When agni is weakened, food components remain undigested and unabsorbed in the colon.
They accumulate and create a foul smelling, sticky substance called ama. Ama wreaks havoc on the body as it clogs internal bodily channels. When ama accumulates, the intestinal tract, lymphatic system, arteries, veins and other channels become obstructed and toxins are absorbed into the blood.
Toxins created by the presence of ama circulate through the body looking for weak areas to create contraction, clogging, and stagnation.
Toxins suppress immune function and perpetuate feeble neighboring organs. Once the toxins have settled in the tissues, disease manifests.
It's important to assess the body for the presence of ama. Detecting the presence of ama allows for the opportunity to make small changes in foods we eat and habits we have to cleanse the body of toxic waste.
To check for signs of toxins look for these indicators:
- Coating on the tongue (white, yellow, brown, black, green)
- Foul smelling breath/gas
- Weakness or fatigue
- Generalized body
- Poor circulation
- Difficult time clearing the throat
- Indigestion (constipation, heavy feeling after meals, sticky stools, diarrhea)
- Poor appetite
- Strange taste in the mouth
- Sexual debility
- Mental confusion
- Aches at the roots of the hair
When the presence of ama is detected, agni is impaired. Therefore, in order to eliminate ama we must give support to agni.
The strength of agni is one the most crucial factors in determining overall health.
Ama cannot form in the presence of balanced agni.
Agni is the fire element of the body, it is radiant energy and manifests as body temperature, digestive enzymes, amino acids, and all other metabolic activities. Agni governs all transformation in the human body. The primary function of agni is digestion, absorption, assimilation, and transformation of food.
If we maintain balanced agni, we can live a long and healthy life.
There are four states of agni: balanced, irregular, sharp/hyper-metabolism and dull/hypo-metabolism. To assess the your current state of your internal fire, ask yourself the following questions:
- How's my appetite?
- How do I feel after eating?
- Are there any foods which make digesting difficult?
- How is my elimination?
Here are the 4 types of agni:
Balanced – good appetite, energized after eating, no difficulty digesting, good elimination, clear mind.
Irregular – variable appetite, after eating energy level varies, difficulty digesting protein, constipation, fear, anxiety, insomnia.
Sharp – intense appetite, feel energized after meals, difficulty digesting oils and fats, diarrhea, anger, hate, envy.
Slow – low appetite, feel heavy and sleepy after meals, difficulty digesting dairy and carbohydrates, slow, sticky elimination, depression, dull.
Getting to the root cause
Digestion-related health concerns are running rampant. Many diets advise removing the hard-to-digest foods (i.e. gluten, dairy etc.) to "solve" problems of bloating, gas, weight gain, lethargy, diarrhea, and other digestive related discomforts.
While this can be helpful, Ayurveda aims to reset the digestive strength by strengthening agni, so you can enjoy and digest all foods freely.
Digestion means that food becomes a part of your system. . . it has to become you. Food is about the nourishing the body. It should go through the system with minimal resistance.
Follow this simple school of thought: if food has a complex memory, it becomes complex to digest. When the body is focused on digesting food, it has no energy to digest ama.
Initially, to eliminate ama and encourage healthy agni, eating a simple diet is the best way to increase digestive strength. A simple diet allows the body to focus energy on processing and releasing impurities.
Eat simply by increasing warm, cooked, vegetarian meals. Steam vegetables. . . enjoy basmati rice, lentils, vegetable soup, oats, beans, cooked fruits. . . and limit raw, frozen, and canned foods as well as dairy, meat, and eggs. Assist the digestion of ama with spices like ginger and black pepper. . . and herbs like triphala and turmeric.
Keeping positive ideas and attitudes around food is essential in eliminating ama from the system.
When the body is given proper support it is capable of digesting metabolic waste causing disease in the body. Tending to agni allows for the eradication of ama. According to Ayurveda (Charaka Samhita), there are 6 psychological factors that play a role in digestion. Even the most wholesome food can result in ama when the mind is disturbed.
6 factors that disturb digestion:
- Stress or worry
- Mourn or emotional hurt
- Sadness or depression
- Staying awake during late hours in night
Keeping a clear mind inhibits the manifestation of ama. Deep seated ama inhibits cellular communication (i.e. prana) as it coats and clogs individual cell membranes. By increasing awareness around food with mindful eating, the production of ama is limited.
Common causes of ama
- Eating large meals at night
- Eating before the previous meal is digested.
- Cold food and drink
- Stale, old or packaged foods
- Eating too quickly
- Eating without full attention on food
- Neglecting daily exercise
Agni is our biological fire; it is the metabolizing force of creation.
We all eat to accomplish two simple things: to obtain the raw energy we need to stay alive and to get the materials required to build the various tissues that make up our body. The food we ingest undergoes the process of digestion and absorption through the action of agni.
Ayurveda teaches that impaired agni is at the root cause of all disease. Many times, it becomes impaired due to the presence of ama in the bodily channels.
At meal time, pay attention to agni, if it's low. . . eating is not advised. Ayurvedic healing focuses on the quality and the status of your biological/digestive fire.
Maintain healthy agni and you will enjoy perfect health.
Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda, Volume II: A Complete Guide to Clinical Assessment. Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press, 2006. Print. 190, 199-202.
Lad, V. (2012). Textbook of Ayurveda. Albuquerque, NM: Ayurvedic Press.
Meet the author, Melanie Dolan