AGNI, AMA AND OJAS: Digestive Fire, Toxicity and Strength
Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of India, is gaining increasing popularity within and outside of India as a time-tested solution to many of our 21st century ailments. Many of us now know about “doshas”, the humours of Ayurvedic medicine, and some of us have an idea of what our Ayurvedic constitutional type. We’ve read about Vata, Pitta and Kapha perhaps in books and magazines, during Ayurveda treatments or even in our Yoga classes. Translating as “Knowledge of Life”, Ayurveda advises that lifestyle, what we eat and how we eat it, are the cornerstones of healthy, happy days. These will affect the functioning of our doshas, the intelligent managers of body functions, and also of these three: agni, ama, and ojas.
At a time when we are wanting more than ever to take care of our physical health, and in particular our immunity, I thought it would be beneficial to explain agni, ama and ojas, and how we can work with them to strengthen the body and boost the body’s protective functions. All three are seen as critical to our health and well-being in Ayurveda.
AGNI is a Sanskrit term translated as fire. If we think about the element fire, we can say it has the effect of penetrating a substance and transforming it’s nature. We have all watched fire spread across a piece of paper and reduce it to ash. Likewise, the agni, or fire in our body, transforms one substance into another. And so we speak of a digestive fire, or jathar agni in Sanskrit, that fire or power of the digestive system to break down and transform our foods for assimilation, separating and transforming the nutrient parts of our foods from those parts that are to be eliminated, Jathar agni is indeed the main agni in the body, though there are many agnis, agni of the tissues and organs, and even an agni within the cells, supporting the myriad of transformative processes throughout our system. And so agni is a critical factor in the overall health and strength of the body.
AMA on the other hand weakens the body’s general health and well-being. The Sanskrit word ama translates as “uncooked” or “immature”. It is therefore a result of a weakened agni which has not been able to sufficiently “cook”, or transform, the substances. We often translate ama therefore less literally as toxicity: a by-product of undigested foodstuffs, products that are ingested but left unmetabolised and so unable to be used by the body. A small amount of ama is harmless, but when it accumulates it can weaken body function, making us susceptible to disease and infection.
Therefore agni and ama are the antithesis of each other. A strong agni is needed for good health, and a weakened agni will result in ama which is the forebear of poor health and likely to result in disease and susceptibility to infections if left to accumulate over time.
OJAS is the result of a good strong agni and the resulting minimal ama accumulation within our body. Ojas translates in Sanskrit literally as vigour or bodily strength. And good ojas is therefore seen as synonymous with good immunity. From an Ayurveda perspective our inner reserves of strength and vitality are a consequence of our ojas. It is like a reserve of nectar and a person with alot of this ojas will have a radiance that seems to shine from the inside out, they will have a healthy glow and be fully of energy and have a magnetism to their persona, There is an ojas that we get from birth, which is like an innate constitutional strength, and an ojas that we nourish and cultivate through lifestyle and diet.
Whilst we cannot do much about that which birth and genetics has given us, there is plenty we can do to optimise and support ojas and so our immunity through our daily habits. And all that we do to support our ojas, will by definintion our agni functioning and reduce levels of ama within us.
Much of the treatment protocols in Ayurveda will be therefore not only about balancing dosha (Vata, Pitta, Kapha function), but also optimising agni function and reducing ama to support and nourish ojas. And whilst Ayurveda has wonderful herbal and body therapies within its toolkit of treatments, the cornerstones of all treatments are diet and lifestyle.
Ayurveda recognises that nature runs in cycles. There are the cycles of the seasons, of our age, of day and night, and of the moon. As human beings we are, of course, not separate from but also a part of nature. This means our bodies change with the seasons, our digestive capacity changes according to the time of day, and our vital reserves change through the various stages of our life. And so, Ayurveda would tell us that to attain our most natural birthright – health and happiness – we need to adapt our daily lives – our living and dietary habits – in accordance with these cycles. Much of what is recommended below is based on this premise.
There is much more to say about agni, ama and ojas and how to engage with these for a very comprehensive programme of self-care. For now, however, I have listed below twelve points to help you adapt your daily life, including your eating habits, to the cycles of nature for optimal agni function, reduced ama accumulation and increased ojas. I hope you’ll try out these simple steps for greater health, strength and physical (as well as mental-emotional) resilience through the lockdown days ahead:
1) Rise early, close to sunrise, and sleep by 10pm,
2) Drink a glass of warm water on rising to help clear toxins from the system.
3) On waking, practice Yoga sun salutes and gentle stretching to awaken the circulation, stimulate the lymphatics and to set your nervous system for the day ahead.
4) Yogic breathing will deeply oxygenate your cells promoting cellular vitality, and also help to balance your autonomic nervous system (pacifying the fight-flight part of your system), building greater stress resilience. It will also invaluably help to strengthen your respiratory system and lung function during this time. A qualified Yoga teacher can teach you the correct way to perform the breathing practices.
5) Daily meditation practice or time set aside during the day for relaxation will calm body and mind and support better sleep, essential of course for our physical, mental and emotional well-being.
6) Skin brushing at this time of year, before showering, with a raw silk glove or natural bristle brush will help to stimulate the lymphatics (which play a key role in immune strength).
7) Eat your main meal of the day at lunch time when the sun is highest in the sky, giving greatest strength to your digestive fire, eat lightly in the evening and try to avoid eating after sunset when the digestive fire is lessened.
8) Eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, and try to include these five colours in your daily intake to ensure a wider range of nutrients: green, orange, red, purple, brown.
9) Opt for a whole foods diet, with whole grains and legumes, in addition to your fruit and vegetables. Avoid refined foods and glutinous foods which can create congestion, weakening the lines of defence in our gut and in our lungs. Vary your foods to ensure a broader nutrient intake
10) Try to reduce animal products to about 20% of your weekly intake and opt for lighter meats and fish. Animal products are amongst the hardest foods to digest and so can sit in the tummy for the longest, creating toxicity as they sit there undigested. This toxicity places a demand on the immune that we are wanting to preserve.
11) Avoid sugar. Eating or drinking sugar can curb our immune system responses for at least a few hours.
12) Nourish your spirit daily with inspirational reading or viewing, connection with people who uplift you and time in nature.
A fantastic way to reset and keep your agni strong is with seasonal digestive reset and/or cleanse programmes. Please CLICK HERE for details on how our upcoming digestive reset programmes.
To understand further the importance of Seasonal cleansing for ongoing health and well-being please check our FREE webinar series on Ayurveda for Health and Resilience HERE;
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