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Each year, 62 million Americans are diagnosed with a digestive disorder.
Twenty million Americans suffer from chronic digestive diseases.
Come Thanksgiving, you start to see memes about elastic pants float all over the internet. Thanksgiving is synonymous with overeating and leftovers.
Do you remember the episode of “Friends” where Monica tells her friends that she won’t be cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving because of the large amounts of leftovers? Joey protests and announces that he will eat the entire turkey himself if necessary. Monica agrees, and Joey finishes the 19-pound turkey by the end of the episode but clad in Rachel’s maternity clothes.
It seemed funny, but we forget that by eating erratically and overdoing it, we mess with our agni. In doing so, we create trouble for our digestive health in the future. Let’s start with understanding what is agni. Agni literally means “fire” in Sanskrit.
According to Ayurveda, the food we ingest must be digested, absorbed, and assimilated. This process is imperative for the maintenance of life force. Agni converts food in the form of energy, which is responsible for all the vital functions of our body. Agni does more—it nourishes our cellular intelligence. Meaning, it assimilates our experiences and memories by absorbing what our bodies need and burning off what we don’t. Basically, agni is the fire of intelligence, which governs all transformative processes. It nourishes the dhatus (tissues of the body), keeps the doshas balanced, and brings clarity of mind and ideas. Agni can be thought of as the gatekeeper of life. In fact, according to Ayurveda, when the agni is extinguished, death soon follows.
Both Ayurveda and western medicine tell us that strong digestion is the key to good health. Digestion is related to our agni. When we overeat, our agni can become weak or aggravated during and after periods of overeating. Another important point: our agni can feel feeble if we eat richer foods than usual. Thanksgiving spread is anything but a representation of how any of us eat daily. Have you noticed that for a lot of people, the digestive system feels kaput at the end of a Thanksgiving meal or even the day after Thanksgiving? Unhealthy digestion may represent itself in the form of belching, burping, flatulence, bloating, offensive breath, dull mind, or a sense of heaviness.
Balanced agni throughout our mind and body prevents doshas from going into imbalance. It also averts any undue accumulation of ama. Ama is internal metabolic waste—it is a heavy, sticky substance that is toxic to the body and is at the root of disease. This sticky substance clogs the vital channels in the body that are responsible for everything from elimination of wastes, transportation of nutrients, and cellular communication. If you have healthy agni, it will keep the vitiated doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha as well as ama in the digestive tract (easier to eliminate from this site). “When agni is low, there will be a tendency to accumulate āma. When agni is too high, healthy tissue can be burnt up and destroyed. Irregular agni and lifestyle habits inhibits our fire from burning steadily, thus āma can accumulate, dry up, and become lodged in our channels. Thus, agni must be balanced to obtain optimal health.”
Each of the three doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha has a distinct agni type. Ayurveda says that our general tendency for either weak or aggravated agni depends on our dominant dosha. So, when vata (Vishama Agni) or kapha dosha (Manda agni) are dominant or aggravated, we see malabsorption of nutrients, constipation, gas, bloating, and sometimes diarrhea. When Pitta is the dominant dosha, agni (Tikshna agni) can be excessive, leading to things like heartburn and acid reflux. Ayurveda teaches us that sama agni (balanced agni) indicates that a person will lead a long, happy, healthy life—they digest and assimilate food properly at the proper time.
When you think of Agni as a fire…it needs some kindling and spark to get going. But think of what will happen if you throw too much on the fire? Won’t the intensity lower and agni be overpowered? When the agni of a person is vitiated (overindulgence and erratic holiday eating can do that), the metabolism in the body gets disturbed. This results in poor health and disease. Binge eating, gorging, competitive eating, and erratic eating hours can all throw a wrench on agni and negatively impact digestion.
How can we keep our agni lit this Thanksgiving?
1. My first suggestion would be to avoid overeating. That can happen if you get out of the scarcity mindset. Know that the food will always be there, and you don’t need to gorge on this holiday.
2. Keep 4-6 hours of gap between your meals.
3. Can you bring a dish to the potluck that has all six Ayurvedic tastes?
4. Eat slowly instead of stuffing yourself rapidly.
5. Don’t eat unless you are hungry.
6. Ginger tea can stimulate digestion.
7. Avoid cold beverages as they extinguish our agni.
8. Sit down and enjoy the holiday meal.
9. Don’t mindlessly snack in between.
10. Don’t finish your meal and settle on the couch—walk at least 100 steps.
11. Don’t fall asleep immediately after eating.
12. Get plenty of rest and sleep the night before.
When agni is compromised, ama or toxins begin to accumulate, blocking the flow of nutrients and energy and starting the disease process. The last thing you want after a beautiful holiday celebration is discomfort or disease, no?
Let me know which of these suggestions you plan to follow at the Thanksgiving gathering.
“Because we cannot scrub our inner body, we need to learn a few skills to help cleanse our tissues, organs, and mind. This is the art of Ayurveda.” ~ Sebastian Pole
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained Ayurvedic coach, contact me here.
References: Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda Volume I: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda. Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press, 2002. Print. 81, 83, 86-89.  On Agni and Āma: The Sacred Fire of Digestion and Metabolic Impurities