7 Ways to Keep Digestion (Agni) Balanced
Agni is the sanskrit term for the fiery energy of transformation, and is also known as our digestive fire. This energy is present within us and transforms anything we take in through the senses, including food, drink, taste, sound, color, light, scent, physical sensation, experiences, as well as feelings and emotions. Agni processes all of this, transforming everything into either consciousness or toxins. Maintaining strong, balanced agni builds vitality, and weak agni leads to accumulation of toxins and disease. The state of our agni is affected by our state of mind, how we live, what we eat, how we eat, and when we eat.
Keeping our agni balanced is therefore very important to maintaining a state of health, and can be done in a number of simple ways.
1. Eat in a calm atmosphere (both internal and external) with gratitude and consciousness.
The state of our mind is closely related to the state of our agni. Eating when hurried, anxious, angry, resentful, or emotional does not create an inviting environment for absorbing nutrition. If agitated in any way, take pause before eating. Acknowledge and feel the feelings, practice acceptance, take a few deep breaths, and bring the mind back to the present moment. Eating in a calm and quiet place (free of loud noises, TV, reading, and other distractions), promotes consciousness and connection to our food and bodies. Starting the meal with a prayer or expression of gratitude is a nice way to begin and sets a pleasant tone. Pay attention to the experience of eating- aromas, tastes, textures, and internal feelings. Enjoy light conversation with others and listen to the body for signs that it has had enough food (see "the first burp" below). These practices will prime the body and mind to take in all that is offered in the meal.
2. Chew food to liquid and drink liquids slowly.
Chewing our food well is a key step in the digestive processes that is often forgotten if we are rushing. In chewing our food, it is broken down to a more digestible form physically, and is broken down chemically by the enzymes in the mouth. Chewing allows us to taste flavors and feel textures of the food, allowing for an experience of receiving that is not just limited to dietary nutrients.
3. Eat warm (lightly cooked) foods.
Warm foods are nourishing to the body, and a light cooking makes food more digestible. Think about the body: it must first work to bring the food to the proper temperature, then the food is broken down by Agni at various stages. If the food goes in raw, even if blended, often times there are nutrients bound up that do not become available to the body. Lightly cooking food with some oil/ghee and water can help release these nutrients and make them more available to the body. Taking in cold food or liquid is like throwing sand on the digestive fire- it weakens agni.
4. Eat whole (real) foods- the less processed the better.
The idea here is to eat food from the earth. I generally stay away from any food that has a commercial. The modern food industry bombards us with advertising for fad foods, protein shakes, energy bars, and "healthy" conveniences. Often these "foods" have been so far removed from their original state in nature that they offer very little prana (life-force energy). Whole foods, such as grains, legumes, and fresh vegetables, especially from local farmers, contain more natural energy and dwanda (natural holistic and elemental balance), and are therefore easier to digest. As humans, we are an integral and indivisible part of nature, so feeding our bodies with natural foods, ideally grown without chemicals, will help us maintain our own natural balance.
5. Stop eating at the first burp.
Practice eating with consciousness. When eating while seated in a relaxed environment, chewing thoroughly, and laying our utensil down between bites, our bodies will respond with a little belch when they reach capacity. This first belch of air is a signal to stop eating- that our bodies cannot handle any more food, and anything we eat beyond the belch will lead to indigestion and formation of toxins.
6. Consume fruit separately and melon alone.
Fruits generally digest quickly in the body, and are best eaten at least 2 hours before or after other foods. Dried fruits can be soaked and reconstituted in water for better digestibility. Melons go through very fast and should be eaten away from other fruits.
7. Allow your body time to digest.
Eating before the body has fully digested the previous meal leads to fermentation in the gut, which creates indigestion and may cause gas and bloating. Allowing about 4 hours between meals will give the body sufficient time to digest. During this time, our energy is needed around the digestive organs, so we should wait at least an hour before laying down, and 2 hours before having sex. A short relaxed walk after the meal can aid digestion.
With strong agni comes vitality and blissfulness. Balanced agni supports the body in numerous ways, including mental clarity, visual perception, glowing skin, immunity, enthusiasm, confidence, stability, strength, regular elimination, good sleep, cellular communication and all stages of transformation. Be kind to your agni, begin by trying out a couple of these suggestions and let us know what your experience is!