This fiery energy keeps us motivated and moving. Here’s how it affects your diet and what you can do to keep it stoked.
What is Agni?
According to Ayurveda, agni—which means “ignite”—is found all over your body, in every cell, your DNA, and in every living thing.
Agni is the driving force of cellular energy from your mitochondria. Your sex drive, enzymes, and neurotransmitters would not exist if it were not for agni. Your mood, behavior, hunger levels, and even sleep require agni.
However, all of the body’s life-promoting agni would not exist if it were not for the agni in the beginning of your digestive system (stomach=amashaya and small intestine=grahani), called jathara agni.
If this agni is out of balance, the entire digestive system will be disturbed all over the body—as will the no less than 40 different types of agni described by Ayurveda. (1) The agni (fire) needed to ignite the contraction of your muscles cells, supply nutrients to feed your cells, manufacture enzymes, and perfect your complexion all depend on the jathara agni, which is carried by the pitta in your constitution.
Agni is the underlying heat that creates pitta, and pitta is the container that holds the agni, i.e. a pitta body type that holds the heat, fire, or agni.
If you have a predominantly pitta type, you may have noticed that your pitta qualities are found in many more places other than your digestive tract, like your skin, eyes, liver, and hormones.
There are four states of agni that must be evaluated first when treating digestive imbalances.
- Sama agni is balanced agni or balanced digestion
- Vishama agni is vata-caused digestive concerns
- Tikshna agni is pitta-caused digestive concerns
- Manda agni is kapha-caused digestive concerns
As you can see, the three main agni imbalances are linked to imbalances in the doshas. While these terms are used to define agni imbalances for the whole body, I will use them specifically to address imbalances in the main agni: jathara agni in the stomach and small intestine.
Remember “The Three Little Bears” children’s story? The porridge had to be not too cold, not too hot, it had to be just right!
In the digestive tract, the intestinal lining can’t be too vata (dry)—vishama agni, it can’t be too kapha (wet)—manda agni, and it can’t be too pitta (irritated or inflamed)—tikshna agni. It has to be just right—Sama agni (balanced).
Vishama Agni is defined as irregular digestion that changes all the time due to imbalance of vata (air, dryness and nervous system stress). Digestion can be erratic, irregular, constipated, and variable with gas, bloat, and abdominal distress. There can be food intolerances and sensitivities that cause abdominal discomfort, heaviness, and tiredness after a meal and, over time, this can lead to occasional constipation, anxiety, dry skin, fear, mild joint discomfort, and poor sleep.
Solution: Gentle Digest – Learn more here
Tikshana Agni is caused by excess pitta (fire) that can overheat, inflame, and compromise the lining of the stomach and small intestines. To put out the raging fire in their stomach, they find themselves craving sweets and overeating, or becoming very irritated if they do not get food on time. The excess digestive heat can cause occasional heartburn and acid reflux, hot flashes, hay fever and allergies, loose bowel movements, bad breath, body odor, anger, nausea, liver and gallbladder congestion, blood sugar concerns, and a reddish and irritated complexion.
Solution: Cool Digest – Learn more here
Manda Agni is slow, boggy digestion caused by excess kapha (earth and water elements). The heaviness of the earth and water cool the agni and can put it out, allowing digestion to be long, slow, and heavy. People will feel very heavy after a meal and the food will just sit in the stomach. Because the jathara agni has been put out, they quickly and easily gain weight even if they do not overeat. This can cause lethargy, tiredness, mild edema and lymph congestion. Extra water weight can lead to clammy skin, heart and circulatory concerns, as well melancholy and mood imbalances.
Solution: Warm Digest – Learn more here
Restoring Balance to Your Vata, Pitta, and Kapha Jathara Agni
How to Balance Vishama (Vata) Digestive Agni
Balancing vishama agni requires balancing vata as gas, bloating, and occasional constipation are the highlighted digestive imbalances. Here, the vata (air) aspect of the digestive fire (agni), called samana vata, is imbalanced. This requires making sure you are balancing vata when you are eating, such as taking time to relax, slow down, and enjoy scheduled meal times. Vata digestive imbalances need to de-stress while eating and have a regular routine or lifestyle to follow. All of this activates the vata-balancing, parasympathetic nervous system.
Consume warm, cooked foods that have sweet, sour, and salty tastes with healthy oils and higher fat foods. Classic vata-balancing foods are available in the winter months, but can be used anytime throughout the year as a temporary diet to balance vishama agni.
LifeSpa’s Gentle Digest is a classic vata-balancing Ayurvedic digestive formula that combines 5 spices: ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, and cardamom. This formula is designed to reset the coordination of the upper stomach’s ability to produce acid, the liver’s production of bile, and the pancreas and duodenal enzyme production. This formula also addresses underlying digestive lymphatic issues while supporting a healthy environment for the natural proliferation of beneficial bacterial in the digestive system.
