Agni and Ama
In this Blog Post, I’m beginning to use some Ayurveda terminology; I understand you may not be familiar with these concepts, yet beginning to hear the terminology will help as you learn more about Ayurveda. Ama and Agni are central to any Ayurveda teaching.
In Ayurveda, the concept of fire, or Agni is of central importance. In fact, the strength of Agni in the body is top of the list in determining overall health. By contrast, Ama is a toxic, disease causing substance that forms as a result of impaired Agni, and that, in turn, destroys Agni. Ama is a form of un-metabolized waste that cannot be utilized by the body.
This is a way to explain how impaired Agni and the creation of Ama easily enter into a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle. The formation of small amounts of Ama is a normal part of the digestive process, provided it is efficiently removed. But when it is not regularly cleared and eliminated, Ama becomes hugely problematic. The accumulation of Ama is extremely detrimental to our health; Ayurveda teaches that up to 85% of all health concerns stem from an underlying digestive imbalance.
As a result, understanding Ama as the opposite of Agni—learning what it is exactly, how to recognize it, how to rid the body of it, and how to build and encourage Agni — can be a very helpful step in the journey toward optimal health.
Ama includes undigested fats, fat-soluble environmental pollutants, heavy metals, and undigested proteins like gluten in wheat, casein in dairy, and the naturally-occurring, protective anti-nutrients in grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
If the systems were all flowing as they should, large proteins and fats would be broken down by the upper digestive system and be rendered small enough to enter directly into the intestinal capillary systems and be delivered into the bloodstream.
As Ama accumulates in the body, it inevitably clogs the channels and disrupts tissue nutrition. Due to sluggish and poor nutrition and digestion habits, undigested food particles are often too big to be properly absorbed into the bloodstream. In cases where the digestive strength has broken down, they are up-taken into the larger collecting ducts of the lymphatic system that drain the intestines; when they’ve lodged here, they can create havoc.
Ama is fairly easy to clear from the digestive tract, but once it spreads into the deeper tissues, it becomes much more difficult to eliminate. Ama can also disturb physiological processes at the cellular level as well. When Ama finds its way into the deeper tissues, it coats and clogs individual cell membranes—inhibiting cellular communication and weakening the immune response. This eventually leads to a loss of intelligence at the cellular level, which can cause much more serious diseases such as autoimmune disorders, or cancer.
Generalized signs and symptoms of Ama in the body include:
Clogging of the channels (may cause symptoms like sinus congestion, lymph congestion, constipation, fibrocystic changes, etc.
Abnormal taste, muted taste, or poor appetite
The Causes of Ama
We have reviewed a number of reasons that Ama can begin to accumulate in the body, but impaired Agni is always a piece of the puzzle. And because Ama itself disturbs Agni it can sometimes be difficult to tease out which came first. In reality, it doesn’t matter. Habits that disrupt Agni can often be implicated in the formation of Ama. Likewise, habits that contribute to the formation of Ama will disturb Agni.
General Support for Digesting & Eliminating Ama
There are a number of ways to encourage the body to digest Ama and eliminate it from the body and this should become part of one’s routine. The following strategies support the body’s natural, physiological detoxification process. Ultimately, they bolster the digestive capacity, improve tissue nutrition, and help to eliminate Ama via the urine, feces, and sweat.
There are Ayurveda herbs that help to digest and eliminate Ama. Although there are no general rules, because each Dosha is different, often they are the same herbs that are taken before meals to ignite the digestive fire. Ama reducing herbs are taken after meals, in significantly larger doses. In this way, the herbs themselves serve as a source of fuel to fan the impaired digestive fire. Special care should be taken in cases of high Pitta or severe inflammatory conditions (e.g. ulcers) because herbs that digest Ama also tend to be quite hot and can further aggravate the situation.
Many of these herbs are common household spices like fresh and dried ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mustard seed, garlic, cumin, black pepper, fennel, and coriander. Depending on your particular Dosha, you can choose from among this list.
Other ways to work to reduce Ama include cleansing therapies, fasting, breathwork, yoga and nutrition.
Broadening our outlook on health will help to support this new routine
Balancing the Ama cycle is supported by positive ideas and attitudes. It becomes very important to focus on appreciating our bodies, appreciating good nutrition, loving the body’s natural ability to digest foods properly, build Agni and allow Ama to clear naturally.
There is one specific Ayurveda formula that we call the Ama Destroyer – Trikatu. This herbal formula is often added to other formulas because of its ability to do three things:
1. Break up Ama
2. Boosts the availability of other nutrients in food
3. Turn on the Agni, stomach’s digestive ﬁre
The formula is classically called Trikatu. Trikatu is a Sanskrit word meaning three spices, three peppers, or three pungents:
1. Black Pepper – Piper nigrum
2. Long Pepper – Piper longum
3. Ginger – Zingiber officinale
In the past, it was often used to support healthy stomach function and boost the natural production of hydrochloric acid (HCI); it has a long list of actions. It was also used to support the triad—the stomach, liver-gallbladder and pancreas—as they act synergistically and have a role in the function of the other. If one component is out of balance, the whole upper digestive system is out of balance.
While Trikatu is not indicated for heartburn, it is the classic herb used to reset the coordinated function of the stomach, liver-gallbladder and pancreas, thus preventing the production of toxic Ama that can build-up in the lower intestines and lymph.
Remember, Ama cannot form in the presence of truly balanced Agni. Tending to Agni is the same process as eliminating Ama. With a good Agni, your body will deal naturally with any Ama that is produced.
Ayurvedic Properties & Energetics of Trikatu
Taste (Rasa): Pungent
Energy (Virya): Heating
Post-Digestive Effect (Vipaka): Pungent
Quality (Guna): Light, dry
Learnings Rishikesh 2011-2013