Honoring Your Digestive Fire

The main digestive fire in the GI tract is commonly referred to as Agni, which translates to Fire. For those who study Āyurveda, there is more specific vocabulary that we use in reference to physiology, but for our purposes here, we will refer to the digestive fire simply, as agni. As we begin to learn about, and become attuned to our own agni, we are better able to honor our unique needs. If we are not aware of our own digestive fire, its’ strength or lack there of, we are not able able to make healthy, informed food choices.

Our lives are busy, and we are often on the move. Many of us eat quickly between tasks, eat in the car, eat while doing other things. Sometimes we eat based on the time of day, even though we are not actually hungry. Or we use food to sooth emotional stress and trauma, eating when we are not physically hungry. We may be so busy in the day that we do not eat when our bodies need nourishment, and therefore not attending to an important physiological need.

If you are not accustomed to tuning into your body-mind-spirit, it can be difficult to know what real hunger feels like, let alone if agni is disturbed. When we eat with intention and focus on just eating, we are able to hear and see the signs that our body is satisfied, or that something does not feel right. The food you put into your body should make you feel satisfied, not full. You should feel content and nourished not tired and dull.

The food we put into our mouths travels through all of the bodily tissues and the entire body system, becoming immunity and vitality in the end. If agni is disturbed, we are not able to digest, assimilate, or absorb the nutrients from the food, resulting in the formation of toxins, known as āma. In order to build immunity and vitality, we must respect and honor agni by making appropriate food choices.

Strong, dependable agni is key to health. The fire element serves as physical digestion, as well as the flame of awareness and intelligence. Agni influences the way in which we communicate, feel inspired, and make appropriate decisions. How we digest our food is directly related to how we think, feel, and process emotions. When agni is strong we digest not only our food, but also toxins that accumulate in the system. When agni is honored we feel light, clear, and energized. Honoring agni is not only about what foods we choose to put into our bodies, it is also about the manner in which we eat, and the dynamic that exists between us and the foods themselves.

Causes of Disturbed Digestion:

  • over/under eating
  • skipping meals
  • improper food combining
  • eating too often
  • eating while in motion
  • eating too quickly/slowly
  • eating late at night
  • eating too close to sleep
  • eating too much of one taste

Signs of Disturbed Digestion:

  • gas and/or bloating
  • sour stomach
  • heart burn
  • nausea
  • fatigue after eating
  • intense or lack of hunger
  • headache
  • skin rash
  • constipation
  • hard or loose stool
  • frequent bowel movements
  • difficulty waking from sleep
  • general body aches

Ways To Honor And Heal Digestion:

  • Sit down to eat, with full attention on your food. Express gratitude or pray prior to eating. Smell and look at your food, giving honor to the meal while stimulating digestion. Avoid watching television or looking at phone and computer screens while eating.
  • Eat slowly, and chew well. The enzymes in saliva are activated when first we smell the food, and then in the chewing process. These enzymes are important in the digestive process.
  • Sip small amounts of warm water with your meal as needed, and avoid large amounts of water directly before or after eating. Avoid iced water with meals.
  • Avoid overeating. Use the rule of thirds; 1/3 food, 1/3 (or less) fluids, 1/3 empty (stomach). Agni needs space and air to function properly, and there needs to be space in the stomach for the churning action of digestion to occur. One añjali is the suggested portion size. An añjali is a specific measurement unique to the individual. To determine your añjali; place your hands in prayer position, and then open them. This is your unique portion size.
  • Focus on eating 2-3 meals per day, and avoid snacking or grazing throughout the day. We want to wait to put more food into the system until the prior meal had been digested so that agni has a chance to work and become strong again. Once our food is fully digested, the metabolic fire is able to reach the fat tissue, where emotions are stored. Eating this way will bring emotional balance and increased mental clarity.
  • Recline to the left after eating for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy the quiet and breathe, allowing the food to digest. Then go for a brief stroll.
  • Avoid eating late at night. If hungry after dinner, try the two tablespoon rule; eat two tablespoons of whatever you are craving. Sit down, honor the food, and enjoy it. This should satisfy the craving without overindulging.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Or While Eating:

  • What in my body-mind-spirit is asking to be fed?
  • Is my body in need of food, or am I feeding my emotions?
  • If my emotions are calling, how can I feed them appropriately?
  • Am I feeling satisfied? Am I feeling full?
  • What would it feel like to stop eating now?

Tuning into your own digestive fire and your body-mind-spirit as a whole takes practice. It is not something most of us were taught as children or even as adults. Slowing down, even just a little bit, and taking small moments of silence will reveal a lot. One breath, while seated at the table before getting a second helping of food will let you know if you need more food. Bringing space and intention to meals is a spiritual practice that benefits your entire being and all those around you.