Science: Plant Usage for Nutrition and Health by Luisella Verotta, Maria Pia Macchi and Padma Venkatasubramanian, one of the ten factors known as dasa vidha pareeksha used to determine the state of health of an individual per Ayurveda is identified as anala: digestion and metabolism. The energy that drives metabolic processes in the body is called agni, the Sanskrit term for “fire” that’s referred to in Ayurveda as “digestive fire” or Jatharagni. Responsible for breaking down food and the aforementioned things we ingest from the environment, agni is central to the Ayurvedic ethos that a healthy, balanced digestion is the ultimate foundation to our overall well being, assimilating essential nutrients and eliminating the rest.
Jasmine Hemsley, author, chef and writer of cookbook East by West which draws on the Ayurvedic philosophy of eating to nourish, sustain and repair, says “We can describe the condition of our digestive fire through four discrete types of agni with a balanced agni being ideal. Each of us corresponds more closely to one of the three other types in our natural state (or individual mind-body type, designated by the three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) but can inch toward any of the others depending on how we eat, how we sleep, our everyday habits and our current environment”. Jasmine outlines the four types of agni as follows:
A balanced, or Sama, Agni is quite rare and exists in the most easygoing of us. These individuals go with the flow, and aren’t easily stressed. They live life in balance.
Vata Agni is unpredictable and erratic. It is often associated with symptoms of constipation.
Pitta Agni is somewhat overactive and makes it harder for our bodies to properly assimilate the nutrients in our food. It produces runny, burning stools.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kapha Agni is slow-burning, too cold and moist to be balanced. It results in large, heavy and soft waste.
“When our agni is robust, we create healthy tissues, eliminate waste products efficiently and produce a subtle essence called ojas. Ojas, which may be envisioned as the source of our vitality, is the basis for clarity of perception, physical strength, and immunity,” explains Deepak Chopra, M.D., Co-Founder of The Chopra Centre. “On the other hand, if our agni is weakened through improper eating, lack of activity, negative emotional energy or unhealthy daily routine, our digestion will be hampered and we produce toxins that get stored in the body. According to Ayurveda, this toxic residue, known as ama, is the root cause of disease.”
So how do we avoid ama? Discovering what your dosha is is the first step towards knowing which foods will be most beneficial in creating a balanced agni, while some core methods as highlighted by Jasmine on The goop Podcast Feeding Your Digestive Fire can be applied to all. Eating your largest meal at lunchtime, avoiding overeating, minimizing the intake of raw foods and icy drinks, and incorporating warming, stimulating Ayurvedic ingredients such as ginger into your diet will ensure you’re nourishing your digestive system without putting it under stress.
Gas and irregular bowel movements are seen in Ayurveda as a sign of dosha imbalance alongside a weak digestive fire. DEBLOAT FOOD + PREBIOTIC uses three key traditional Ayurvedic spices—cinnamon, ginger + turmeric—which have been widely used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years for their anti-inflammatory properties and ability to stimulate digestion to reduce gas and bloating.