In Ayurveda it is called Agni, In Chinese Medicine it is called Yang Qi of the middle burner(Yang Energyof the Stomach and Spleen organs). However, in both wisdoms, the concept of digestion is the same.

The Latin word “ignis” from which the English word “ignite” is derived, has a common root with the Sanskrit word “Agni”. Agni means that which ignites, or fire.

Digestion is governed by the Fire element, which governs all transformations. Agni or Yang Qi is in charge of digestion, absorption, assimilation and transformation of food, and of sensory perception, into energy and knowledge.

The Digestive fire is responsible for everything that takes place between the intake of food up until the formation of the different body tissues.

In Ayurveda, It is said that a person is as old as his Agni. If Agni is in optimal condition, the immune system is strong and the life span is potentially long. If Agni is low the person’s health deteriorates. Agni measures your strength, power and resilience, and may be compared to your metabolism. Agni gives your organs the strength to work well. In your mind, Agni gives us emotional strength and stability. Good Agni brings vitality, clarity and enthusiasm. Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda pay careful attention to building and maintaining digestive strength.

Your body stays healthy and maintains balance by processing everlasting change. The environment is always changing. These changes threaten to knock your body off balance. Your ability to process and handle changes in the environment around you, or the food you’ve eaten, is a measure of your ability to heal. Disease comes when we are unable to process change. Agni measures the strength of your body to ‘digest’ these changes and maintain balance. Agni is best defined as your body’s processing power.

The traditional model of digestion reaches beyond mere digestion of food. It also encompasses digestion of chemicals, hormones, and all physiological changes. In fact, everything that happens to you must be processed. If you catch a chill, processing includes restoring your healthy temperature. Information coming through the five senses, trauma, and any residual emotions must also be processed or “digested”.

In the digestive tract, good Agni builds a healthy appetite and helps you digest food. When your digestive organs have good Agni, they secrete plenty of enzymes, absorb nutrients well, and move wastes out of the body in a regular and timely fashion. When Agni is working well, it “cooks” the food you’ve eaten, turning it into nutrients.

Fire element, Agni and Yang energy also relate to maturation. An unbaked clay pot does not last long, but if you bake the pot, it becomes solid and can last a long time. In the same way the Agni brings maturation to the tissues, the tone of each tissue is maintained by its Agni. The word tonic comes from tone, and many tonics support Agni. Agni enables the process of cellular differentiation to reach maturity, in the same way that an unripe fruit needs the heat of the sun in order to ripen, or a child needs the warmth and love of his parents in order to mature into a balanced grown up. Agni enables clarity, awareness, and concentration.

The digestion process

In traditional medicine digestion can be metaphorically compared to the process of cooking:

  1. A fire place – the small intestine.
  2. A pot – the stomach.
  3. Fire and its fuel–Fuel is gained by yesterday’s digested food that supplies the pancreas and the wall of the small intestine to secrete enzymes, and for the stomach lining to secrete acids, for the breakdown (cooking fire) of today’s food.

The basic requirements for internal cooking are:

  1. Space – where the process can take place. Space in the form of Vata energy initiates the digestion process, conducts a feeling of hunger and allows circulation and churning of the food in the stomach.
  2. Fire – enables food breakdown, absorption and excretion.
  3. Water – some water is needed to uniformly distribute the digestive juices and to soften the food in the stomach.
  4. Oil – some oil is needed to kindle the digestive fire, to soften the food and for the assimilation of certain fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).
  5. Time – the process of digestion requires time, for this reason appropriate gap between meals should be minded.
  6. Coordination – the digestive process happens while moving from above downwards and requires coordination of all the organs involved.

Food has to be transformed into absorbable substances that can nourish the tissues of the body. This transformation requires tremendous energy. Certain foods such as grapes or lettuce are easy to digest and can be eaten raw. However grains, legumes, many vegetables and animal protein need cooking to make them available for digestion and assimilation inside of the body.

