• Dr. M. Abhijit MD, DYA

What is digestive fire and how it affects my health?



In Ayurveda, digestive fire is termed as Jatharagni, where Jathar means stomach while Agni means fire. Jatharagni comes from Pitta bio-energy which is the only bio-energy with dominant fire element. Every living organism has a Jatharagni and it ceases to function in a dead creature.

There are many health concepts which are unique to Ayurveda. They reflect the wisdom of the ancient vedic science and form Ayurveda’s guiding philosophy. The concept that deals with the process of digestion and metabolism is Agni. The way in which the digestion power of organism has been conceptualized under the title of Agni is simply outstanding. Understanding this concept alone can help explain many pathologies and offer effective solution and even cure for them. In this article, we will discuss digestive fire, how it affects our metabolism, what factors affects the intensity of our digestive fire and how we can maintain our digestive fire and harness its power by following simple principles of Ayurveda to lead a healthy and happy life.


What is Jatharagni ?


In Sanskrit and Hindi, Agni refers to fire. Food ingredients like wheat and rice are inedible and unabsorbable for human body unless they are adequately cooked on fire. If food’s exposure to fire is not adequate, it can leave food half-cooked and human body may not be unable to fully digest and absorb it. That’s why, cooking is not only an art but also a technique and cooking food item on adequately strong flame for sufficiently long period of time forms a very important part of cooking if one really wants to come up with a good delicacy. The same logic is applicable to digestion & metabolism. Ayurveda believes that our digestive system too has a fire which is responsible for digesting the ingested food in the same way as fire in kitchen is responsible for cooking food ingredients and making them edible. Ayurveda experts say that gastric fire must be strong enough and act on food for long enough for proper digestion and absorption of food. It is the digestive fire that converts ingested food into a usable form, one that human body can absorb.


In Ayurveda, digestive fire is termed as Jatharagni, where Jathar means stomach while Agni means fire. Jatharagni comes from Pitta bio-energy which is the only bio-energy with dominant fire element. Every living organism has a Jatharagni and it ceases to function in a dead creature.


In a living being, Jatharagni carries out following functions:


  • Digestion & absorption of ingested food

  • Production & elimination of urine, stool & sweat

  • Maintaining good taste in mouth

  • Destruction of external disease causing substances & organisms that enter the body.





What factors influence Jatharagni ?


In a healthy individual intensity & functioning of Jatharagni gets influenced by numerous psychosomatic factors. Some important factors are as follows:


  • Constitution / Prakruti: Every individual has different amount of stamina, the intensity of Jatharagni also differs from individual to individual. Pitta constitution harbours strong fire element in itself, hence individuals with Pitta constitution generally have very strong Jatharagni. They have strong hunger & thirst and are the first ones to get hangry because it is very difficult for them to bear both hunger and thirst. Pitta constitution individuals need to eat something as soon as they feel hungry, otherwise they are most likely to suffer headache or may even faint. They are able to digest high quantity of food and drinks. Foods which are heavy to digest are also tolerated well by them. On the other hand, Kapha constitution indivuduals have a Jatharagni with moderate intensity. So, their hunger, thirst and intake of food & drinks are moderate. They can also bear hunger & thirst for long period without experiencing any major discomfort. The intensity of Jatharagni generally keeps fluctuating in Vata constitution individuals. At times Jatharagni of dominant Vata individuals is well-ignited, resulting in strong hunger & thirst and good digestion. But at times, Jatharagni may not function so well. That results in poor hunger, thirst and digestion. Vata constitution individuals generally have problems in digesting heavy food items and are more prone to suffer from problems like flatulence, abdominal heaviness & constipation. Hence, even though every individual has Jatharagni, its nature and capability may vary from one constitution to other.

  • Age: Age is yet another factor that influences intensity of Jatharagni. After birth, intensity of Jatharagni keeps rising steadily and reaches its peak in our twenties. It remains at its peak for following three decades or so and then shows a steady decline. Jatharagni is minimal in old age.

  • Season: Effects of season on Jatharagni often go unnoticed though they are generally remarkable and we all experience it. Cold season ignites Jatharagni very well, as a result hunger is strong while thirst is mild during cold season. Foods which are heavy to digest may be consumed during such seasons as they are less likely to cause any digestion issues. However, in hot season Jatharagni is not at its best. While thirst may be strong during such days, hunger is generally weak. Consuming heavy food items is therefore not a great idea during hot seasons.

  • State of Mind: The fact that mental state can directly influence intensity of Jatharagni was well-known to the sages of India thousands of years ago. They emphasized that worry, grief, tension, stress and negative emotions weaken Jatharagni. As a result, one loses appetite and even consumption of light food in moderate quantity may not be digested properly by our body. The effect of psychological factors on Jatharagni is therefore significant and should never be trivialized.

