Constitutional fire is responsible for digestion. It is availability of fire that determines the production of gastric juices: hydrochloric acid, bile, enzymes, in short the caustic chemicals that are required for the breakdown of food and its conversion into micro nutrients that can be assimilated by the body and bulk matter that needs to be eliminated. Whenever this fire,, is weak, there is not enough digestive power to metabolize food.
What this means is that an individual could be on what might be touted as the world’s most perfect diet and still not be able to digest the food.
According to Ayurveda, all creation arises out of five great elements known as Panchamahabhutas. This phenomenal world is created first by the qualities of akash or space, which gives us the container for all form. Within this space vayu or air then manifests all possible movement. Agni or fire becomes responsible for all transformation and thus all possibilities. Next, jala or water offers the breeding ground for life and finally prithvi or earth gives shape that is recognizable to all senses, which are the perceivers of this manifestation.
Agni, the pivotal mahabhuta in this chain of creation is the capacity to digest and transform. As in the macrocosm (universe) so in the microcosm (us), says Ayurveda. Thus, as in the case of food (sustenance) it is what takes an apple and breaks it down into its essential components (parimanus) and then reconfigures them into the consciousness that permeates and nourishes us at the cellular level
According to Ayurveda, there are four possible states of agni, reflecting our constitutional makeup and its vagrancies. These are sama (balanced metabolism), vishama (irregular metabolism), tikshna (hypermetabolism) and manda (slow metabolism). To understand these different states of digestion requires an understanding of the doshas. Simply put, doshas are constitutional humors composed of the five great elements. They manifest as forces of movement, of transformation and of stability. Their vagrancies reflect excessive movement, excessive heat and excessive mucosal secretions.
Vata, the first dosha, is composed of the elements of space and air and will give rise to vishama agni as an erratic digestion, with the peristaltic movement being unpredictable, creating irregularity in appetite, variability in digestion, abdominal distention, indigestion, gases and constipation.
Pitta, composed mainly of fire and some water, is the dosha that creates tikshna agni when out of balance. Because of its hot, sharp, fire like qualities it causes an excessive release of acids and enzymes and thus a desire for large quantities of food. Its liquid, sour and hot qualities can then cause hyperacidity, gastritis, heartburn and diarrhea, and eventually lead to ulcers or colitis.
Kapha, the most stable dosha, when increased, turns sluggish and slow. This is because it is composed of the heaviest of the five elements: water and earth. It thus causes manda agni or a dull and slow digestion. Even a small meal can cause heaviness in the stomach, colds, congestion and cough. It can lead to edema, obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Manifestation of Digestive Problems
These developments of the different states of digestion are further reflected in deeper changes as the effects move steadily into our physical and psychological being. Vishama agni or irregular digestion eventually leads to dry skin, cracking joints, lower back pain and insomnia. Emotionally, the predictable results include anxiety, insecurity, fear and other neurological disorders. Tikshna agni or sharp digestion can cause inflammatory conditions especially of the skin; pain in the liver, nausea and vomiting. The individual thus affected becomes judgmental and critical, and carries feelings of hate, envy and anger. Manda agni or slow digestion leads eventually to lethargy, excessive sleep, cold clammy skin and general weakness of the body. Mentally, there can be greed, attachment and possessiveness.
The net result of any of these three states of agni is the build up of a sticky, foul substance called ama. Indicated by lethargy, a coated tongue and foul breath, this undigested substance can be recognized today as high cholesterol, candida, late onset diabetes, acute constipation and/or diarrhea among other ailments. In Ayurvedic thinking all diseased states arise as a result of ama, whether physical or mental and all ama is the result of an improperly functioning agni. In fact the key to a healthy agni is the intake of easily digested, fresh, lightly cooked, compatible foods eaten consciously at the appropriate times.
The ideal state of agni, that which is known as sama agni, is achieved by the balancing of the doshas. When agni is in equilibrium it produces a healthy metabolism. People with a healthy metabolism are blessed with strong constitutions where digestion, absorption and elimination are regular. This leads to good health, longevity and a strong immune system. People with sama agni are characterized by a calm, loving demeanor and great clarity of mind.
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