Signs of good Agni

Good Agni is made up of and feels like the qualities clear, dry, hot and light, all common factors of fire. With good Agni you feel energized, light, fresh and clean. You have mental clarity and brightness in your eyes. The appetite is good and bowel movement regular and easy, the stools well formed, like a banana in size, shape and consistency. But that is not all. A good digestion will bestow strength in the limbs, vigor and vitality throughout the day, alertness and sharp memory, fine perception and good understanding, high concentration over time, accuracy in words and behavior, a sense of self-confidence and stability in life, empathy and compassion, a good night’s sleep, good family life, economic growth and a well-equipped, lively and active kitchen. Sounds like a description of a dreamy state, but you can get a lot when the fire inside is burning with the right power!

Actually, the sign for a healthy and strong digestion is when you don’t notice it at all! No stomach ache, inflammation or ulcers, no uncontrollable desires, no diarrhea or constipation, no fatigue or weakness, no deviations in the results of Blood tests or anemia. After the food is chewed and swallowed, there is no longer a trace of the digestion process. This is an indication of the harmonious and coordinated activity of all the digestive organs. If you can feel your digestion, there is probably something to improve about your eating habits or diet.

General guidelines to strengthen Agni or preserve a good digestion

  1. Keep a routine for meal times, but only eat when you feel hungry, and not before the previous meal has been digested. If necessary, skip a meal or fast for the day until the appearance of true hunger.
  2. Food portion should not “choke” the digestive fire. Eat till 90% satisfaction, and stop while still feeling some space is left.
  3. A mostly cooked diet will digest better and prevent digestive symptoms such as gas or bloating.
  4. Eating with full attention is crucial for digestion and for a continual sensation of satisfaction from your food.
  5. When you are adequately hydrated, your body produces plenty of digestive fluids. Drink a glass of warm water 20 minutes before each meal.
  6. When you have good circulation and strong blood, your digestive organs will be energized.
  7. When your digestive organs are clean and free of excessive mucus, your enzymes will quickly break down the food.
  8. Your intestines should be free of parasites and inflammation. Intestinal flora should be balanced.
  9. To kindle your digestion, use spices that are dry, hot and light, such as black pepper. On the opposite side, heavy, cold, sticky foods such as ice cream generally reduce Agni.
  10. Herbal teas with spices such as ginger, black pepper, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom.
  11. Eating a wedge of lime with a slice of fresh ginger and a pinch of salt before meals.
  12. If your Agni is low due to inflammation and irritation, eat soothing, anti-inflammatory foods instead of the suggestions above.
  13. In any case, diet and eating habits should be personally modified and adjusted to meet the individual’s unique needs.

General imbalances of the digestion system

  1. Slow digestion (Kapha type) – when the digestive fire is low, the digestion process is too slow, peristalsis is slowed down and as a result there is excess dampness, appetite takes time to build up, after eating a feeling of heaviness and lassitude appears, as well as other symptoms that may appear such as bloated abdomen, nausea and belching.Slow digestion is a result of Spleen Qi Deficiency or aggravated Kapha. Due to the Heavy, Slow and Cold attributes of Kapha, which inhibit the Light, Sharp, and Hot qualities of Agni, Agni becomes dull, leading to slow metabolism. In this condition Agni cannot digest even a humble diet properly; there is heaviness in the abdomen, congestion and loss of appetite.
  2. Fast digestion (Pitta type)– when the digestive fires is too strong, the digestion process takes place too fast, peristalsis is hastened, appetite is intense and even a very big meal does not create discomfort. Fast digestion is a result of Stomach Fire or aggravated Pitta. Due to the Hot, Sharp and Penetrating attributes of Pitta, Agni can become intense. This causes hyper metabolism, the desire to frequently eat large quantities of food, after digestion appears dryness of the throat, lips and palate, thirst, heartburn, hot flashes and acid indigestion. The Liquid, Sour and Hot qualities of Pitta may produce hyperacidity, gastritis, hypoglycemia, colitis, diarrhea and dysentery. Pain in the liver, nausea, vomiting and various inflammatory conditions may occur.
  3. Irregular digestion (Vata type)– when the digestive fire is sometimes low and sometimes too strong and peristalsis and appetite are irregular. Irregular digestion is a result of Liver Qi Stagnation or aggravated Vata. Agni becomes erratic and produces irregular appetite, variable digestion, abdominal distension, indigestion, gases, constipation and colicky pain. Even a small quantity of food will lead to gas formation. At times, it may lead to diarrhea, a feeling of heaviness after eating, and gurgling sound of the intestines.


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