Balanced Agni: The Secret to Good Health and Longevity

It's not surprising that my Ayurveda teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad, began our 6-week intensive talking about AGNI— Agni refers primarily to all of the digestive juices in the stomach and the rest of the digestive tract. If that central agni is strong, we are physically radiant, with lustrous skin and eyes, good immunity, balanced temperature regulation, a clear mind, and self-confidence. When Agni is weak, there is indigestion: gas, bloating, excess acidity, poor assimilation, weak immunity, dull complexion and eyes, foggy thinking and fatigue. Untreated indigestion eventually moves into the deeper tissues of the body (hitting each of us in our personal “weak links”) and causes disease. Taking pharmaceutical drugs to deal with symptoms of indigestion will not resolve the underlying imbalance, and has side effects which may compound the problem (pharmaceuticals are good when needed for a short time, but they are not a solution to most digestive problems).

When agni's out of balance, that imbalance tends to follow one of 3 patterns, based on one's elemental constitution:

Uneven or Variable Agni—sometimes hungry, sometimes not. Sometimes can digest their food (life) well, and other times not. Symptoms of gas, bloating and constipation are common. Anxiety and worry are common.

Overly Sharp Agni--These people can’t miss a meal without becoming angry and upset. Acid indigestion, nausea, loose stools/many motions in one day are common. Anger and impatience are present.

Sluggish Agni-- Characterized by lack of real hunger. Even a little food or water feels like it just sits in the belly. They may burp or belch the after taste of the meal they just ate or feel tired after eating like they need a nap. Elimination is slow and may be sticky, wet or have mucous. Depression and lethargy accompany this pattern.

Balanced Agni shows up as regular hunger and elimination with no signs of indigestion after eating. When agni is balanced we feel energized, light and relaxed after eating. Elimination is timely, feels complete, lacks offensive odor or straining, and is neither loose nor dry. Optimism and self-confidence are present.


First, it's important to distinguish real hunger from emotional hunger. Real hunger is a sign that the body is ready to digest food. When we eat emotionally (at times when we’re not physically hungry), it's equivalent to trying to cook something in a lukewarm oven. The food won’t cook properly. The residue of that undigested food is AMA or toxicity. Over eating, eating at the wrong times or eating food we can't digest creates ama. Ama underlies most inflammatory conditions, auto immune diseases and allergies.

When to eat:

  1. After your previous meal is digested: a light breakfast may be digested in 3 hours. a larger lunch will take 5 – 6 hours. Ditch snacking between meals.

  2. When you’re hungry: emotional eating, or eating for reasons other than being hungry creates toxins in the body. When we’re hungry, that means we have our digestive juices are flowing and able to digest the food. When we put food into a “cold oven” it won’t be well processed, and the unprocessed remains from that food create toxicity in the body.

  3. At regular times: When we eat at regular times, our body gets into a rhythm and will be ready for food at those times (assuming we didn’t overeat at the previous meal). Eating at regular times also relaxes the nervous system and will support you in eliminating snacking.

  4. Eat your largest meal mid-day: Agni follows the rhythm of the sun, which is the highest and strongest midday. This is also when we have the most capacity to digest food. Have a nice hearty meal mid-day.

  5. Eat a smaller breakfast: enough to satisfy, but not too much to overwhelm your Agni, which is like a new fire just stoked in the morning. Hot cereals and other grains or soups are a perfect fall and winter breakfast.

  6. Eat an earlier, lighter dinner: This is key. Our digestive capacity slows down at night. Eat as close to sunset as possible—a smaller version of lunch. Soups are especially good. Avoid meat and other heavy food at night as they are heavy to digest.

What to Eat

  1. Eat food you can digest—gas, bloating, acidity and slow sluggish digestion, constipation, and loose stools are all signs of indigestion.

  2. Eat freshly prepared food: Freshly prepared food is full of life force and nourishing. Cold, leftover food is heavier to digest and will create toxins in the body.

  3. Eat whole foods: lots of veggies and whatever kind of protein or carbohydrates you enjoy and can digest

  4. Eat warmer foods in the fall and winter. Reduce salads (unless room temperature) and a lot of raw foods.

  5. For Variable Agni, try eating a sliver or two of fresh sliced ginger, with a little salt and lime juice 15 - 30 minutes before eating will support digestion. Additionally, attention to proper quantity, and adding more warm food with good quality oil will be helpful. Avoiding raw and cold food is a support, too. In addition to salty and sour tastes, the sweet taste is balancing for this type. For constipation, the herbal blend, Triphala, taken with warm water at bedtime, can rejuvenate the colon and support daily elimination.

  6. For Sharp Agni, try avoiding hot, spicy food, fatty, fried food, and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine will be helpful. More bitter, sweet and astringent tastes are balancing. For loose stools, psyillium may support more formed stools while agni is coming back into balance.

  7. For Sluggish Agni, Eating less often (brunch and dinner only) and enjoying more dry, light, spicy food will be a support. Limiting or avoiding dairy and wheat often helps, too. In addition to pungent spices, bitter and astringent tastes are helpful.

How to Eat

  1. With reverence for the gift of food in your life: offer a simple prayer for your meal that others may also have this gift in their lives.

  2. Slowly and with attention: chew your food and enjoy your food.

  3. In a relaxed environment and with pleasant company: take three deep breaths into your belly before eating. Digestion is a parasympathetic activity and only works well when we are relaxed.

  4. Until satisfied but not full: habitual overeating creates toxicity in the body. Learn to slow down and enjoy your food. Practice noticing when you start to feel full and stop eating. If you are using food for emotional comfort, recognize that fact, and get support. Learn what you'r really hungry for that isn't connected to food. Give yourself that.

If you learn to follow these principles, you will be rewarded not only with good digestion and elimination but with improved energy and stronger immunity Your self-confidence will improve as your Agni grows stronger. If you need to lose weight, it will happen more easily. You will feel better, look better and enjoy more mental clarity and illumination. These are the signs of good practice.

If you'd like to learn and practice these steps and reset your agni, join me this April for a gentle spring cleanse. Besides having support and guidance in cleansing and reseting your digestion every step of the way, you'll learn and practice the Ayurvedic principles to keep your good habits going long after the cleanse ends.

Questions or Comments? Please leave them in the section below or write to. I would love to hear from you.