Agni and Ama: Digestive Fire and Toxicity

Updated: 6 days ago

“When diet is right, medicine is of no need; when diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.” -Ayurvedic Proverb 

According to Ayurveda, the root of good health and longevity is well-functioning digestion known in Ayurvedic terms as strong AGNI. "Agni" means “fire” and in this context, refers to the central bodily Agni, located in the gut. Like the pilot light in your oven, this central agni, called jathara agni, regulates 40 other main agnis in the body, what we would understand as the body's metabolic function, all the way to cellular metabolism. Current research into the science of the microbiome supports this idea: proper digestion underlies everything from mood to immunity to longevity.

We experience agni as hunger. Real hunger is that feeling in the belly that signals we need to eat. When we’re on the verge of getting sick we lose our appetite, and when our health is restored, our appetite returns.

Interestingly enough, the Ayurvedic sages taught us first how and when to eat and later, what to eat. The logic behind this is simple: the how and when govern how well our digestion functions. If digestion isn't functioning well, you can eat all the right food for you, but you won't be able to digest it properly. Low-level digestive problems, when they become chronic, lead to much bigger issues down the line. The kinds of issues many chalk up to "aging," but we know better than that!

Signs Your Agni's Out of Whack

1. Belching, burping, farting and bloating after meals is not normal. An occasional burp or fart, one that doesn't smell, is normal, but the regular appearance of these symptoms (weekly or more) is an agni imbalance.

2. Acidity after meals is not normal. Occasional heartburn after eating a piece of pizza might arise, but any kind of regular occurrence, every week or multiple times a week, is a sign of an agni imbalance.

3. Slow, sluggish digestion isn't normal. Eating or drinking and feeling like what you just ate isn't moving, but is just sitting there, is abnormal. Occasionally, after eating way too much, one might experience that. But if that is a common occurrence, your agni is out of balance.

4. Constipation on the regular, loose stools, frequent elimination, and slow, wet, sticky elimination is subpar. Having to drink coffee or eat in order to stimulate peristalsis is also a sign of an agni imbalance.

The problem is that we get used to these imbalances and after a while, we stop noticing them or we think it's just how we are. We treat them with over-the-counter meds like stool softener or tums, but these only cover up the symptoms and don't resolve them. It's like living with that funny sound in your car that didn't used to be there. After a while you stop noticing it. And then one day, your car breaks down.

So what's the big deal with a little low-level indigestion? Why is this so important?

When our digestion is subpar, we don't fully digest and assimilate the food we take in and that undigested food-stuff becomes toxic to the body. It's not just that the excess get's eliminated. The digestive process, where the body discriminates what can be used to build bodily tissue, and what gets cast out as waste, when it's incomplete, leaves behind this byproduct of indigestion, called AMA.

Ama is something the body sees as other. This sticky, morbid substance lingers in the body: first in the stomach, and if not treated there, in the deeper tissues of the body. Ama is the root cause of all diseases, the specifics of which depend on your genetics. Wherever the weak links in the body are, that is where ama will lodge. Ama covers the cells, and the body attacks it as a foreign invader. This is the root cause of many allergic conditions, inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases.

Signs of Ama

  1. Loss of appetite 

  2. Foul taste in your mouth in the morning

  3. Thick coating on your tongue in the morning

  4. Bad breath

  5. Fatigue after eating

  6. Foul-smelling body odor and elimination

  7. Dull complexion, hair and skin

  8. Muscle and joint pain

  9. Overall malaise

  10. Feeling crummy: low energy; brain fog,

If you think you have ama in your system, a simple way to begin to digest some of it is to:

extend the time between dinner and the first meal of the following day. Try to go 12 - 16 hours. This simple practice gives your body time to get all the way through the digestive process and then gives your digestive organs a chance to rest and to deal with any excess in your system. Modern research into intermittent fasting, of which this is a version, bears out the good effects of autophagy (your body digesting old cells and other less useful parts of you) for disease prevention.

To prevent ama, you must care for Agni. Start by following the healthy eating guidelines and a regular daily routine (here are some guidelines for summer)

I have to admit that when I first learned the healthy eating guidelines, I tossed them aside because I had heard them before. It wasn't until I was sitting on the edge of my practitioner's table, listening to her read them to me that I woke up. It wasn't enough that I "knew" all these principles. I had to practice them. When I did, much of the chronic digestive distress I'd been dealing with since childhood, started to resolve.

Signs of  Balanced Agni

Balanced digestion shows up as a regular appetite and a feeling of satisfaction and relaxation after meals. It is neither too hot (acidity) nor too cold (no appetite or slow sluggish digestion). Healthy elimination is timely, within the first few hours of waking, and feels complete. It lacks offensive odor or straining and has the shape and consistency of a banana—some a little dryer, some a little looser. It tends to float and does not leave a sticky residue on you or in the toilet. Other signs are:

  1. Good energy

  2. Luster in your eyes, hair and skin.

  3. Clear mind/ clear thinking

  4. Good body temperature (not too hot, not too cold)

  5. Enthusiasm for life.

Ayurveda, like yoga, is a life process, not a quick fix. At the same time, these principles work, and you can start feeling better right away even as it takes time to resolve chronic issues. As you practice, you can feel good knowing you are no longer planting the seeds for future disease.

Diet, lifestyle then medicine. That's the order of things. If your diet and lifestyle are off, the medicines won't totally work. Medicines in addition to right living bring the healing we seek. And after healing, comes radiant vitality, good, strong immunity, clear thinking and a host of other effects that allow us to age with grace.

Want some help?

I offer complimentary 30 minute discovery sessions to support you in figuring out what's out of whack and where you would like to see yourself 3 mos from now. (your wellness goals). I will help you get clear and determine your next best step.

Here’s to better health and vitality through balanced digestion.

Sending so much love!


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