Light Up Your Agni: Ayurvedic Tips for Healthy Digestion

In Ayurveda, the agni, or metabolic fire, is responsible for transforming what we take in to our body into the wellness that supports our thriving existence. Agni is essentially the energy of transformation. Life depends on agni, as it serves to create and destroy everything. Certain types of agni also help us to digest and assimilate experiences and emotions.

Digestive agni, called jatharagni, is centered in the stomach and is the most important of the 40 types of agni in the body. It governs digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food and other molecules into more subtle substances that allow our body to function. Ensuring that your jatharagni flame is lit is critical for ensuring that food gets burned instead of turning into fat (that right, well-lit agni can help you control your weight!). Not only that, since health begins in the gut, healthy agni is the foundation for maintaining overall wellness. Think about your agni as a flame that you must maintain by adding kindling to a fire.

Here are a few simple tips for lighting up your digestive agni

Take Agni Kindler

You can kindle your digestive fire by adding some heat in the form of pungent and sour foods. To make an excellent agni kindler, grate equal parts fresh ginger and fresh turmeric, add a squeeze of lime and a pinch of natural mineral or rock salt. If you do not have fresh turmeric, leave it out, or use a pinch of powdered turmeric. Eat 1 tsp 5 minutes before each meal to light the agni. You can make a jar of agni kindler and keep in the fridge so that it’s handy before meals throughout the week.

Drink “CCF” Tea

“CCF” stands for Cumin, Coriander and Fennel because this delicious tea is made with the whole seeds of these common kitchen spices. Combine them in equal parts, and simmer in boiling water for 10 minutes. Start with about 1 tsp per cup, but experiment with the amount of spices to suit your taste. Drink throughout the day to maintain healthy agni, reduce bloating and inflammation, and help to dispel toxins in the body.

Sip on Spicy Lassi

This delightful after-meal digestive drink is excellent for soothing the small intestine, and it also fights H. Pylori, a type of bacteria that commonly dwells in the stomach and may cause stomach ulcers.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp sucanat (brown sugar)
  • ½ tsp fresh ginger or ¼ dry ginger
  • ½ tsp cardamom
  • ½ cup yogurt (cow or goat)
  • 2 cups warm water

Blend or whisk all ingredients well and drink after meals.

Servings: 4

Be mindful of when and how you drink water

Drinking too much water at meal times can put out your digestive fire, just as throwing water on a campfire would. With this in mind, it is best to drink water (or CCF tea!) about 30 minutes before and two hours after your meal, but not during. It is also important to drink warm or room temperature water, as cold/icy water dims the flame.

Eat Kitchari

Kitchari is an Ayurvedic soup that is traditionally made of yellow mung dal and basmati rice, along with digestive spices and ghee, and is used as a cleansing and detoxifying food. Given that kitchari is such a healing and purifying food that supports agni, eating it is an essential part of laying your foundation for wellness.

Use the Banyan “How to Make Kitchari” PDF, and adapt it to your unique dosha accordingly:

Vata

  • Use twice the amount of ghee or oil.
  • Add a pinch of cayenne pepper while cooking.
  • Add about ½ inch of chopped, fresh ginger to the oil when cooking the spices.
  • Use quinoa instead of rice to increase the protein content.
  • Use double the amount of rice.
  • Best veggies for a vata variation are carrots, zucchini, peas, sweet potatoes, and asparagus.

Pitta

  • Use half the amount of mustard seeds and black pepper, or omit mustard seeds altogether.
  • Replace ghee with coconut oil.
  • Best veggies for a pitta variation are leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, and carrots.

Kapha

  • Omit the oil or ghee and instead soften the spices by cooking in two inches of water before adding the rice and dal.
  • Use quinoa, millet, or amaranth instead of rice.
  • Add about ½ inch of chopped, fresh ginger to the oil when cooking the spices.
  • Add a pinch of cayenne pepper while cooking.
  • Use half the amount of ghee or oil.
  • Best veggies for a kapha variation are leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus, and celery.

(Source for these great dosha specific variations is Kripalu)

Take a walk after you eat

It's a good idea to move a bit after eating so that your food is able to move properly through your system. Taking a gentle walk about 10 minutes after your meal to aid your digestive fire, digest more quickly, and keep your energy levels up. 

Conditions of Agni

As an aside, it is worth noting that there are four conditions of agni, with samagni being the ideal, balanced agni type that we are working toward through the above remedies.

Samāgni

Agni that is sama is perfectly balanced, properly burning digestive fire.  The person with samāgni can eat anything and can withstand eating foods improperly combined which otherwise cause imbalance. If a person with samagni improperly combines food over a period of time, they will not have samagni for long.

Vishamāgni (often found in vata types)

An irregular strength of agni, like a candle burning in a drafty room, causes symptoms of intense hunger one moment, and missing appetite the next.  As the candle dances and flickers threatening to go out, there is no rhyme or reason to how one can digest certain foods one day and the next they cannot.  Underlying the irregular appetite of vishamāgni may be a mandāgni situation.

Tikshnāgni (often found in pitta types)

Tikshna, or tikṣna, is sharp, hot, fiery agni. Symptoms include intense hunger and anger or irritability when hungry.  Also common are the descriptions of “high metabolism” and “hypoglycemia” or “blood sugar crashes.”

Mandāgni (often found in kapha types)

Slow digestion, low appetite (lack of hunger), feeling sluggish and sleepy after eating, especially after grains, and not wanting to eat breakfast are key symptoms of mandāgni.  In practice, a person with mandāgni will eat most of their food at night, and will often overeat or emotional binge on sweets at night, perpetuating the mandāgni state.

Which agni condition do you identify your agni to be?

Sierra Brashear, MA, is founder of Vibrant Souls, a wellness company that makes organic yoni steaming herbs and unique tea blends available to women around the world. Through Vibrant Souls, Sierra also offers doula care, placenta encapsulation and belly henna services to the Boulder, Colorado community. She is currently studying to become a Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine with Alakananda Ma at Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula.