Yesterday, I fasted. I reduced the amount of fuel that I put in my body, and allowed my body time to NOT BE DIGESTING. I was trying to get my Digestive Fire back in balance. I had just eaten out of rhythm for too many days. My dull aching head and sluggishness was an indicator that my body needed movement and space.
I knew that it was necessary to fast when I went to sit down and write my blog, and it was awful. I had no focus or clarity, the words felt like a mess as they tumbled onto the page. I stopped and sat with all I know about the link between digestion and clarity.
I decided to leave the creative work of a blog until a day when that connection was online again. I cleaned out office desks – that was about all I could mentally tackle.
I feel so much better today.
Imagine if this blog was a report due, or if my groggy unfocused day had happened on a really important day. It would have sucked to feel that way when I wanted to be at my best. It would have been an epic fail.
Well, here is the secret – this is in our control. We can arrange to feel good on a given day. We can do the right things leading up to social events like weddings or reunions, or work things like presentations or interviews. We can plan to feel good. We can create the set of habits that we know will help us feel energized, clear and focused.
In Ayurveda we talk about Digestive Fire. We need to learn to care for it in a way that we were never taught. The ideal fire to have burning in our belly is SAMA AGNI: glowing, filled with plentiful uplifting energy, that adds a skip to our step.
When we can connect the dots, we can reverse engineer things and set ourselves up for success.
How is your fire?
We talk about food a lot. And Ayurveda can be very specific about food. Proper nourishment is a pillar of our health. But, as a culture we are myopic about food, we subscribe to diets and make things overly complicated sometimes. We embark on specific and limiting eating patterns that cannot be sustained, and then we fall off and eat ‘whatever’ again.
The approach we take in my communities is Kaizen, continuously making small improvements. We go slowly and introduce all the concepts of Ayurveda expanding well beyond food. We want to talk about the 4 kinds of AGNI in the body. The way our fire is affected by our emotions, our actions, and our eating.
The first, most ideal fire is SAMA AGNI. This is a clean-burning, hot fire, capable of digesting everything that you put in your mouth and swallow, or bring into your body with your senses. This Agni creaties sustainable energy, a glowing complexion, and an easy enjoyable temperament. We all strive toward this kind of efficient digestion.
VISHAMA AGNI – The fire when Vata is too high.
When we wake up nervous and worried about an upcoming appointment, exam, interview (name your anxiety-inducing event) we are cooling and unsettling our digestive fire. We swirl in our heads, tamping out our fire. We may not feel like eating but we decide to anyway, it sits in our stomach, not moving, no fire. We get bloated on top of our anxiousness.
Emotions play a part in the ability of our digestive fire to work well. If this is how we are feeling, we need to take time to soothe our emotions, settle and ground ourselves, before we eat. Work out your legs; a simple walk outdoors or some squats or chair pose can achieve this. Sit to eat, breathe, relax, only then offer food. Eat meals that are warm and spiced, drink ginger tea, or have that avocado toast with an egg.
TIKSHNA AGNI – The fire when affected by excess Pitta
Maybe we are super intense, finding it hard to shut off and relax. We are heated, laser-focused, not eating regular meals, shoveling food in, on-the-go, quickly so that we can get back to work. It arrives in our stomach the way oil lands on fire. It causes a big flare-up, instantly burning everything. Our bodies can’t extract the nutrients. Our bowels may empty a few times a day, but the stool is sloppy, we may have heartburn. An acidic feeling follows us around. Inflammation in joints, rash, or acne is a symptom.
When we feel like this our fire is burning too hot and our way of eating is like adding oil to it. We first need to slow down. Eat with intention. Say a prayer, notice our food. Take a deep breath, relax, set an intention. Eat a nutrient-dense lunch at midday. Alcohol, Caffeine, Sugar should be avoided. Turn off after dinner each night. Release the intensity and give your body rest time, allow your fire to cool.
MUNDA AGNI – The fire when Kapha gets too heavy and dense
When this is happening we don’t feel drive or purpose; we feel sluggish, or even depressed. Our appetite is low. We eat not for hunger but for comfort. But the mood is excessively Kapha; heavy, dense, wet. It feels as if we are pouring water on our fire. It is smoldering, barely lit, not strong or capable of digesting. We get coughs, colds, and mucus builds up in our bodies. Congestion is a key factor. We retain water, have more saliva in our mouths. We can’t taste our foods, mucus fills our lungs, sinuses, any cavity it can find. Our periods get heavier, we even see mucus in our menstrual fluids. When this happens we need to dry things out. We need to move air through the body – vigorous movements circulate breath, pushing mucus out. This movement will make you feel like you need to spit a loogy or blow snot out of your nose (gross and satisfying if you know the feeling). Our goal is to dry out the channels of the body, eat fewer times a day, add lots of space between meals (space is air, the air is drying, movement pushes the air through). When you do eat, let the food be fresh dry, clear; avoid milk, cheese, and foods that are already “cloudy sticky”.
These are small ideas that let us think about our best way to reduce the excess Dosha (Pitta, Kapha, Vata) that is hampering Agni.
Each of us has a main default in our digestion, but we can experience all of these types of digestion. Reflect on the most common ways that your fire gets out of balance. Which forces are at work for you?
If you give your digestive fire some space will it burn better? Offering you the clarity, focus, and energy you need to be your best? Try it.
For some of you… that reflection is enough to think about, to digest. EVERYTHING needs to be digested. How you take in information can cause imbalance as much as how you take in food (so sneaky Ayurveda is). If you just need to think about that and consider just stop here.
If this is freakin’ fascinating stuff, one of my favourite articles on the subject is You Are Only As Healthy As Your Agni. It has great graphics that help make sense of this pretty heady topic.
If you are still craving more, reach out and ask for the “Intermittent Fasting Guide for Your Metabolic Type” developed by Yoga Healer. It dives deeper into the HOW and WHY of each body type’s feed/fast rhythm. Understand the compelling Ayurvedic argument for eating with regularity and within limits for each body type. Maybe try to fast for 14 hours tonight, fuel with 3 meals, no snacks, and start to see what happens.