One of the most important concepts in Ayurveda is the concept of transformation called Agni. From the moment of birth, when we take our first breath, till our last breath before we die, we go through transformation. Our whole life is a transformation and when this process of transformation stops completely, the existence comes to its end.
At the body level, Agni is the principle responsible for digestion, absorption and assimilation of not only food, but also of impressions we receive through our senses. Our body is made of the food that we eat. In order to be able to process the food and turn it into matter and energy needed for our tissues to be built and to function properly, it is necessary that our Agni functions properly. We could say that Agni’s activity manifests itself through enzymes, amino acids and metabolic activity as a whole. Agni in our body acts from the roughest level, i.e. digestive system, and all the way up to the cell level.
In Ayurvedic literature Agni is described as fire. As such, it transforms itself from one state to another and turns food into an integral part of our body. If you, for example, eat an apple or some rice, it turns into your body. However, that is not the only task that Agni does at the physiological level. Apart from transforming food into building blocks needed by our body, it has to eliminate from the food all the things our body should not keep. Therefore, we can say that Agni’s task is to separate the essence (sara) from the waste (kitta). In other words, a properly functioning Agni is a prerequisite for regular and efficient bodily waste elimination. The body excretes three main waste products (malas): stool, urine and sweat.
At the mental and emotional levels, Agni acts in the same way. Agni that is strong and balanced helps us distinguish between actions that contribute to our health and those that impair it. It helps us transform events and situations into experience, knowledge and wisdom. At the physical level, Agni separates the essence (sara), such as nutrients important for proper functioning of our body, from the waste (kitta) that has to be excreted. At the mental level, Agni is in charge of ensuring that we take out the positive from a situation that we have gone through. It helps us learn our lesson, grow and develop as human beings and eliminate the negative we have experienced throughout the process. We can say that at the mental and emotional levels Agni assimilates knowledge and experience as the essence and eliminates stress, sadness, fear or anger as waste products of a situation we have experienced. The severity of one’s experience is not necessarily the key factor in determining the level of trauma. Some individuals, who went through very traumatic experiences are able to, relatively easily, find both the will and strength to move on. On the other hand, those with weak Agni remain traumatized and marked by their traumatic experience. We could say that those individuals were not capable of “digesting” life situations they had to go through.
Since Ayurveda considers the digestive system to be of the utmost importance and that most illnesses therefore start exactly there, we can say that the reason for most internal diseases lies in the unbalanced Agni. Ayurveda goes even further and says that Agni is responsible for fighting against most external diseases such as infectious diseases. The point is that strong Agni means strong immunity and a person with strong immunity will not become ill even if in contact with pathogens.
In addition to its beneficial influence on our digestive system and transformation, Agni is in charge of our strength. It is said that a person with strong Agni is full of strength. The strength refers to two things. The first one is the capacity for physical effort and exercising, and the second one refers to being resistant to getting ill and growing old.
Depending on how it functions, there are four states of Agni:
Sama Agni – Balanced Agni
This is the ideal Agni. It is balanced and it results in regular appetite that is neither too weak, nor too strong. It digests food easily and eliminates waste products from the body.
Vishama Agni – Irregular Agni
Such Agni is alternately strong and weak. The person is often starving and then there is a period when they feel no need for food. Consequently, their digestion is irregular, and the elimination varies.
Mandya – Slowed down Agni
It can be connected to hypofunction. Appetite is weak, digestion and elimination are slowed down and there are different kinds of problems in processing food.
Tiksna Agni – Strong Agni
This type of Agni is too strong, i.e. it is strong to such an extent that it results in hypermetabolism. The person is constantly hungry and if they do not eat it causes problems. Although the food is digested with ease and eating junk food is not a problem, the intensity of Agni is such that it often leads to all kinds of inflammatory diseases.
Agni is in charge of forming tissues in our body in a proper way. In Ayurveda, it is said that each tissue in our body has its own Agni. It actually refers to transformation at the cell level. We know that each cell takes substances that are necessary for its proper functioning and elimination of waste. That process is the task of Agni at the tissue level.
Every conscious, responsible and socially-sensitive human being has a strong mental Agni. Agni opens the door to higher levels of consciousness. The level of discrimination between things and intelligence in persons with strong mental Agni (Chitta Agni) is very high. We can say that by developing Agni at the mental level we access higher levels of consciousness more easily.
The functions of Agni are:
- Digestion, absorption and elimination
- Visual perception
- Maintaining normal body temperature
- Maintaining appearance and color of the skin
- Creating feelings of fulfilment and courage
- Creating feelings of satisfaction and purpose
- Ability to discriminate between things
- Creating feeling of wholeness
- Enthusiasm and interest
- Supporting all metabolic activities
- Maintaining vital energy
- Logical thinking, strong intellect
- Stability, self-confidence and patience
- Maintaining and prolonging life
- Creating aura of health and “lightness of being”
- Strength and vitality