According to Ayurveda, the source of good health, vitality and longevity depends on our own inner fire or "Agni". Agni in Sanskrit literally means "fire" and in Ayurvedic terms translates as "metabolic or biological fire". This inner fire is the source of all our digestive processes in the body, mind and spirit, primordially igniting at conception. It is the spark of life. Most imbalances and diseases can be traced back to compromised agni. Balanced agni is the key to living a long vibrant, and fulfilling life, whereas impaired agni causes imbalance, disease, and discontentment.
The primoridial, sacred element of fire occurs outside of us just as it dwells within us. Just as it is necessary to stoke and tend the flames of a fire to keep it burning bright, we must tend to the fire within us to sustain our own radiance. But how do we do this? How do we know when our Agni is impaired? What are the signs and symptoms of discord in the digestive fire?
How can we support and bring back into balance our own Agni?
According to the various founders of Ayurveda and corresponding ancient Indian medical texts, there can be up to 18 agni. In this article, we will discuss the four basic varieties of Agni referred to in modern Ayurveda with a basic understanding of how to bring them back into equilibrium for wellbeing.
The Doshas and Agni How to tend to our inner fire also strongly depends on our own unique balance of the doshas. I discussed doshas ( Pitta, Vata, Kapha) in my last workshop and I am happy to send you a free dosha test when you subscribe to my website. Working with our own combination of doshas or 'Prakruti' and how they evolve through out life, "Vikruti" is crucial.
Firstly, a disturbance in agni is usually an accumulation of Vata, Pitta, or Kapha in the digestive tract. This excess or deficiency takes a toll on agni and hinders its proper function. The body and mind respond by cultivating ama and creating "dis-ease". Different types of imbalances affect us distinctly and each require particular treatments. Restoring agni depends on the root cause, so we must have a foundational understanding of how each dosha and its qualities affect the hot, sharp, light, and subtle nature of fire. Discomfort of unstable agni can involve two, or even all three of the doshas. Though it is always best to see an Ayurvedic practitioner, we can also learn about the four types of agni and three doshas, to make simple lifestyle changes that make a big difference in preventing detrimental illnesses like Cancer and other degenerative diseases.
The 4 Agni:
Sama Agni ( Harmony)
In Sanskrit, "Sama"means Same or equal. When Agni is in harmony, we experience general happiness, good health, and a calm, clear state of mind. Individuals with sama agni generally digest their food well, tolerate seasonal and weather changes gracefully while feel emotionally balanced. These individuals tend to have a strong immunity, overall vitality, enjoy balanced digestion and elimination and live with a sense of peaceful wholeness. The results stem from a healthy envirnonment, diet, lifestyle, adequate sleep and positive mental state. In our modern digital era, our disconnection to nature, increased EMFs, pollution, fast food eating, fast paced and high stress culture, have thrown most of us off kilter. Without a clean environment and clean diet, proper absorption of nutrients and elimination can be challenged and we accumulate "Ama" or toxins in the blood and body tissues, which affect the mind and emotions too. Sama Agni is becoming more fragile and sadly very rare these days. Ayurveda offers us hope for bringing back this balance.
Vishama agni (Fire & Air: ExcessVata)
Vata is essentially air and earth. Its light and airy qualities can sometimes support fire by feeding the flame, yet can also dampen Agni with its earthy, damp aspect. The erratic and irregular winds of excess Vata can be like a gentle breeze feeding the flames or gusty wind extinguishing the fire. It is unpredictable and changeable, thus not ideal. Vishama agni manifests as an irregular appetite, indigestion, abdominal distension, gas, constipation or diarrhea. Digestion and metabolism flit between slow and low into sudden hyperdrive. Vital nutrients and mineral absorption is poor and may appear as symptoms that include dry mouth, receding or bloody gums, dry skin, sciatica, haemorrhoids, muscle spasms, and insomnia. Mentally and emotionally, it tends to cause anxiety, fear, and self doubt. Feelings of unworthiness and desperation can create an emotional rollercoaster and a strong sense of instability.
Tikshna Agni ( Double fire & Water- Excess Pitta)
Pitta is made up of fire and water. Pitta can be light, hot, sharp, expansive in nature. These qualities normally support agni, but in excess they can inflame it. This surplus of fire on fire ( too much heat), leads to hypermetabolism, which characterises this type of imbalance. Tikshna agni is like a scorching flame to anything that is consumed by the body, so nutrition (Ojas) from foods is often incinerated, passing through the digestive tract as fast as lightning and not properly absorbed.
