How to Strengthen Digestion and Cleanse Your Body
Updated: Jan 26
Digestion and toxicity. Agni and Ama. In Ayurveda strong digestion removes toxins and the main goal in Ayurveda is to strengthen Agni-digestion, and remove Ama-toxins.
Episode 90 Agni and Ama Transcript
This is Heather Johnson, and you're listening to the Ayurveda Life School Podcast, episode number 90 Agni and Ama.
Hello, my friends. Welcome to the podcast this morning. It is the last week in December, and I thought it would be timely that we end this year with a discussion about the strengthening of our digestion, the agni, and the buildup of toxicity or ama. So many people will decide they want to do a cleanse in the new year, or they want to have a new year's resolution that has to do with health. And ironically, we understand that's best to be done during the seasonal changes in the spring and the fall. But there is no reason that we can't start decreasing the amount of toxicity or the amount of Ama that our body is storing. And right now, after the holidays is a perfect time to do that. So I want to share with you today, a recording from a live call that I did, where I answered questions specifically about Ama and Agni. They truly do go hand in hand.
So as you listen to this, there'll be a lot of different questions that are posed. I hope that you're able to learn from this and find ways, tools and strategies to use as you come into the new year with greater health. Enjoy.
Welcome to the Agni and Ama Q&A 1:30
So the first question has come in.
Question #1 is: You mentioned other types of agni. What are those?
Jathragni is the main digestive fire in the body. It's in the stomach and it releases all of the enzymes that we need in order to digest. We know agni has a close relationship to Pitta. They have the same qualities. They both have that hot, sharp, light, dry quality. And so we can often just say agni and Pitta are kind of the same thing, but in the digestive fire Jathragni is the main digestive fire for the body. And it's housed in the stomach. It's controlled by Pitta.
This is why people who have a Pitta constitution usually have really strong digestive fire because they already have all the same qualities as agni. And that helps them to just have more digestion.
What are the other digestive fires in the body? You actually have digestive fire or agni in every single cell of your body. It's anything that is transforming, or that is metabolizing. And when you look at an individual cell and what it does, it is transforming and metabolizing all the time.
Cellular agni functions 03:00
It's creating energy, right? It uses the mitochondria to do that. And it has a lot of different functions that have to happen within the cell that are all about cell metabolism. It's kind of its own little ecosystem in there. So then as we kind of step back and take it to a bigger level and just look at the digestive aspects of this digestion, the agni or fire, we go from Jathragni in the stomach, and then the food is processed through the stomach and the small intestines, all of the doshas are helping with this.
Elemental Agnis 3:40
And then when it gets into the liver, once it goes through circulation, this is where we find our other main agnis. There are five, here we call these the Buthu agnis. I like the word Bhutu-just means elements. So these are the elemental agnis, and these match up to each element: ether, air, fire, water, and earth.
And so each digestive fire that's found in the liver takes the food that's coming from the small intestine into circulation. At this point it's not really recognizable as food, right? It's been broken down into its smaller parts, amino acids, carbohydrates, fats. But there's different energies depending on the food that you ate. And so the Bhutu agni’s in the liver actually separates and processes out the food based upon the elemental qualities. Okay?
So it's able to take food that is very heavy and dense, and it can separate that out as earth quality. It can take food that is very moist and flowing and separate that out as water and so on. So that's what's happening in the liver and those qualities or those elemental qualities are called Ahara rasa. The food from the stomach and small intestine is also called ahara rasa. But once it comes into the liver is a refined version of ahara rasa.
Ahara Rasa 04:43
So this is refined ahara rasa, and it's just that breaking it down to that next level. So from a Western standpoint, we might look at the actual molecular composition. In Ayurveda we look at the energetics of the elements, okay?
So that's why it's important to understand how the elements affect our body. And then the final stage as it moves from the liver, it then is actually forming tissue in the body.
7 Tissue Types 5:15
This is kind of a big conversation. So I'll just give you the highlights. And hopefully this is answering the question that you asked. So in Ayurveda, we believe that there are seven layers of tissue development. They go rasa, I'll give you the Sanskrit. And I'll tell you what it means. Rasa, which is the mucous membranes of the body, the fluids in the body. Rakta, which is your blood and your circulatory system. Mamsa, the muscle. Medas, the fat tissue. Asthi which are the bones, and Majja which is the nervous system. And Shukra, the reproductive tissue.
