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Winter has its grip on a big part of the country this week. Freezing rain and cold temperatures not only affect our mood and our ability to stay active, but it also affects our internal fire, or what we call Agni in the Yoga tradition. Agni is our digestive fire and is referred to as the seat of our health in Ayurveda, an age-old system of health and healing.

we need to help our digestive fire burn at a constant and balanced rate

Our internal fire is what allows us to digest our food and transform that food into energy. In turn it regulates our ability to stay warm and healthy. The food we can’t burn turns to waste or toxins, also referred to as Ama. To the degree that our stomach fire is balanced, we can use our nutrients efficiently and we feel energetic and healthy.

In yoga, there are many practices that address Agni, our internal fire. They range from the way we eat to particular movements and breathing practices to keep that fire balanced.

Constancy and Balance

Just like stoking a real fire, we need to help our digestive fire burn at a constant and balanced rate. If it burns too hot, it may manifest as inflammation and burning sensations in our body. If it doesn’t burn hot enough, we may feel cold and low in energy. This scenario may also make it hard for our bodies to break down the nutrients from our food, which can lead to imbalance and poor health.

Three Yogic Practices to Balance Stomach Fire (Agni)

1. Sun Salutations

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These are a combination of 12 movements put together as a flowing sequence. They allow us to connect to this fire element through prayerful movement and gratitude to the sun for the heat and warmth it provides. These graceful movements also increase heat and help to increase the stomach fire, which helps digestion. They can be done once or up to three times depending on how it feels. Try them and see if you notice a change in the warmth of the body.

2. Cobra Pose

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This is a backstretch that brings the weight of the body onto the belly and gently massages the stomach. It improves digestion through a simple lifting and releasing movement. If done daily, it can bring balance to the digestive organs and regulate our internal fire.

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing

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This technique allows us to call attention to balancing the breathing rhythm between the right nostril breath and the left nostril breath. Our breathing is always switching dominance between the right and left sides. In fact, about every hour and 45 minutes it alternates. One side becomes more open and active.

We all experience this back and forth in a more obvious way when we have a cold, but it is happening in a subtle way all day long. Our right nostril breath governs heating functions in the body and the left nostril breath governs cooling functions. Because our right nostril breath is associated with the heating functions it also governs digestion.

This is why in the yoga tradition we recommend right nostril dominance while eating. If we focus on the right nostril becoming more open than the left it increases our ability to digest our food and supports healthy Agni. A regular practice of Alternate Nostril Breathing will help to balance digestion and our stomach fire.

In addition to these practices, Yoga also makes some recommendations about our eating routines that will help us maintain that fire.

Five Yogic Principles around Food to Help Support and Balance Stomach Fire

  • Eat your biggest meal during the hottest part of the day. This is something that many cultures practice. At this time of day, we have the most support from the sun, which helps to make our digestion stronger.
  • Don’t overeat. This causes a strain on your digestion and can put out your fire. In yogic texts they recommend eating until you feel 75% full. Let 50 % of your stomach be food, 25 % liquid, and allow 25% to remain empty so the stomach has room for healthy digestion.
  • Don’t drink iced or cold drinks as they require more effort from the stomach to heat them and they can actually put a strain on the digestive fire. If needed sip small amounts of room temperature or warm water while eating
  • Eat while the right nostril is more open or dominant. Our right nostril breath supports heating and warming; when it’s active it sets up the perfect environment for digestion.
  • Take a walk. The optimal length is about 500 steps or 10- 15 minutes. Walking slowly and enjoying the moment helps to support healthy digestion. It stimulates our fire and helps us transition back to our activities while avoiding that sleepy feeling after we eat.

Taking charge of our health means finding ways to stay in balance no matter what is happening around us. It may be cold and wet and dark this winter, but we can always use these simple practices to stay balanced and healthy.

How have these practices helped you stay balanced and healthy this winter?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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