Agni, Ojas & Ama

Agni or the “digestive fire,” is one of the most important principles in the ancient science of ayurveda. It refers broadly to our ability to process all aspects of life, including food, experiences, memories, and sensory impressions. Agni is responsible for absorbing the nutrients and essential elements the body needs while burning off waste products (agni is the root of the English word “ignite”).

If our agni is strong, we’re able to digest food efficiently and easily assimilate our daily experiences. On the other hand, if agni is weak, our body won’t digest well, creating toxic residue or ama that lodges deep in our cells.


According to ayurvedic teaching, strong agni leads to excellent health and well-being, while the accumulation of ama results in the slow deterioration of the body and—ultimately—disease. The inability to metabolize emotions produces just as much toxic residue as undigested food. In fact, pent-up anger, long-held sadness, and lingering guilt are more debilitating for most people than problems with physical digestion.

Ojas: The Vital Nectar of Life

If we desire perfect health, it’s crucial to eliminate the ama stored in our body and focus on producing ojas, which is the essential life energy. A Sanskrit term meaning “vigor,” ojas is the pure and subtle substance that’s extracted from food that has been completely digested. Ojas circulates throughout the bodily tissues and heart, sustaining the physical self, bringing clarity to the mind and balancing the emotions. In short, when the body produces ojas, the vital nectar of life, we feel blissful. The cells sing with happiness because both the mind and the body are receiving the nourishment they need.

To promote the creation and flow of ojas, we need a good diet focused on pure foods, referred to as “sattvic” in ayurveda. The body can easily digest sattvic food and extract its ojas or prime energy. The most sattvic foods include organic milk, almonds, sesame, honey, rice, and fruits. It’s not necessary to eat these foods exclusively — just focus on having them on a regular basis.

Some foods are difficult if not impossible for the body to convert into ojas, including meat, poultry, fish, oily foods, cheese, leftovers, processed food, and items with an excess of sour or salty tastes. Food that has been canned, frozen, or reheated won’t produce as much ojas as freshly prepared meals. In addition, consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes destroys ojas.

The following chart will help you determine whether you have healthy ojas or an accumulation of ama in your body. If you’ve been storing toxicity, you can choose now to begin to nourish yourself and enjoy increasing levels of joy and well-being in your life.

Signs of OjasSigns of Ama
You feel rested upon awakeningBad breath
Your skin has a healthy glowCoated tongue
Your tongue is clear and pinkDull appetite
Your body feels light, regardless of the number on the scaleDelicate digestion
You feel centered throughout the daySluggish or irritable elimination
Your digestion is strong without bloatingGeneralized pain
You feel energized & enthusiasticFatigue
Your mind is clearDepression
Your body has a pleasant smellSusceptibility to infections
You rarely get sickDifficulty manifesting intentions

Creating Nurturing Mealtimes

Our experience while we’re eating is just as important as the kinds of foods we’re consuming. If we’re having a fight with our spouse over the dinner table, our stomach cells are aware of the upset and send distressed chemical messages throughout the body. As a result, we’re not able to create ojas because of the indigestible emotions coursing throughout our cells and organs.

Since ojas is the by-product of all the signals our body receives, we need to create a nurturing atmosphere for our meals, paying attention to all of the senses — taste, sound, sight, touch, and smell. Here are a few tips for making your body happy while you eat:

  • Eat in a settled atmosphere
  • Don’t eat when you’re upset.
  • Always sit down to eat (don’t eat in front of your computer or TV or while you’re driving).
  • Only eat when you’re hungry.
  • Dine at a moderate pace. Don’t gulp down your food or eat too slowly.
  • Minimize raw foods, which are much harder to digest than cooked ones.
  • Include all six tastes (sweet, sour, astringent, bitter, salty, and pungent) at each meal.

You can find additional information on specific ways to foster a strong agni in David Simon’s book Vital Energy, as well as in Perfect Health, by Deepak Chopra, M.D.