What is Your Digestion Telling You?
Understanding the Four States of Agni to Support Whole Body Healing
You know how you feel after you eat? Or what elimination patterns you observe regularly? Even how you describe or experience your mind? Well, Ayurvedic scholars did too! They realized how to talk about these qualities and patterns and observed where they begin: with our digestion!
Our digestive fire, agni, is a huge topic in Ayurveda and in conscious health systems generally. It should be no surprise then that ancient Ayurvedic scholars included the status or function of our digestive system as one of the critical points in a health evaluation. Health is defined in Ayurveda as a balance of dosha (elements or qualities in the body), dhatu (bodily tissues), mala (excreta), agni (digestive fire), a balanced mind and a peaceful soul.
From a physical perspective understanding our capacity to digest food is actually the root supporting and balancing the other areas of dosha, dhatu and mala. When we eat food it is converted into the bio-available essence of food. These are the tissue building nutrients which create structure, function, tissues and our body as a whole. The unused parts of food are released from the body through mala (feces, urine and sweat). Because the food we eat builds our bodily tissues, the primary agent (our digestive fire) facilitating this process must be effective and healthy. Otherwise we wont build strong healthy tissues. Or we will waste the valuable energy from our food through inefficient digestive processing. When our digestive fire is functioning and balanced at 100% we think better, feel better and can enjoy life to its fullest.
Understanding how to evaluate, improve and work with our digestive system can lead to a long healthy life, which is the goal of Ayurveda!
The Capacity of your Digestive Fire
Agni includes all the transformative actions in the body. There are actually 13 listed in the Charak Samhita (one of the 3 main texts in classical Ayurveda). This compares to 5 listed by Sushrut and 18 shared by Vagbhat.1
The Four States of Ja-thar-agni (Central Gastric Fire)
Observing our own digestion helps us to understand the status, state or capacity of our digestive fire, jatharagni. You may notice or remember a time when your digestive capacity felt balanced, when it felt variable, to high when food was being processed quickly or low when your digestion felt sluggish and slow. These states are stratified in the Ayurvedic texts and associated with the primary dosha effecting their function.
Sam-agni- balanced digestion
Samagni is not associated with any dosha. It is when the digestive and elimination channels are optimally functioning, one feels hungry, satiated and eliminates with ease. By studying the various states of agni and the signs of variability you may occasionally notice from this central point, you can discern information about what doshas have a tendency to rise within your system so that you can bring the body back to balance at its root in the digestive system.
Visham-agni- irregular digestion
Associated with Vata dosha, vishamagni is caused by the cold, light, dry, rough, mobile, subtle properties that increase the air and ether qualities in the body along with anything that increases Vata dosha. This could include eating at irregular times, left overs, dry snack foods, processed packaged foods and cold drinks. Eating while doing other activities, not properly chewing your food, rushing, and eating when anxious or stressed.
Tiksh-nagni- high digestion or metabolism
Associated with Pitta dosha, tikshnagni is caused by hot, oily, sharp foods and activities that increase the fire and water qualities in the body. This causes a rise in Pitta dosha. Includes spicy and sour foods, fried foods and excess oil. Excessive exposure to heat, eating during times of intensity, excessive activity and eating while angry or when feeling heated.
Mand-agni- sluggish digestion or metabolism
Associated with Kapha dosha, mandagni is caused by heavy, cold, hard, sweet foods and activities that increase the earth and water qualities in the body. This slows digestion down and giving rise to Kapha dosha. Includes cold dairy products, excess sweets, heavy sticky grains and foods. Alongside processed foods, lack of physical activity, eating when you are not hungry, eating late at night, leftovers, cold foods and eating to more than 75% full.
Observations of the Four States of Jatharagni Digestion
Samagni (Balanced Digestion)
You may notice that you have a “normal” appetite. Hunger will arise a few times a day when the previous meal is digested naturally encouraging you to eat 2-3 meals a day of normal quantity and without strong craving in between or during meals along with minimal snacking and normal thirst. Digestion and elimination will feel comfortable with stools released during the early morning without strain. Balanced digestion goes hand in hand with reduced sensitivities to food. Minimal or no passing of gas and burping. A clear tongue coat, healthy gums and teeth and a pleasant taste in the mouth. There will be a normal amount of sweat when warm,. Normal passing of urine that is a light yellow color without a strong smell. You may notice clear complexion, high energy, clarity in the mind, clear and balanced concentration, good memory, sound sleep and a healthy strong body.
Vishamagni (Irregular Digestion)
Variable digestive capacity may be experienced by irregular appetite with a urge to eat 4-6 times a day with multiple snacks. There may be a craving for hot, spicy, salty, dry foods with cravings triggered by anxiety, fear and loneliness. This may result in lack of thirst with a dry mouth, low body weight, variable digestion, bloating, gas and lower abdominal pain. This can cause constipation, dry stools and elimination every other day that needs stimulation to occur. You may notice a sensitivity to dried foods, dried fruits and nightshades along with clear burping, loud smelly gas and a dry or hairy looking tongue coat.