Tikshna agni invokes a hearty appetite for large quantities of food on a frequent basis, and triggers a "Hangry" response of irritability if a meal is missed. It tends to manifest as hyperacidity, gastritis, heartburn, hot flashes, acidic saliva, and fever. Other symptoms of Tikshna agni include dry mouth, excessive or unquenchable thirst, insatiable cravings for sweets and spicy foods, hypoglycaemia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, engorged liver, ulcerative colitis, and a variety of inflammatory conditions like arthritis, skin rashes or hives. Mentally and emotionally, Tikshna agni shows up as anger, easily triggered irritability, hate, aggressiveness, a strong desire to dominate, and conceit. Tikshna agni can invoke an overall sense of distress, loss of control and dissatisfaction with life. It is best to diagnose this imbalance early on, as it takes time to manifest and also time to repair.
Manda Agni (Fire & Earth: Excess Kapha):
Manda agni occurs due to an overabundance of Kapha. Kapha dosha is a synergy of the water and earth elements. Kapha qualities are heavy, slow, cool, oily, smooth, dense, soft, stable, gross, and thick. Kapha dosha can play a part in protecting the body from the intense heat of agni, but in turn, too much Kapha can suppress and dull down the digestive fire. This results in hypo-metabolism. Manda Agni can leave you feeling dull, sluggish and stuck, due to a build up of undigested food waste that linger as toxins in the body. In this case, like the Tikshna agni imbalance, it similarly can imbue the thick, damp, dull qualities that snuff out inner flame. Again, it is much like pouring cold water or shovelling a mound of dirt on a fire to douse the flames.
Manda agni slows the metabolism, causing weigh gain, even if appetite is low and little food is consumed. Energy levels are generally low with a lingering feeling of weakness and need for excessive sleep. An overall sensation of heaviness pervades, dulling the body, mind and spirit, particularly after eating. Constant sleepiness and depression can ensue.
Cravings for hot, very spicy, and sharp tasting foods may arise. Manda agni can lead to heavy mucus production in the body in the form of congestion, coughs, colds, allergies, edema, and lymphatic congestion. Other symptoms include hypothyroidism, excess weight gain, obesity, nausea, hypertension, hyperglycemia, diabetes, oversleeping, poor circulation and sweaty, clammy skin. In the mind and heart, it manifests as boredom, lethargy, low ambition, poor motivation, greed, jealousy, possessiveness and a unfounded sense of entitlement.
An agni imbalance can also be a varied combination of several of these agni types and the individual needs to be treated in a holistic way. For example, one can have a vishama-manda agni case, which may exhibit lack of drive and no interest in completing a given task but demonstrate jealous outbursts with a sense of entitlement if others accomplish that same task .They can display an irregular appetite with poor nutrient assimilation, sluggish metabolism and sleepiness. It is also very possible to have all three agnis out of whack, like a Vishama-Tikshna-Manda agni issue. this triple agni doozy, though it is quite rare is serious and complicated to treat. A vital factor to distinguishing the problem is also knowing your doshic constitution. There are literally many elements at play in the make up of all beings and Ayurveda relies on many variants for diagnostics and treatment. Factors depend on the individual person, their unique constitution, lifestyle, diet and influences in life.
A stable, healthy agni is vital for optimal, holistic wellness. We carry all of the 5 sacred elements in nature within us. Each one plays a role in sustaining all life within and outside of us. The sacred fire that is Agni digests and metabolises our food, processes emotions, purifies the mind and commands our vital life force. It nourishes and upholds the innate intelligence of every cell, blood, lymph fluid, tissues and all of the body systems that animate us. Learning more about Ayurveda and the four varieties of agni enable us to connect with our deep self and heal ourselves intuitively. Ayurveda helps to identify our true self in our healthiest state and what factors throw us off balance. This ancient healing science can help us prevent disease and regain our health.
To know more about Ayurveda and how to create an agni balancing lifestyle, I invite you to join my workshop in sunny Portals Nous, Mallorca, Spain on the 1st May 2021.. see my events page for info
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In this workshop we inlcude:
90 minute detox "Fire Vinyasa flow"
Fire Meditation (Tratak)
Vegan brunch and Detox juice
The importance of healthy digestion, nutrient absorption and elimination
Intro to Ayurvedic concepts of doshas, agni and practical tools for kindling the sacred fire within.
What is Ama and how to prevent
Easy recipes, tips and asanas for agni balance
Simple Dinacharya or Ayurvedic daily routine for agni support