Tissue Creation 05:31
So the way that the body creates is there's the digestive fire, and it moves down through those tissue levels. So if you have really good nutritious food, there'll be enough to make it all the way down to the reproductive tissue to create strong reproductive tissue.
But if you ate something that wasn't very high quality, or you took in things that don't nourish your body, it might peter out and by the time it gets down to the shukra, the reproductive tissue there's just not a lot of good nutrients left in order to build that tissue. So we believe that they transfer, right? We take part of it for the rasa, the membranes of the body, and then we pass the rest down and then that creates the blood.
We pass the rest down and that creates the muscle, pass it down, creates the fat, pass it down, creates the bone, pass it down, creates the nervous system, pass it down, and then creates the reproductive tissue.
Each of those layers of tissue have its own agni.
So we really look at 13 main agni’s, the Jathragni, which is a main one, the five elemental Bhutu Agnis in the liver, and then the Dhatu agni’s that are in each layer of the tissues of your body.
Question 2: Okay. Let's take another question here. Okay. My appetite really varies depending on the day and what I am doing. How do I regulate that?
Okay. This is a good question too. So our appetite is directly tied to our agni.
If our digestive fire is able to burn and process everything we're bringing in, then we'll have a good, healthy appetite. We'll be hungry at the same intervals, but if we're eating very erratically, that's going to play into affecting your ability to have a good appetite. So if you're finding that it varies depending on the day and what you're doing, it's probably most likely tied to your routine.
So if you don't have a consistent routine, you're not doing the same things at the same time, you're not eating at the same times. Then you're going to find that your body's just not being able to be hungry because it's still working and processing the food, or maybe you're eating really close together and then taking a really long gap and then eating close together and then taking a gap. It's muffling the digestive fire. It's like, you're putting a big wet blanket on it.
Get yourself on a Schedule 08:23
So the best way that you're going to regulate that is by getting yourself on a schedule, just pretend you're a toddler again, and you need to have your meals or you get a little cranky. And even when you're not feeling that hunger level, the more you can consistently take something in, even if it's just an herbal tea, that's going to really help. So get yourself on a routine. You'll find your appetite will regularize. Ff you've been very erratic in your eating for awhile and you're very elevated in your Vata dosha, you've had a lot of dryness, anxiety, insomnia, constipation, all those things that come with lotta, then it might take you a little while to regulate your agni. But as soon as you can start that routine and that routine way of eating, the routine patterns of sleeping, you'll start to see it normalize.
And it might be a little different normal for you than someone else. In Ayurveda we know no two people are the same. So you might find that your agni regulates and you still don't have a super strong appetite, but you have a need for food. You feel like, okay, I'm a little hungry. I could eat lunch now. And it's happening at the same time of day.
So starting to keep track of that, maybe even put a little paper on your fridge and track your hunger throughout the day. Check in with yourself every two or three hours. Set an alarm on your phone so that you can see, okay, am I hungry now? Do I feel hungry? And if you're finding it's really erratic, look at what you've been doing that day. That might be why you're seeing it vary from day to day.
Question 3: Our next question is, should we eat on a schedule if we're not hungry?
Okay. So that kind of goes in with what we were just saying. Should you be eating on a schedule if you're not actually hungry? Yes.
But the amount and what you're going to eat is going to be modified. If you're coming off of a very erratic eating schedule, you don't want to then suddenly start eating three big meals a day. Your body can't handle it. It's not going to digest it well.
What you would do is take things that are small portions that are easy for you to digest. For example, cooked fruit is really great. I recommend often cooked apples, especially in the morning, which is when most people don't have an appetite. So if that's what you're addressing or referring to let me know if there's another part of that, you can type it in. But if it's a morning thing, eating a cooked apple, it's going to solve that problem. And you could do half of a cooked Apple.
If that even sounds like, Oh, I just can't eat that. I have no appetite in the morning. Just start doing something to stimulate your digestion in the bonus materials. Digestive remedies like teas and herbs would really help.
Ginger tea 10:40
So maybe having ginger tea or a ginger chew. If you're not familiar with that-you just take fresh ginger, peel a little slice, just a thin little round off, squeeze some lime on there, sprinkle a little Himalayan sea salt, the pink kind is the best. And just have that about 15 minutes before you would like to be hungry. So if you're trying to get yourself to want to have breakfast about 8:30 in the morning, have that ginger round about 15 minutes before that.
