What’s Your Ayurvedic Gut Type?
It’s not only the foods that we eat that are fundamental to our health, but also how our body is able to digest and assimilate our food.Even if we are eating the most organic, home grown and healthy seasonal food, if your digestive system is not working well, then…the outcome is not going to be good! Toxins will accumulate and the disease process is then underway.
Ayurveda believes that a major cause of all diseases is an impaired digestive system. This can be caused by taking of improper foods, emotional disturbances, stress, skipping meals, overeating or an ongoing imbalance in the doshas.Ayurveda tells us that here are four typical gut types.
Knowing your body’s digestive systems tendencies will give you greater awareness of what is happening in your body. And, awareness is the catalyst for change…right?Let’s start with what Ayurveda calls Agni.
Agni, literally means fire or a transforming will or force. It is your digestive fire, the power that generates your appetite and your ability to digest.Agni plays the role of digesting our food into a state that the body can assimilate, extracting the nutrient portion from foods to nourish our tissues, and destroying pathogens such as bacteria.
We have 13 main Agnis, (and some sources state that there are 40 types of Agni in the body). The primary one that I’m writing about today is located in the stomach and upper small intestine.The digestion and assimilation of sensory input (all of our experiences) is also governed by a subtle form of Agni. Therefore, intelligence, understanding, perception and comprehension are also functions of Agni.
I like to think that every cell has its own little Agni that gives that cell intelligence, the power to digest nutrients and remove wastes.Good digestion is the foundation of health and creates a strong immune system, healthy tissues, a clear mind and abundant energy.
Agni has 4 possible states. It can be in balance, in excess, low or variable.Balanced agni is the gold standard that we all strive for!
When Agni is balanced we have a normal and regular appetite and feel easily satisfied after eating.Bowels movements are regular, well-formed and easy to pass. There is little gas or bloating and no pain. There is clarity of mind, and a sense of lightness in the body. More spring in your step!
Next is low Agni called Manda Agni. This is more common in Kapha individuals; who have an abundance of the Earth and Water elements.Low Agni gives a feeling of drowsiness after eating. It creates excess mucous and congestion, heavy indigestion, and sluggish constipation.When Agni is low there is often an accompanying foggy mind and we are unable to make clear decisions. Emotions may become heavy too.
With low Agni it is important to allow the strength of appetite to grow, allow the fire to be kindled before eating. It is good to leave longer gaps between meals. In other words only eat when you are actually hungry. Avoid emotional eating and mindless snacking!Avoid harder to digest foods like meat, dairy, wheat, cold and raw foods and fatty foods.In this scenario, if we just wait and do not smother our Agni with unneeded food, it will rekindle of its own accord and one’s appetite and digestive power will be restored.
Our body is always moving towards a state of health. Sometimes we just have to get out of the way!Sipping hot water or herbal teas in between meals will help to stoke your digestive fire. Adding ginger, black pepper, garlic and even a little chilli or cayenne to meals will help to bring Agni back to life.
The third type of Agni is excess Agni or Tikshna Agni.
It is more common in the fiery Pitta individuals whose digestive fire ore easily runs too high. This creates a feeling of continual hunger, of wanting to eat frequent and large meals, yet one feels a lack of satisfaction. There is often a sour taste in the mouth, heartburn and diarrhoea. Skin rashes are common.With high Agni one becomes more easily irritated and cranky. Hangry! Stand between someone with high Agni and their food at your own peril!
Eating spicy foods is like adding fuel to the fire. If Agni is high avoid strong spices like chilli and black pepper, but take bitters such as aloe juice.Warm, cooked food that is only very mildly spiced will help to bring the fire down again. Fresh bitter greens, coconut juice and cooling foods like cucumber and coriander will also help to tame the fire.
The last gut type is Variable Agni or Vishama Agni.This creates an erratic appetite when you may be sometimes hungry and then have no appetite for a while. Many people with Variable Agni have forgotten what real hunger feels like and just eat because it is a meal time. Or, many just don’t notice their appetite. Forgetting to eat is common and unfortunately perpetuates the cycle.
There is an excess of gas and bloating with pain in the umbilical region and lower abdomen. Dry and hard constipation is a common side effect as the excess wind/gas dries the bowel.Mentally one feels ungrounded and scattered. Emotionally anxiety and worry is common. Vata types, those with an abundance of the Air element experience variable Agni more readily than the other dosha types.
To regulate variable agni it is important to eat regular, but easy to digest meals. Porridge, soups and dhals are easy to digest and don’t further weaken Agni but allow it to restrengthen and balance.Spices that are harmonising to Agni are ginger, cumin, asafoetida, fennel, coriander, and rock salt.
So, which gut type do you identify with?Are you the type that accumulates excess wind and often forgets to eat?
Or, is your Agni low and your appetite sluggish and metabolism slow?Or, are you the fiery type that has a love affair with chilli yet experience skin rashes, have often have light sensitive eyes and can get hangry?
In reading this you may have noticed that the symptoms of each type of Agni is balance by bringing in the opposite qualities to what is experienced.Low Agni needs warmth and lightness (in not eating until hungry) instead of heavy foods and excess.
High Agni need cooling foods and temperance.Variable Agni needs regularity and gentle warmth to kindle the fire again.
You can think of your Agni as a little camp fire that wants to be tended, revered as the life giving source of energy that it is and enjoyed!
It does not want to be left alone for long periods as it will falter and go out. It does not want too much wind to buffet it about. It does not want heavy, hard to burn or damp fuel put on it and make it smoulder. Not does it want you to pour petrol on it!
This little fire wants to be tended regularly. It wants to be set in a space free from too much wind or flammable ingredients; it wants good quality wood (food), and it loves your gentle and loving attention.
Your body is trying to communicate with you. Tune in….listen and feel how your digestion is each day.Look at your tongue each morning. It will give you an idea of how well you digested yesterday’s meals. A clear pink tongue with very little coating is a sign that your Agni is burning bright and balanced. Whereas a thick whitish or yellow coating is a sign of toxins in the digestive tract. Use a tongue scraper to gently remove the gunk each morning and not reabsorb it.
Notice which element has a tendency to accumulate in your system:
Variable digestion will manifest as bloating with too much of the air energy in the system. Or acidity and inflammation increases when the fire energy is increased. And loss of appetite and heaviness occurs if the energy of earth and water increases in the gut.
Rather than being overwhelmed by all the information out there or following the latest diet trend you can trust your body’s wisdom and know how to care for your gut type.May the knowledge of what your gut type is lead you to healthier choices for what is right for you!