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Agni, the Digestive Fire: Tridoshic Vegetable Curry #1

Adapted from The Ayurvedic Cookbook, by Amadea Morningstar

In Ayurveda, yoga’s sister holistic health system, the keys to fine digestion are good health, strength, and agni, or digestive fire. Agni is the ability of all the digestive organs to be lively, effective, and coordinated in function when given an appropriate amount of food. Too much food can act like sand on a fire, dousing agni. Too little food can starve agni, like expecting a fire to burn brightly with but a few twigs to fuel it.

Insufficient Agni

Signs of insufficient agni are much more common than those of excess. Gas, burping, belching, sluggish digestion, difficulty in waking in the morning, scanty or no perspiration, and constipation can all be indicators of deficient agni. Overeating is one of the most common ways to inhibit agni and progressively repress its creation. Certain constitutions are most prone to insufficient agni, with Vata taking the lead.

Excessive Agni

Excessive agni can also result in burping or belching, although a burning sensation in the digestive tract is a more noticeable sign, especially in the stomach or duodenum. Diarrhea, irritability, hyperexcitability, and excessive talking can also occur. Excessive perspiration and thirst may result. Eating overly heating foods and going prolonged periods without eating are ways to over arouse agni, as is indiscriminate expression or repression of anger.

Balancing Agni

Eating smaller simpler meals is a good way to begin to rekindle balanced agni. Fresh lemon or lime in water is a gentle and cleansing stimulant to agni. Mild ginger tea is a stimulant for sluggish agni and reduces gas. Attending to appropriate combinations and using supportive herbs can make a large difference in digestion. The combination of ground cumin, coriander, and fennel is a time-honored way to stimulate and tonify agni.

How the Summertime Affects Agni

In the summer the full strength of the sun's rays pour down upon the earth, evaporating the dampness of spring and creating an abundance of heat and dryness. Now Pitta predominates, and issues of fire and digestion come to the fore. Interestingly, while Pitta is often associated with digestive power, the increased heat of summer actually impairs agni. As Charak says, "Even as hot water extinguishes fire, so does Pitta suppress the digestive power (in hot weather)." For this reason it is best to eat and drink lightly, choosing sweet, moist, cool, and liquid items to placate Pitta, such as milk, rice, fruit, and tofu. Aloe vera juice is an excellent herbal therapeutic for summer, tonifying the liver and cooling the entire system. Ayurvedic texts also highlight the need to be judicious with alcohol in summer. If you do choose to consume it, it is best diluted generously with water. It can badly aggravate Pitta in the heat. Spicy, hot, pungent, sour, oily, or salty foods can have a similar action, adversely irritating Pitta.

Tridoshic Vegetable Curry #1

Preparation time: 1 hour

Calms and nourishes Vata, Pitta, and Kapha

Serves: 9-10

1 cup fresh green peas (frozen can be used if necessary)

1 cup carrots, diced

1 cup potatoes, diced

2 cups green string beans or asparagus, cut in 1 inch pieces

2 tablespoons sunflower oil or ghee

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 ½  cups water

2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon coriander powder

½  cup yogurt

Heat oil or ghee in large heavy skillet. Add mustard and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds pop, add turmeric. Then add all the vegetables and the water. (If using frozen peas, do not add them until the rest of vegetables are nearly done.) Cook covered until the vegetables become tender, about 15-20 minutes. Then add yogurt and the rest of the ingredients, stirring well. Simmer uncovered on low heat for another 15-20 minutes.

This dish is good with cucumber raita and lime pickle for Vata. Serve over rice or other grain. This easy-to-prepare curry is likely to garner you rave reviews. The cooling qualities of the peas and potatoes are offset by the other vegetables and the curry spices. This small amount of yogurt, thinned with water, is usually tolerated well by all doshas and aids digestion. Whenever you can, use tender fresh, rather than frozen peas, as they are more balancing for Kapha and Vata.

For more information and to determine your dosha, visit holisticonline.com and ayurveda.com

Amadea Morningstar is a student of Tibetan Buddhist yogis HE Garchen Rinpoche, the Venerable Traga Rinpoche, and Tulku Nyima Gyaltsen Rinpoche. She is grateful for her early Ayurvedic training with Drs. Vasant Lad, David Frawley, and Sunil and Shalmali Joshi. Founder of the Ayurveda Polarity and Yoga Therapy Institute (AyurvedaPolarityYoga.com), Amadea is the author of The Ayurvedic Cookbook, Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners, and The Ayurvedic Guide to Polarity Therapy and other works, with 25 years of experience in Ayurvedic self care education.