Agni is everything.
According to Dr. Vasant Lad, “the span of life, health, energy, metabolism, complexion, strength, enthusiasm, luster and the vital breath are all dependent on agni.”
In Chapter 1, we are introduced to agni as the keystone to health and immunity, and the 4 agni types. We’re given some simple tips to help remedy an agni imbalance.
No matter our type it always pays to keep agni strong. Just like a literal fire, agni can be fueled or dampened by how it is tended.
When we talk about eating for agni, we’re talking about tending jatharagni, or the main source of agni in the stomach and small intestines, which digests and assimilates our food. This agni is the source of all of the more subtle agnis that feed the organs and tissues, as well as the mental and energetic bodies.
Simple changes in our eating habits and daily routine can make a huge difference in how we assimilate the nutrients we take in. These guidelines for keeping agni strong are important for all types, in all seasons.
There are certain times where agni is especially taxed, and heeding these guidelines are extra important. Be especially caring of agni after a surgery, during acute or chronic illness, grief and sadness, and for women, after childbirth and even during menstruation.
WHAT TO EAT
1. Food combining:
Aside from learning about your constitution and eating for your type, we can become aware of food combinations that can be particularly tough to digest.
Food combining ‘rules’ can get quite confusing, but here are two important basics:
● Always eat fresh fruit alone, or at least 20 minutes before a meal
● Dairy (milk, cheese and yogurt) does not digest well with meat, beans, eggs, fruit or tomatoes
2. Favor warm, cooked foods:
The qualities of agni are hot, light, dry and fragrant. Raw, cold or iced food and drink have the opposite qualities of agni, so take more energy from agni to digest. In general, eating a majority of meals freshly cooked and lightly spiced with fragrant herbs will support agni.
3. Avoid trigger foods:
When agni is functioning optimally, ideally we can digest anything thrown at us. When eating to heal agni, it’s important to avoid foods that you know are trouble makers. Common foods that cause discomfort are dairy and wheat. These foods are heavy to digest, and a compromised agni will not be able to digest them. Meat is also taxing to agni. Trigger foods can be avoided for periods of time to allow agni to rejuvenate. It may or may not be able to fully recover to be able to digest these foods properly.
WHEN TO EAT
To eat for a strong agni, we start to learn about dinacharya, or the rhythms of the doshas throughout the day. Dinacharya is how we start to become aligned to the rhythms of nature, that alluring and artful piece of practicing Ayurveda.
Understanding the rhythms of the doshas and starting to heed them is how we align our own physiology to the larger movements of the universe.
Between 10 and 2, a.m. and p.m. Pitta is most dominant. We can take advantage of that increase in fire to give a boost to our digestive fire.
● Warm water:
First thing in the morning, drink a cup or 2 of warm water with lemon, and even a little raw honey. This is an excellent way to boost agni right from the start of the day!
● Make lunch the largest meal of the day
● Avoid Snacking:
Ideally, we digest one meal fully before taking the next. This is how agni functions at its best.
● Eat a lighter, warm, dinner, like soup or curries
● Finish dinner early, by 7 pm latest. Ideally dinner will be digested before bed time, around 10 pm, so agni can do its detox job overnight.
HOW TO EAT
The how is often more important than the what when it comes to eating for agni. Just as we can bring more awareness to when we are eating to optimize digestion, when we bring more mindfulness to our meal times we actually turn on the part of our physiology that prioritizes digestion.
Offer a moment or a prayer of gratitude for the meal, and relax your belly with 3 deep breaths before eating.
Chew slowly and eat sitting down with full attention on each meal (not in front the computer, while driving, or while watching TV, etc.)
Cup both hands together to find your natural portion size. Overeating can cause bloating and constipation, and dampen agni.
Try eating with your hands. This is a great way to get all the senses involved.
These changes may seem simple, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to incorporate. Start small so you can fully ‘digest’ the changes you make! The results are worth it.