Kapha digestion-2 meals a day 11:00
And then just see over time, if that increases your appetite, I'm going to give you a caveat. I don't know what dosha you are cause you didn't type that in. If you are predominantly Kapha dosha you'll probably always have a lower appetite. So what we recommend for Kapha dosha is that you don't force yourself to eat when you're not hungry. Of course we shouldn't do that, but we would limit the size and have less meals. So two meals a day would be very appropriate for a Kapha dosha.
But if you are Vata dosha, and you're not hungry because your schedule is so erratic, like we just addressed, then you would want to get yourself on a more consistent schedule of eating and have just something really, even like a brothy soup would be great if you're not hungry at those times. But if you're Kapha you could go with two meals a day.
Most people, when they try to go to two meals a day, do lunch and dinner, but it's actually better for you. If you can get your body to convert, to doing breakfast and lunch. And that could be a later breakfast around 10:00 AM. If that works better for your digestive fire and then lunch at one. And then if you want to have something at night, but you're not really hungry, you just want to eat with the family, have a brothy soup or some tea.
So you can try swapping that if you're doing that extended period of time without eating.
Question #4 What about intermittent fasting?
You guys are all on the same page today. Okay. So intermittent fasting. We just kind of addressed that. It is not a useful tool for anyone except for a Kapha Dosha. Okay. So traditional intermittent fasting as it's being taught in the West now is anywhere from 12 to 16 hours with no food.
Kapha Intermittent fasting 12:53
Most people will stop eating after dinner and then they skip breakfast and they eat again at lunch. As I just mentioned, it's better for kapha dosha if they can get their digestive fire going earlier in the day. It’s better if you can do breakfast and lunch and start with a little later and then slowly inch it back.
it'd be better if it was earlier in the day for your breakfast. If that's just not going to work for you, have some ginger tea in the morning, have your lunch as your biggest meal, and have a very small light early dinner. So that's just for Kapha.
Pitta Intermittent Fasting 13:20
For pitta’s, intermittent fasting is really hard on a pitta, but they're very driven so they can often do it. It's just not really good for your body because you naturally have this high fire that we talked about because agni and pitta are basically the same thing.
So when you have this high fire going, if you're not providing it fuel, you're causing the body to potentially burn out the mucus membranes, which is not a good thing. We don't want to end up with ulcerations in the stomach. And it's also dousing that digestive fire. It's causing it to almost go all the way out. So your body can't process the food as well. Once you bring it in, it's better. If you keep those steady regular meals for pitta, three times a day.
Vata Intermittent Fasting 14:00
Now for a vata, we don't recommend intermittent fasting. It actually increases Vata energy. When you think about it, if you're restricting food for an extended period of time, it's creating more space.
There's nothing in there. Space is one of the elements that go with Vata, dosha space or ether.
So when you are intermittent fasting, you're actually increasing the amount of vata in your body and in your emotions, which then leads to more variability in appetite, constipation, gas, and bloating. So for vatas, I don't recommend intermittent fasting.
It is not a useful tool for them, but for Kapha, they can do it and experiment with when the meals should be. PItta does best with those three meals a day. Okay. Hopefully that answered that. I know intermittent fasting is really popular, so it can be a challenge to maybe not want to try that. And if you have tried it in the past and you've had a hard time, it's probably because you were not predominantly kapha dosha.
Question #5 What kind of foods will help improve my agni? 15:10
All right. What kind of foods improve agni? Foods that match the qualities of agni. If you remember agni and Pitta are closely connected. So what are some of the qualities of Pitta? The most important one is heat. So the temperature-something that is hot, that is light, that is dry, that's sharp, rough, and clear. All of those things would help with increasing your Agni or digestive fire.
Some of those qualities you're like, I don't know what that means when you say something is a sharp food, but it could be that it's something that creates a little bit of intensity in the body.
Herbs to increase agni 16:00
So maybe it's a spice, like black pepper that would increase agni. Maybe it's some ginger, which we know ginger is good for digestion. So that might be something like that. Some of the spices that are really great to help increase agni are ginger, coriander, cumin, cardamom, fennel, clove, rock salt.
You can actually make a really nice mixture or a Churna like a powder mixture with those different herbs and just play with the ratios on that. I really like cumin as a digestive aid. It's very helpful for moving the food through, but it doesn't increase your Pitta. So if you have too much heat already, those are all really good herbs that help. And they won't increase it too much, but they will help your digestion to be a little smoother, a little less gas and heat. A little less bloating.
