Did you know that according to Ayurveda, your state of health and even longevity are inextricably linked to your agni?
This Sanskrit term agni is one of the most vital principles influencing well-being and the aging process. In fact, understanding this concept is really important if we want to avoid disease and look and feel healthy and vibrant.
Agni translates as "digestive fire," and it's related to the strength of our digestion in all aspects of our life—including our overall ability to eliminate what is not needed. On a physical level, we need to digest food to absorb nutrients for energy and release waste products; on a mental level, we digest experiences in order to assimilate them and release what is not needed.
According to Ayurveda, strong agni helps us with all processes of digestion and is essential for our overall health. If our digestive fire is strong, we are able to create healthy tissues and eliminate waste products effectively. We can then produce ojas, which is like our "vital essence," so that we can build strength, immunity, and clarity of mind. If agni is weak in the body, we are left with toxic residue or ama, which leads to the slow deterioration of the body and is seen as the root cause of disease.
Agni may be weakened by poor eating habits and food choices, lack of exercise, and negative thoughts and emotions. These all slow down our digestion, building ama and causing disease. Unresolved emotions such as pent-up anger and unreleased grief are just as likely to cause ill health as physical digestive issues in the gut.
The good news is that we can strengthen the digestive fire in our body using various techniques and yoga exercises. If you have digestive issues, or you'd like to lose weight or have more energy and lustrous-looking skin, then try this short, agni-building practice.
Breathing brings prana or life force into the body and cleans the body of toxic materials. Kapalabhati is a breathing technique that helps create heat and build agni. Rest your hands on your abdomen. Take some nice deep breaths in and out through the nose, feeling the movement of the abdomen under the hands. After 10 breaths or so, start to emphasise the exhalation and feel the abdomen draw strongly back toward the spine. Let the inhale be an automatic rebound, and feel the hands move away as the abdomen releases. Repeat using short, sharp exhalations. Practice for about 30 to 60 seconds. When you finish, sit tall and breathe normally for another 10 breaths or so.
Navasana acts like a key to powerfully switch on the inner fire of prana. Sit with your feet resting on the floor, knees bent, and try to float your feet off the floor while keeping your chest lifted. Extend your arms away from you. You can keep the legs bent, or if you feel strong, start to extend them so that the toes are eye level. Hold for 5 breaths, keeping the breath smooth, and then rest the feet back down and round the spine as you hug your knees. Repeat as many times as you like.
Side plank helps to generate agni and builds inner fire. From plank pose, swivel the feet, turning your body to the side, raising one arm either up to the ceiling or over the ear to a diagonal. Lift the underneath waist and hold for 5 breaths. Return to plank and either rest the knees on the floor before changing sides or you can swivel straight to the other side without resting. Then finish resting on the knees or in child’s pose.
Using the bandhas, or locks, generates inner fire. Come up from all fours to down dog and stay for 5 to 10 slow breaths. With each exhalation, feel the movement of the navel drawing back toward the spine. This activates udiyana bandha, igniting the flames, and stimulates the energy around the navel center.
Twists massage the abdominal organs, bringing more blood and oxygen to the region, helping to remove stagnation and activate the digestive system. From kneeling, sit to the left side of your feet and cross your right foot over the left leg and onto the floor. Wrap your left arm around your right shin and turn to look over your right shoulder. Stay for 5 deep breaths. Change sides.
Other helpful tips for building agni include regular meditation, sipping ginger tea or taking warming herbs, releasing negative emotions, avoiding overeating or eating when stressed or sad, avoiding cold foods or cooling foods that "dampen the fire," chewing your food thoroughly, and taking regular exercise.