Ignite Your Fire
As the seasons change with an occasional frosty morn, our attention turns to the warm and cozy. Warm foods, heated yoga classes, and fireplaces become attractive as we bring more fire into our lives with the approaching winter months.
Fire is an important concept in the whole practice of yoga. The yogis called this fire in our body, mind, and yoga practice “Agni,” which literally means “the transforming force.”
Here is how to ignite, stoke, and increase your yoga fire in the weeks ahead:
First, realize that there are actually seven “fires” or agnis in the practice of yoga. There is the divine fire (brahmagni), the fire of consciousness (chidagni), the fire of bliss (anandagni), the fire of intelligence (brauddhika agni), the fire of the mind (manasika agni), the fire of prana or the breath (pranagni), and finally the digestive fire of the body (jatharagni).
For ultimate success in the practice of yoga, the fire of breath (pran agni) is actually the most essential agni to develop as it purifies the whole subtle body to receive the higher experiences of yoga. This is done through the cultivation of right breathing, pranayama practices, and breathing good quality air rich in prana or vital energy.
In Kundalini Yoga, we literally practice the “breath of fire” which vastly increases our prana or vital life force. While Breath of Fire is not actually physically warming (contrary to misinformed opinions), it does develop agni to heat and purify the subtle body and invigorates the solar plexus, the inner seat of our sun.
For most of us, however, the development of our digestive fire of the stomach (jatharagni) will give us the most immediate benefits in our physical health and well-being, particularly as we move into the colder season. This digestive fire is centered around the stomach and small intestine. People with a strong digestive agni have a good appetite, can eat almost anything, and enjoy good energy and health.
This fire of the physical body and digestion is immensely aided by the practice of asanas, or yoga postures, which purifies and relaxes the physical body. Correct practice of Kundalini kriyas strengthens both digestion and elimination which creates a healthy digestive fire so the foods we eat are digested, assimilated and eliminated with a minimal amount of toxic residues or byproducts.
Kundalini exercises that are abdominal strengthening, such as stretch pose, and kriyas for the navel point such as Nabhi Kriya and Kriya for Abdominal Strengthening, are marvelous for strengthening the digestive fire of the body.
Other ways Kundalini yogis develop this digestive fire is eating the right balance of food (a varied diet in moderate proportions), eating as pure or natural foods as possible, and getting healthy oils or fats in the diet (particularly “ghee” or clarified butter, a superb yogic food) as opposed to heavy processed oils that smother the fire.
Finally, a selection of appropriate spices and herbs are super for boosting the digestive fire. An old yogic remedy for poor digestion, or when you knew you would be eating more than usual, is to eat a small slice of raw fresh ginger before the meal. Other useful spices for building agni in a Kundalini Yoga practice are cayenne pepper (actually almost all hot peppers), cardamom, and turmeric.
One of the best spices for digestive fire is the whole black peppercorn Boil 8 to 12 whole black peppercorns in a cup of water for 5 to 10 minutes and let steep. Take a few tablespoons on an empty stomach and watch the fires roar! Yogi Bhajan gave this recipe to chase away a cold or flu.
The last way yogis build the digestive fire is to develop resistance to cold and temperature changes. One of the earliest definitions of a yogi was “a person who feels neither the hot nor the cold.” If you get easily chilled, the inner fires are weakened. And indeed as you practice yoga and begin to regulate the internal temperature control of the body through a healthy hypothalamus functioning, you will notice your temperature sensitivity decreasing.
With overheated homes, offices and cars, our natural digestive fire weakens in the winter and we become cold sensitive. The yogis overcame this cold sensitivity and strengthened their internal fire by the practice of Ishnan, or yogic hydrotherapy. Can we just say COLD SHOWERS!
By bathing in cold river waters in the early morning hours, their body became resistant to cold and the internal fires strengthened.
A cold shower the first thing in the morning may sound horrible in the winter months but works magic. Do this for a few weeks and see the results in your disease resistance, improved circulation, enhanced digestion and elimination. You will handle the winter weather better and your fires will burn strongly!
Yes, you can turn the water to warm at the end of the shower, but always start cold and shower until the body begins to feel warm all over through increased circulation. And just to be yogic about it, shout something nice when the cold water hits you. One of our Kundalini Yoga teachers says she shouts the mantra “Wahe Guru” (a cosmic wow to the divine light) instead of the other four letter words that used to come to her mind.
So make this winter cozy. Work your Kundalini kriyas, spice your meals, cold shower your body, turn up the agni and light your fire!