In healthy individuals Jatharagni may not be same all the time and may undergo changes due to different factors like season and mental state.


How Pathological changes affect Jatharagni ?


While effects of constitution, age and season on Jatharagni are inevitable, different illnesses too have their own effects on intensity & functioning of Jatharagni. Such changes are however considered pathological as they can seriously affect metabolism and health of the individual.


There are 3 main pathological changes that are possible in Jatharagni:


  1. Mandagni (weak digestive fire) – This is probably the most common impairment seen in Jatharagni. When Jatharagni loses its normal vigour and capacity, then it is described as Mandagni where mand means weak. A individual with Mandagni does not have good hunger and is unable to digest even normal & usual quantity of food. He may also suffer from other digestion related problems such as gas, heaviness in abdomen, unsatisfactory motions and so on. Numerous illnesses like fever, diarrhoea and psychological factors like stress can cause Mandagni. Sweet and fatty items can weaken the Jatharagni if consumed repeatedly in high quantity. Meat, wheat items like bread, buffalo milk, butter, cream, cheese, ice cream, sweet jams & chocolate are heavy to digest and can therefore cause Mandagni. Lack of sufficient physical movement and exercises can also cause Mandagni.

  2. Vishamagni (variable digestive fire) – Visham means irregular. When intensity of Jatharagni keeps fluctuating, then it is described as Vishamagni. Such fire is at times well-ignited, gives rise to strong hunger and digests the food really well. But at times, Jatharagni may not function so well, may not generate proper hunger and may not digest the food so well. Vishamagni generally reflects aggravation of Vata dosh.

  3. Atyagni (too strong digestive fire) – Abnormally strong Jatharagni is called Atyagni. A individual suffering from it feels excessively hungry, thier food intake increases remarkably and they may put on lot of weight. Sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent items stimulate Jatharagni. Most of the spices (black pepper, turmeric etc) are pungent and therefore ignite the Jatharagni. Their excessive & indiscriminate consumption can cause Atyagni.


How can I protect my Jatharagni ?


Ayurveda experts believe that health of an individual depends upon state of Jatharagni. Healthy Jatharagni keeps individual healthy by properly digesting ingested food, preventing production of toxins in body and destroying disease causing external organisms. On the other hand, impaired Jatharagni can cause numerous ailments to an individual. Keeping Jatharagni healthy is extremely important if an individual wants to enjoy good health.


Here are a few tips to take care of your Jatharagni:


  • Food consumed in proper quantity as per one’s constitution keeps Jatharagni healthy while food consumed in improper quantity without taking into account one’s constitution (Prakruti) negatively impacts Jatharagni.

  • Frequently changing meal times and late dinner at night can have negative effect on Jatharagni while fixed meal times & early dinner timings can protect the Jatharagni.

  • Binge eating and consumption of fast food & junk food can weaken Jatharagni. Food that is not cooked completely and properly can also weaken Jatharagni.

  • Presence of fire-stimulating ingredients (like ginger, turmeric etc.) and appetizers in food can protect Jatharagni while their absence can weaken Jatharagni.

  • Consuming heavy food items like deserts, cakes, cold drinks & ice creams at the end of the meal or late at night can weaken Jatharagni. A good hack is eating them during day and that too at the beginning of meal. That helps protect Jatharagni.

  • Drinking excessive amount of water before or during meals can weaken Jatharagni. Drinking warm water, warm soups and herbal teas made from suitable herbs can protect Jatharagni.

  • Fasting in excessive quantity and in improper manner can weaken Jatharagni while fasting done measured quantity and in systematic manner can protect Jatharagni.

  • Frequently changing sleep timings, keeping awake late at night and sleep during day especially after lunch can weaken Jatharagni. Sleeping early at night and getting up early in the morning protects the Jatharagni.

  • Regular physical exercises can keep Jatharagni healthy. Yogasanas, Suryanamaskar and Pranayam prove effective against all three impairments of Jatharagni mentioned above. In fact, they can harmonize the disturbed Jatharagni and keep it healthy for years.

  • Meditation and Yoganidra can combat negative effects of psychological factors such as stress & anxiety and help in keeping Jatharagni healthy.



Conclusion:

  • Good digestion and elimination are key to healthy and happy life.

  • In our body, our Jatharagni i.e. digestive fire is responsible for properly digesting ingested food and its elimination.

  • Digestive fire can vary according to seasons, Ayurveda constitution (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) or individual health condition.

  • Digestive fire can be maintained by following an Ayurvedic lifestyle as shared above.

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About Us: Mayur Tulum is an Ayurveda healing center based in Tulum, Mexico.


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Any information in this article should not be viewed as medical advice. Please seek consultation of a qualified Ayurveda physician in your area. Alternatively, you can also contact us to schedule your online consultation.

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