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Reset Your Vishama Agni
Start with 1 capsule before each meal for 2-3 days. If there are no results, increase the dose to 2 capsules before each meal for 2-3 days. If there is still no change in digestion, increase to 3 capsules before each meal for 5-7 days.
If there are no supportive digestive changes after these two weeks, the imbalance may be downstream in the lower part of the small intestine or the large intestine, where the vata nervous system stress may impact the trillions of microbes who occupy the intestines.
How to Balance Tikshana (Pitta) Digestive Agni
Balancing tikshana agni requires balancing pitta, as imbalanced pitta agni in the digestion causes a hot, irritated, urgent digestion. Hunger can be urgent, bowel movements can be urgent. The stomach lining, esophagus, and even the tongue can be hot and overly acidic. The tongue can appear reddish, smooth and wet if the pitta agni has been imbalanced for a long time. This can manifest as occasional heartburn, irregular or loose bowel function, and the host of digestive concerns mentioned above.
Eat more fresh, whole, cooling foods that include more fruits and vegetables typically harvested at the end of the summer. End-of-summer foods naturally balance the end-of-summer accumulation of heat. Because these foods are available year-round, they can be emphasized any time of the year as a temporary diet to help balance tikshana agni. Pitta-balancing foods are typically sweet, bitter, and astringent in taste.
LifeSpa’s Cool Digest was formulated to balance tikshana digestive agni. It combines the classic formula for occasional heartburn, avipattikar churna, along with amalaki, guduchi, and a hint of hing (asafoetida) to support the health of the upper digestive epithelial lining and acid production.
Reset Your Tikshana Agni
Take one capsule of Cool Digest before each meal for 2-3 days. During this period, you should see some digestive improvements. If not, take 2 capsules for the next 2-3 days until you see improvements and, once again, if there are no positive digestive changes, take 3 capsules before each meal for the next 5-7 days. After these two weeks of Cool Digest, if the tikshana agni and pitta digestive strength is not balanced, the root imbalance may be downstream in the liver and gallbladder.
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How to Balance Manda (Kapha) Digestive Agni
Balancing manda agni requires balancing the kapha aspect of digestion. Kapha is governed by earth and water, and the stomach fire or jathara agni requires fire. Excess kapha in the stomach and small intestine can put out the digestive agni, called manda agni. Manda agni causes a cold digestive system, excess mucus that can cause excess phlegm or even mucus in the stool. After meals, the food can just sit there and, often, undigested food are seen in the stool. While gas and bloat can easily happen here, there is a stronger tendency to carry extra weight around the belly, hips, and thighs with kapha-based, manda agni imbalances.
Classically, this is easily balanced by boosting the digestive fire with warm, pungent, and spicy agents. Cases where the manda agni doesn’t recover are indicative of a downstream issue most likely in the liver, gallbladder, or the microbial environment and/or lymph flow in and from the large intestine.
Eat more pungent, spicy, salty, or sour foods. Fermented foods, for example, are created by an acid fermentation process—which is why lassi and yogurt are classically eaten with meals in Ayurveda. Kapha-balancing foods are harvested in the spring, but to balance manda agni, they can be eaten any time throughout the year.
LifeSpa’s Warm Digest (trikatu) is the classic Ayurvedic formula for manda agni and cold, heavy, kapha digestive issues. This is a combination of ginger, long pepper, and black pepper.
Reset Your Manda Agni
Take one capsule of Warm Digest before each meal for 2-3 days. During this period, you should see some digestive improvements. This is typically noticed by a warm feeling in the upper digestive area. If you don’t feel that, take 2 capsules for the next 2-3 days until you see improvements and, once again, if there are no positive digestive changes, take 3 capsules before each meal for the next 5-7 days. After these two weeks of Warm Digest, if the manda agni and kapha digestion is not balanced, the root imbalance may be downstream and possibly in the lymphatic system, which starts inside the intestinal tract and surrounds the digestive system. The imbalance may also be in the liver and gallbladder, large intestine, or the gut, which can be bogged down with excess kapha-based intestinal mucus.
Kapha imbalances are always the last to manifest after vata and pitta imbalances, so with manda agni, there is typically an underlying imbalance in vata (vishama) or pitta (tikshna) agni as well.
Want to go deeper? My newest book, Eat Wheat, will take you through a detailed digestive troubleshooting guide to help you understand where your digestive concerns may be coming from. I also teach you how to address those concerns with whole foods and herbs.
Learn more at https://eatwheat.lifespa.com/
Also, read my digestive health articles here: https://lifespa.com/category/digestive-health/