Using the concept of Agni to assess lifestyle in Ayurveda

Published by Shruti on

The concept of Agni (or digestive fire) can help us assess lifestyle with an Ayurvedic lens. This principle has been incredibly helpful to take stock of my lifestyle and uncover key areas of opportunities to help with my health issues. This principle was introduced in a previous post but we will dive deeper in this post.

The human body is a mirror of our physical surroundings. 

The space we inhabit, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the heat of the sun and the earth underneath our feet are each an example of the physiological structures outside our bodies that are reflected in our own elemental composition. Our body’s Agni (or digestive fire) varies based on our stage of life, the changing seasons, the movement of the sun, the natural rhythms of the day and night etc. These natural rhythms have a profound impact on how our body & mind works. 

Additionally, let’s also expand on the concept of Agni.

Agni: The Digestive Fire

Agni is the force of intelligence within each cell, each tissue, and every system within the body. 

The Ayurvedic concept of digestive fire, or Agni, is critically important to our body’s digestion, metabolism, immunity etc. Agni determines which substances enter our cells and tissues, and which substances should be removed as waste. Ayurveda identifies at least 40 distinct subtypes of Agni in the body—each defined by its specific physiological function as well as its location in the body. The primary fire is Jathara Agni, the central digestive fire that is responsible for the digestion and assimilation of food. This is the main Agni that I will be referring to for most of our discussion.

Ayurveda teaches us that impaired Agni is at the root of all imbalances and diseases. 

Here are some important warning signs that agni is not operating at full strength.

  • Emotional disturbances, with an increased tendency toward fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, lethargy, or depression.
  • Low energy, weakness, or fatigue
  • Suppressed or overactive appetite
  • Indigestion: gas, bloating, constipation, nausea, hyperacidity, loose stools, a sense of heaviness, feeling tired or mentally foggy after meals.
  • A tendency toward congestion in the sinuses, lymphs, or even the mind.

Common ways our Agni becomes disturbed may include:

  • Eating foods not suited to our body constitution
  • Improper food combinations
  • Overeating
  • Drinking cold water with meals
  • Staying up late
  • Emotional disturbances or unresolved emotions

Clearly, our lifestyle impacts the strength of our Agni. If I want to improve the strength of my Agni, it follows that lifestyle is a great place to start. 

Lifestyle assessment using Ayurveda

As a first step towards change, I used the above principles to assess my lifestyle and identify a few variables that could be impacting my health issues. 

One, sleeping and waking times.

When I think about my lifestyle for most of my adult life, I can’t recall sleeping before midnight on the best days. Even though I was sleeping 7-8 hours every day, I was neither sleeping nor waking up at a time of the day that mirrors the sun’s movements. This could certainly have some impact on my Agni, digestion and energy levels.

Two, maintaining our natural body temperature.

Most of my time at work was spent indoors. In meeting rooms, on the desk, in an air conditioned environment. I always felt cold inside the office. I didn’t drink much water but when I did, it was cold water with my lunch. Lunch itself was light (usually a salad) while dinner was quite heavy in the evening. Drinking cold water, lunch/ dinner portions and air conditioned environments may have some impact on my Agni, digestion and energy levels too.

Three, using whole, natural food and drinks.

We come from nature and we go back to nature. So what we consume must be natural too. So what we eat, drink or apply on our skin etc – all these go inside our body into the deepest layers of our tissues. I have been consuming food or drinks that have been chemically altered for commercial production like homogenized milk or lactose free milk. Not only are these lower on nutritious value but may also be harder to digest for the body.

Four, sensory overload on the eyes.

When I think about sensory inputs especially my eyes, I was spending 10-12 hours a day looking at a screen. Phone, laptop, TV or tablet. Our eyes are not naturally designed for this type of light exposure for extended periods of time. A screen was the first thing I looked at when I woke up and the last thing I looked at before going to sleep. Added is the fact that I always had sensitive eyes growing up as a child. So this may have some bearing on the issues around my headaches, light sensitivity and watering of eyes. 

Five, emotional disturbances in my day to day job.

‘Managing uncertainty’, ‘being a go getter’ and ‘multitasking skills’ are standard job requirements as a product manager.  Email, messages and slack notifications arrive every hour of the day and night. Steep business goals arrive every quarter to satisfy growth expectations. Surrounded by the best and brightest talent in the world, there is fierce competition among teams and peers to set the highest bar for performance. Stress, anxiety and anger have been in my life every day. There was not a single day that I didn’t feel at least one of these emotions. With Ayurveda, for the first time, I see a clear, tangible connection between these emotions and my health issues. 

Based on the above assessment, here are a few opportunity areas that I want to explore for lifestyle changes moving forward:

  • Sleeping & waking times
  • Meal times and portions
  • Use of whole, natural food and drinks
  • Maintaining natural body temperature
  • Sensory overload on eyes
  • Daily emotional disturbances 

In the next post, I will share a preliminary approach to applying a test & learn mindset with Ayurveda. This approach will allow me to learn from every change that I make no matter the outcome. See you there!