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Agni, the digestive fire

One of the major concepts of physiology in Ayurveda is the state of good health of the digestive system, which is the mirror of the state of health of the entire body.

Agni, also called the Digestive Fire, brings together the mechanical, enzymatic, and metabolic processes of the gastrointestinal system allowing the transformation of ingested foods into nutrients which build the tissues of our body. Another of its aspects is the ability to destroy pathogens before they enter the body and cause disease.

We thus easily understand that digestive capacities were symbolized by the natural element of Fire, capable of transforming matter and protecting.

Woman making the shape of a heart with her hands on his belly in the background with a lot of healthy food in the front

The 13 digestive fires

Digestion, absorption, and assimilation, all these processes are therefore under the control of Agni and are distinguished into 13 different types.

The main types of Agni are:

- Jathar Agni (the main digestive fire in the stomach and duodenum).

- The 5 Bhuta Agni (transformation by the liver).

- The 7 Dhatu Agni (the digestive fires specific to each tissue).

The digestive process

The digestive process begins with the chewing of food, where saliva (the first agent of Agni) begins to break down carbohydrates. The food then travels down to the stomach, where the Jathar Agni further breaks it down into nutrients. Then, nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine through the five Bhuta Agni activated by liver and biliary functions. Finally, these nutrients are delivered to specific tissues and organs to compose cells and tissues through the seven Dhatu Agni.

Jathar Agni: The Jathar Agni is the first and most important of the Agnis, because it activates the resonance of activity of the other 12. A correlation occurs between the nature of the foods ingested and the type of enzymes that can work on them.

Bhuta Agni: The Bhutagnis are located in the liver and act on the nutrient mass by causing its disintegration to be assimilated into distinct elements. In modern physiological perspective, Bhutagni can be related to the transformation of digested materials by liver enzymes. Ayurveda has designated five agnis located in the liver, modern science will also find 5 different types of enzymes in the liver.

Dhatu Agni: There are seven types of Dhatu Agni, each associated with one of the seven tissues of the body (plasma, blood, muscle, fat, nerve, bone, reproductive tissues). The seven Dhatu Agni are found in the tissues and have the role of assimilation at the cellular level to reproduce the tissue concerned.


Two determining factors of our intestinal health:

  • Prakriti, which represents the fundamental constitution of an individual. For example, a person with a Pitta constitution will have a stronger digestive capacity than a person with a Vata type, while a person with a Kapha type will digest more slowly, but more regularly.
  • Aahar, nutrition. Food hygiene is personified and evolving. Aahar connects the individual constitution (Prakriti) and possible imbalances (Vikriti) to determine what type of dietary model is most appropriate to maintain or restore balance.


The balance of Agni:

A regular and moderate appetite, combined with good digestive capacity, is a sign of optimal health. When the digestive fire does not function properly it leads to the accumulation, stagnation, and fermentation of undigested food residues, known in Sanskrit as Ama. The weakness of the digestive fire associated with the accumulation of Ama weakens the immune system and can thus promote the appearance of diseases. Excessively strong Agni can lead to excessive digestive activity, which can also be detrimental such as self-combustion of the body's own tissues.

How to have healthy Agni?

Some daily eating habits prevent the production of Ama and strengthen the activity of Agni:

- Hot water (Ushnodaka): starting the day with a glass of hot water is one of the morning routine practices - Dinacharya - for maintaining the body. Hot water stimulates the digestive system to activate and helps eliminate toxins.

- Eat at Agni's signal: eat meals only when appetite is felt, this is when the entire digestive system is ready to assimilate. Too early or too late, digestive capacities will not be there, and disturbances will follow.

- Effective diversity: the 6 flavors must be present during the meal: sweet, salty, bitter, spicy, sour, astringent. Each flavor stimulates a different digestive function, allowing optimal assimilation. Using spices in cooking is often the solution to finding the 6 necessary flavors.

- Dinner’s ready! : Dishes must be eaten freshly prepared. All the richness of what food provides is present in the minutes following its preparation. The more the hours pass, the more the food becomes a still life.

- The tuning fork of the stomach: the mealtime must be of a reasonable duration. The work of transit of the viscera has its own tempo. Eating too quickly or, on the contrary, meals stretching out over endless hours lead to digestive disturbances.

- The master's dish: the choice of one's diet must be in accordance with one's constitution (Prakriti) and one's daily energy needs.

Table with a lot of ingredients to symbolize the 6 flavors
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