Foods for increasing agni 16:40
As far as actual foods that you eat, think about the digestibility of the food. You want it to be able to break down easily. So if you really have sluggish digestion, things are just not moving very well in there. A soup is going to be great A nice brothy soup will be very helpful if you're also feeling that you are feeling like sluggish or you're having gas.
So those are kind of your two opposites. You have sluggish digestion, you might have gassy bloating. If you have gas and bloating you want food that's a little bit more dense, but not too hard to digest. So you might do a soup that has a little bit of root vegetables in it. And they're well cooked because that's going to digest really well.
Avoiding raw foods, avoiding foods that are very cold. This is important. If you're putting a whole lot of cold foods like ice cream, dairy products, cold ice water, anything that's taken straight from your fridge and eaten even like cold fruit, it's going to cause havoc on your digestion. So we want to make sure that we're bringing in food that is the same quality as agni so that we can strengthen that digestive fire.
Eat warm cooked foods for agni 17:43
So remember bringing stuff that's hot, warm your food, cook your food, even your salads. This is shocking to people. They think that's so weird, but you can saute your salad, do it in a little bit of ghee to bring in some moisture which will help as well. And then you can just eat that and you'll digest it.
No water with meals 18:00
Something else that is really useful is to stop drinking water with your meals. Hmm. This is a hard one for most people. They love the drink of water and wash the food down. But if you're having enough warm foods and they're well cooked, you're not going to need as much fluid. So you can do up to a half a cup if your meal is a little on the drier side. But if you're eating soup, you probably won't need that extra moisture of the water. So separate out your drinking and have it further away from your meals.
Hot water therapy 18:30
One other thing that can be really helpful for this is if you're having a hot water therapy, what you would do is actually boil your water. Let it cool. Just a bit so that it's not going to burn you and then put it in a thermos. Throughout the day, every 15 minutes or so, take a little sip of that water.
What that does is it keeps the channels of the body clear. It keeps the agni fire strong so that when you're ready to eat again, it's able to digest. And it's a really good thing to do if you're trying to cleanse. But it's important that you boil it first, that it's not just warm from the tap. It changes the properties of the water and it will actually help it. That's one thing I use my tea kettle for every day is just to boil up my water in the morning. And then I just put that in my thermos. And my thermos only holds about three cups. So I usually have to do it twice, but that’s okay.
Question #6 Is it possible to be totally clear of ama? 19:29
Hmm, well only in a perfect world where there was nothing to throw you out of balance. So if you recall, ama is the toxicity in your body. It's a buildup of undigested matter, and that could be undigested emotions and undigested food, but it's a buildup of this. And so as that toxicity builds in the body, it blocks the channels of your body. The more that we can keep those clear, the better things will move for us and you'll have better energy, digestion, and health.
But is it possible to have it be totally clear all the time? No, probably not. But we are working towards a balanced agni so that we're able to burn off the food that comes in. We don't leave any ama behind and we're having a clean digestive tract.
Eliminating emotional ama 20:20
So everything is being used. And then we were eliminating the waste through the bowels. We just don't want to hold onto things. An area that we really neglect when we think about this is the emotional ama. You have an experience, for example, you had a fight with your spouse. Okay. And you didn't resolve the way that you felt afterwards. You kind of held on to that emotion. You stewed on it a little bit. Maybe you talk to your sister or your girlfriends about it and kind of made that even bigger. And then you're wondering why you have these unresolved feelings of anger. And then years and years of this kind of emotion can lead to long-term ama and toxicity in the body. We need to learn how to process emotion when it's happening.
Start to notice emotions 21:30
The first thing you can do is start to notice how you're feeling when you have an experience that maybe leaves you with a negative feeling. And when I say feeling, I mean literally a feeling in your body because our emotions are stored within the body and the cells. And we know now that agni is in all the cells, but if we're not allowing that processing to happen, it's blocking and clogging the channels in our bodies and our minds and our hearts. We're not able to live at our highest vibrational state because there's something blocking the vibration. So start to be aware of the way you feel when something happens.
Feeling your emotions 21:53
And if you have a habitual way of handling your emotions, maybe it's eating something. Maybe it's watching something, maybe you get onto Amazon and you're shopping. Just notice, be aware, okay. I just opened up this whole jar of Nutella and I'm just eating it with a spoon. Why am I doing this? What just happened that's affecting my emotions? Instead of eating right now I need to just feel my emotions for a minute.
When we can acknowledge and feel the emotions that's where the healing comes in. That's when we release that mental and emotional ama, because that is just as detrimental to our health as physical ama.
