There's a fire in your belly called "agni". Agni is your digestive ability. According to the elemental theory of Ayurveda, fire is the energy of transformation, metabolism and digestion. Another important Ayurvedic principle states that we are the microcosm of the macrocosm – as without, so within.
The fire inside reflects the fire outside. When I say the fire outside – I'm talking about the sun. When the sun is highest in the sky, our digestion is strongest. We have the most bile, which is the fire-y substance that breaks down our food transforming it into energy or matter which can be used to create the cells of our body.
Agni is a big deal.
As the sun sets in the sky, our inner fire also subsides. Bile production decreases and as a result that big, heavy, late dinner doesn't get broken down efficiently and turns into "ama". Ama is the Sanskrit word for "uncooked". It refers to the sticky, sludgy, goo that's a by-product of your undigested food. Ama is responsible for that which ails you – low energy, heaviness (in body and/or mind), digestive issues, brain fog, aches, pains, anxiety, depression, and more. Ama is the root cause of every disease.
Ama impairs agni. When agni is compromised ama results and the vicious cycle continues. How do we stop the ama-generating cycle in its tracks and stoke our belly fire so we burn through our food and attain thriving health?
Below are 10 healthier eating guidelines for strengthening agni and reducing ama.
- Make lunch your main meal and eat an earlier, lighter dinner. Try to eat the majority of your food during daylight hours when the sun is in the sky and your agni is burning bright.
- Eat real food. Processed, de-natured food turns into ama. Choose a whole food, nutrient-dense plant-centric diet that’s preferably local, seasonal and organic (when possible).
- Stick to a regular schedule of 2-3 meals per day allowing 3-6 hours between meals to fully digest your food. Wait until you experience true hunger before you eat. If you're not hungry at meal times "turn on" your agni with a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of chopped ginger topped with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt 20 minutes before eating.
- Drink hot water between meals: 2-4 cups upon rising, 1 cup 20 min before meals and one hour after to aid in digestion. Feel hungry even though you ate a few hours ago? 80% of the time your body registers dehydration as hunger.
- When you eat, just eat. Stop, sit and mindfully, taste, chew and savor your food slowly.
- Eat to nourish your body, not to numb your emotions. Emotional eating leads to overeating, eating unhealthy food or simply eating when you're not really hungry. If your agni isn't hot and ready for your food, what you ingest will turn to ama. True hunger is accompanied by grumbling in your tummy, a feeling of emptiness and a willingness to eat anything – not just chocolate. When there's an urge to emotionally eat, breathe deeply, make yourself a soothing cup of tea, call a friend or just allow yourself to feel your feelings instead of stuffing them down.
- Awaken your agni with a morning routine that supports regular elimination with lots of hot water upon arising, and at least 20 minutes of breath-based exercise.
- Don't overeat. If you've had a cup of water 20 minutes before eating and you eat slowly and mindfully this shouldn't be a problem. If it still is, eat from a smaller plate and aim to stop when you're 2/3 full.
- Eat for YOUR body. There's so much controversy about what the best diet is – vegan, paleo, ketogenic, raw.... In reality, there's no one size fits all approach. We're all unique, complex beings. Start by simply noticing how you feel after eating certain foods. Do you experience any digestive discomfort such as gas, bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, constipation, or loose stools? If so, try eliminating that food and see if it improves.
- Stress less. The parasympathetic nervous system triggers the "rest and digest" response. When you're stressed out all of your blood and energy is preoccupied with the perceived or actual threat that's causing your stress. "Turn off" your stress response before eating by getting out of your head and into your body. A great way to do this is with a few rounds of deep diaphragmatic breathing.
Honor and nurture your agni and your agni will grace you with excellent health, vibrant energy and a clear, uplifted mind.