The Fire Within - An Ayurvedic Perspective
Fire transforms. It is the regulator which ensures that everything is being appropriately processed, assimilated and utilized. This is true of fire outside of us and it is true of the fire inside of us as well. In Ayurveda we use a sanskrit word, Agni (pronounced Uhgnee). In ancient times Agni was worshiped because of its importance in keeping us in check.
The truth is, that the fire inside of us can dim or be smothered. Much of what we are seeing today in the world is a sign of this dim smothered fire. From the Ayurvedic perspective diseases and illnesses all occur as a result of our central fire being somehow off. Repressed emotions, anger, sadness are the same. Aggression, both passive and physical, is an attempt to prove one's fire is strong. But the truth is when your inner fire is strong you will not need to prove it is strong to anyone. They will feel its warmth radiating from you as peaceful confidence. How interesting it is that as we've lost touch with our inner fire diseases and a lack of an inner sense of peace spread. How then do we keep our personal fire alive? How do we tend to it in our daily lives? We all need to be transformed by fire; our inner passion burning strongly in the world. This is true, however, it is truer still that Agni is G-d's goodness shining in us. It can be smothered by bad habits, those things that follow us no matter how many yoga studios we visit. The good news is that it can also be kindled and discovered. It is said that mankind has already discovered fire. I would submit that we need to re-discover fire.
The manner in which we try to make our fires strong in today's world is likened to shining red flood lights on damp logs because the result leaves us cold. It may be known that work in the physical world, e.g. working toward goals, working with fears, opening your heart in bold love, et cetera, can kindle your fire but I feel it is more than this. This is because fire needs a few things: air, spark and kindle. If we only try to know our fire by external means then we have air only and become frustrated that we do not have fire. Put them all together! This means that by taking care of our digestion and tending to it that this also impacts our inner fire in our life. Indeed, perhaps it does so the most.
Below are a few ways to kindle your inner truth, your inner blaze. If you can implement these then you will successfully bring together all that you need to create your fire.
1. Begin your day with intention and purpose
Note that it does not say, "begin your day by looking at your (fireless) smartphone". You must get rid of the old wine to make room for the new. Smartphones are fire takers... keep a safe distance. Designate a spot as sacred and put a candle there. As you wake in the morning sit there and light your candle. It is ideal to be facing East. Even early Christian monasteries and churches all faced East. As you sit there bring your awareness to your breath. If you know pranayama, do it. If not, say a prayer. Don't know a prayer? Simply say thank you because it is the ultimate prayer.
Here's a basic yet powerful pranayama, called Nādi Shodhana (that which cleanses the channels), that you can practice every morning upon waking and every evening before going to bed:
- Sit comfortably facing east, this could be cross-legged on the ground, or sitting in a chair
- With your right hand, bring the first and second fingers in towards the palm. Bring this hand up in front of the nose, elbow out to the side.
- Begin by first exhaling all of the air out of your nose gently, then close your right nostril with the right thumb, gently inhale through the left nose to a count of your choice, e.g. 5, 6 or 7.
- Keep the right nostril blocked as you use the ring and pinky finger to block the left, retain your breath for the same count
- Release the thumb and exhale for the same count out the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right for the same count.
- Close both and retain the breath for your count
- Open the left and exhale, maintaining the same count. This ends one round.
- Do seven rounds and feel the amazing effect spread through your body and mind
- Afterward sit for a minute or two to allow your body to fully take in its effects.
2. Find something that encourages your effort and growth
That which takes a mixture of our time and effort is a fire giver... stay close to it. A fire giver is what makes you feel strong and confident from the inside and does not merely shine red light on damp logs. It is important that we take time to learn an art, a skill or a trade because these require our time, utmost humility, effort and patience. Instant gratification is a fire taker and our culture is full of it... be aware oh cultivator of fire.
A year and a half ago I began studying Aikido, the Japanese martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba. The process has been a wonderful array of adjectives: empowering, grounding, (extremely) humbling, inspiring and connecting. I've come to personally feel and know the extreme importance of working on something over time and the richness of progressing. Again this could be any skill or trade, from writing to carpentry. During this process I've realized the potential danger to personal development that instant gratification brings, where we exert little to no effort. The stock market is like this. Rather, when we repeatedly nourish the seeds and soul of our highest good with patience, with humility, we receive one of life's greatest rewards. This reward builds our inner fire.
3. Only eat when you are hungry
Throwing food in your body is a sure way of smothering your fire. This now-weakened-fire is unable to process what it has been given and the result is toxicity, or Āma in Ayurveda. If you want your inner fire to burn off disease before it happens then this is one of the most important steps in the fire cultivation handbook. When you think are hungry pause for a moment and consider whether it is real hungry or merely habitual eating. The prior will encourage health and growth, the latter will encourage lethargy and dis-ease. At this time you may also consider drinking a glass of warm to hot water and see if you are still hungry 30-minutes late
4. Eat simple foods in simple combinations
Improper food combining is definitely a fire taker. No wonder we have such an onslaught of bizarre digestive issues. It is difficult to channel an un-enthusiastic fire. A few of the more important points to consider:
- Don't eat meat with dairy - If you eat meat for starters you should eat very little of it. Secondly, you should never combine it with dairy - this includes yogurt, cheese and milk. They digest differently and create excessive heaviness, lethargy, and Ama (toxicity) in the body.
- Don't combine fruit with dairy - yes, this means no more fruit and yogurt smoothies. I extend this to nut/soy milks as well.
- Try to avoid mixing cooked foods with uncooked foods - e.g. chicken on a bed of lettuce. Again they digest differently and throw the inner fire off.
Your vigilance is requested to cultivate your inner fire. It will take more than merely one approach and it will take time. What else is there to do? If you put into practice these simple yet effective Ayurvedic principles your fire will be stronger. It will purify your bad habits and burn away toxicity. Bad habits are the toxicity. Your inner fire will shine through them all. Let's support one another as we remember our fire.