How to know if your ama is decreasing 22:35
And no, we'll never be completely free of this because we're constantly having new things happen to us. We're constantly eating food, but we can get to a level where the ama is really so minimal that we're not seeing it on our tongues.
We're not noticing all of the fatigue and the lethargy and the mental fog and all of the emotional upset that comes with it. We're not experiencing bad body odor or gas, which are all things that come with ama.
So you'll know it's decreasing when all of those symptoms start to decrease. Okay. So that's how you can kind of keep track of that.
Question #7 Can you tell me more about how Ayurveda views digestion?
Okay. This will kind of be a bigger one. Digestion, according to Ayurveda is much the same as we view it in the West, but everything has different names and we understand the why behind it a little bit more. So to understand this, let me give you just a highlight.
Digestive channel 23:36
The body is made up of channels, right? We have the digestive channel and in Western medicine, we would call it the digestive system. In Ayurveda we call it the Mahavaha Strotas. Srota ta is just another word for channel. Maha means great, a great channel. And it encompasses everything from the mouth to the rectum. So it's all of the digestive system. And the organs that go with it is part of that Mahavaha Srotas.
And then we divide it up into two sections. The upper portion is the stomach and the small intestine. We call that the Annavaha Srotas. And then the lower portion, which is the colon, the large intestine, we call that the Purishavaha Srotas. That's one reason why purisha is another word for feces because of where it lives in the colon.
So when the body is digesting food, and I talked about this in a recent podcast that you could listen to as well about the stages of digestion, it goes through some stages.
Stages of Digestion 24:32
So Kapha is very involved in the mouth in digesting carbohydrates. Cause that's where carbohydrates start to digest. When you chew on something, the saliva, which is part of Kapha, begins to break down the carbs and then the food comes down into the stomach. And while you've been chewing it, your body's preparing right. It's starting to lower the pH of the food. But initially that pH level, it's about a four and it can digest things very well. So once it gets to about a four, that's the perfect digestive stage for carbohydrates. It continues to digest with salivary amylase.
And then pitta get’s involved. Pitta lives in that lower part of the stomach and the small intestines. And so it starts to release hydrochloric acid. It activates pepsin, which breaks down proteins, but we call all of these digestive enzymes, the Packaka Pitta. So breaking down everything throughout the digestive tract, in the lower part of the stomach and in the small intestine. Then the food starts to move down into the small intestine and the pancreas, which is also a pitta organ releases enzymes.
And it releases pancreatic enzymes that help to break down proteins, further break down the carbohydrates. And then the liver gets engaged. We know the liver is the main home of Pitta. It is not it's primary home, but it is a main location where pitta lives. We say the liver and the gallbladder together are Pitta organs. And then the pancreas has kind of a supporting pitta organ. Because they all deal with digestion.
So the liver, as a pitta organ, creates bile. Bile is like Pitta personified. We actually call all of that digestive enzyme, Like I said, pachaka pitta. Bile is made in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released into the small intestines. And that's where fat begins to emulsify and be broken down by that bile. And it's further broken down by other pancreatic enzymes as well. So when we start to move the food down into the large intestine, that's where vata comes in.
So Vata has a sub dosha in the small intestine called samana vayu. And samana vayu deals with absorption. It's absorbing all of the nutrients that you're bringing in. And so when samana vayu is out of control, if you've got too much air moving into your body, you're not going to have any absorption going on. Food is just going to sit and stagnate. That's when you'll see scalloping on your tongue. So when you see that in the morning, it's because samana vayu has been blowing too hard. The fire is not working properly and you're not digesting your food and absorbing it. It might be broken down, but it could just be sitting in the small intestine. And then it starts to move all the way down into the large intestine. And it's eliminated through the body with apana vayu, another subdosha of vata.
Summary of digestion 27:14
So you can kind of think of Kapha in charge up here with the carbs. Proteins are taken care of by pitta in the stomach and small intestine. And then fats start in the small intestine and are eliminated through the bowels. And vata is what helps with that elimination.
That's how we look at digestion from an Ayurvedic standpoint. And that allows us to pinpoint what's actually going on, which dosha is having trouble with digestion. So I really recommend listening to that stages of digestion podcast and it will help you to understand that concept a little more fully.
I hope that you enjoyed listening to that Q and A, and that you learned something new about how to strengthen your own agni, how to clear up ama so that you could have greater health.
Enjoy the rest of 2020. We are so looking forward to 2021 and all that it will bring. Have a beautiful week. We'll talk to you soon.