Tikshnagni (Fast Digestion)
If you observe that you have a strong appetite, eat large meals three or more times per day and still snack in-between, your digestion is likely fast. You may notice that you crave sweet, bitter or astringent tastes and find yourself working hard physically or mentally, solving many problems throughout the day. This strength of appetite is typically accompanied by excessive thirst resulting in a potentially over-weight body with a quick hypoglycemic tendency. Energy levels drop when hungry and often sleep is difficult to settle into and maintain. Digestion may result in regular nausea, vomiting or burning pain. Elimination will occur more than three times per day with urine dark yellow and stools often loose or diarrhetic.
Sensitivity to citrus or acid foods is common alongside acidic burps and foul sour smelling flatulence. The tongue may have a yellow-green coat, red margins or be tender. This extends to the gums and teeth resulting in bleeding and sensitivity to hot liquids or foods. Complexion may be flushed or acne-prone. The mind may have a tendency toward irritation, anger and perfectionistic tendencies with memory functionality adequate.
Mandagni (Sluggish Digestion)
Eating one or two small meals regularly reflects a sluggish digestive capacity. Craving sweet, hot, spicy or stimulating tastes is often a natural tendency triggered by sadness or depression. Fluids are typically under consumed as well, however excessive drooling or salivation is common. Body weight is low and digestion slow, feeling heavy, bloated, or even aching with a dull pain. The energy level is also low. Individuals may become sleepy or tired after eating because the body is working hard to facilitate the digestive process and the meal essentially damped the fire. Urine output may be surprisingly excessive and cloudy. Defecation will be slow, occurring in the morning and evening, potentially with mucous present in stool.
Sensitivity to dairy products and bleached flour is common alongside other hard to digest foods. Tongue coating will be white all over, with teeth large, gums often swollen, and tarter builds easily. Burps will smell like the undigested food from the previous meal. Flatulence is less regular but when occurs is a foul sweetish smell. Complexion is often dull or pale with a plump face and cheeks and few wrinkles. The mind will reflect the dullness digestion feeling heavy or depressed and memory will likely be poor or slow.
What to do if Digestion is Imbalanced?
While Ayurveda suggests that the root of most imbalances or diseases begin in the digestive system, they also let you know what you can do to bring things back to balance. It is important to remember that it was a journey that may have taken years to get your body to the place it is now. While the effects can be swift for some, for others the healing practice is slow and steady. Patience is key along with consistency in daily practice.
Let’s Start at the Basics
Regularity builds regularity. There are a few key areas that we hone in on first to create space for healing alongside regular digestion and elimination patterns. Ayurveda states that the 3 Pillars of Health are Food, Sex and Sleep. We consider how and what we eat, our energy expenditure and sleep patterns. Sometimes shifting awareness to these areas swiftly creates new patterns for healing that are enjoyable and easeful in the healing journey. Working closely with an Ayurvedic Practitioner can facilitate this process with accountability and planning.
Where to start at home TODAY
We want to share with you a few practices you can implement on your own that may help you find balanced agni.
- Get up with the Sun
- Drink room temperature or warm water
- Sit on the toilet to encourage elimination (If it doesn’t happen over time you can train the body to shift this pattern)
- Follow the Healthy Eating Guidelines
- Consider proper Food Combining
- Try using Agni Spice Mix if digestion is slow or irregular
- Incorporate digestive chutneys as a side dish with foods that are heavy or hard to digest (see our recipe page)
- Exercise or practice physical activity balanced for your constitution and the season
- Join us for a Individualized Distance Home Cleanse
- Get to bed before 11pm for optimum sleep and rejuvenation
Most importantly be gentle with yourself. Slow and steady often wins the race! Start with one of these practices, or one area of focus. Adjust your sleep schedule. Slow down while eating. Reduce variability with food choices or meal times. Each choice will solicit profound results over time. If you find you need support reach out to our team of practitioners.
The recipes shared on our site have detailed information on the qualities that support different digestive goals, the season and health. The most profound shifts start with awareness that guide change. You got this!
- The 5 Agnis shared in the Sushrut Samhit are associated with the transformative qualities within each of the 5 Subdosha of Pitta (the fire and water elements in the body) including Pachakagni, Ranjakagni, Alochakagni, Sadhakagni and Bhrajakagni.
The 13 Agnis shared by Charak included Jatharagni, 5 Bhutagni or transformative fires corresponding to the 5 Elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether, and 7 Dhatuagni, 1 for each of the 7 Dhatu or tissues.
The 18 Agnis shared by Vagbhat included the 5 Bhutagni, 7 Dhatuagni, 3. Doshagni (1 for each dosha) and 3 Malagni (1 for each Mala).
The most commonly accepted presentation is the 13 Agni of Charak where Jatharagni or the Central Gastric Fire, our digestion is represented. [↩]