Reverence for AGNI during Sutika Kala
by Kristy Parish
A prominent principle to rejuvenative postpartum healing and ultimately Mama’s longevity, begins with Agni. In the words of Vasant Lad “if you worship Agni, you will be blessed with perfect health”.
As AyurDoulas, our primary focus when healing Mamas postpartum is to nourish and pacify Vata dosha. In addition, another fundamental focus when healing Mamas and reinstating their health for longevity is to establish, monitor and maintain Agni.
Agni is life. It is our elemental, enzymatic and metabolic energy that governs all of transformation. Its primary function is to digest, absorb, assimilate, and transform food and sensory stimulus into energy the body can use. Agni is the most important factor responsible for maintaining the overall condition of our health – both in body and mind.
With some 40 types of agni in the body, Jatharagni (situated in the stomach) is the primary seat of Agni. It is the first of all agni’s to establish the function and health of the body. Jatharagni is where food breaks down and thoughts are absorbed. It is the first point of opportunity in which harmonius equilibrium begins and it is how we can look to avoid or resolve imbalance.
When considering a patient’s overall health, we first look to the digestive system – AGNI - to determine the type of doshic imbalance in the body.
In Ayurvedic Medicine, kaya chikitsa [or internal/body medicine], the focus of any Practitioner is primarily on the quality and status of AGNI. As with any rejuvenative (rasayana) protocol – especially during kaya kalpa and with postpartum healing, Agni is of the utmost importance.
With birth, Agni is pushed to near exhaustion [agnimandya]; an altered and depleted state occurring through the transformative process of delivering a baby. As with any transformation – Agni facilitates the entire magical process. Our entire doshic equilibrium is impaired due to the exhaustive force on Agni.
Therefore, with agni being impaired, a ‘normal’ diet is far from advisable. Enter – postpartum dietetics and rasayan/rejuvenative healing principles.
In ancient Vedic texts, the postpartum period is known as Sutika kala (duration of puerperium). Charaka Samhita outlines various treatment protocols and the importance of sutika paricharya [postpartum healing protocol] during puerperium, to allow for a time of kayakalpa – the opportunity for total transformational healing. It is a chance for Mama to heal long term imbalances accumulated prior to her pregnancy, an opportunity to reset and correct her doshic health thus setting the stage for optimal health for “the next 42 years of life”..
As AyurDoulas, we understand that one of the main pillars of healing postpartum is through a Mama’s diet, but perhaps not enough focus is in reverence for Agni? As postpartum Doulas, we must understand and honour the functioning of Agni during this postpartum period, in fact - throughout our whole time of sacred support for new Mamas.
Nurturing Agni postpartum is similar to principles employed during cleansing and pregnancy preparation protocols, when the function of Agni is significantly altered or impaired through the process of depletion. Rasayan protocols always follow to allow Agni to rekindle and rebuild the tissues [sapta dhatu]. When we closely monitor Agni during postpartum healing, Mama’s doshic constitution can truly return to harmonious equilibrium [prakruthi] – this is how we heal for the next 42 years of health.
As doulas, perhaps this means we don’t follow a universal vata pacifying diet for every person. In addition to pacifying Vata as a focus, we must tailor the postpartum dietary protocol for every Mama, and ensure we establish and continue to assess each and every Mama’s agni along her sutika kala journey - adjusting her diet accordingly.
Doshas are variable in all patients and no two healing mamas are the same. It is important for AyurDoulas to honor the importance of agni and the role it plays as a fundamental element in any new Mamas healing and rejuvenation.
Traditional Vedic methods of rekindling agni from the point of extreme depletion involves several key principles; dipana/pachana intake, a sequential diet, diet & lifestyle measures in line with ritucharya principles & doshic appropriate foods.
Dipana/pachan preparations are used to stimulate and balance agni, in the form of spices and herbal components that fuel and correct the function of our digestive enzymes. In the first days postpartum, we can use panchakola churna – in its various forms and anupans – [ghritam, churna, kasayam, asavam], to boost and regulate this process.
Panchakola is a preparation of 5 digestive spices; pippali, pippalimool, chavya, chitraka and shunti. The properties are warm, sweet, pungent, hot - all used as a primary tool to ignite a deficient agni.
A key distinction when substituting black pepper for chavya; black pepper has far stronger properties and is ~10 times more heating than chavya, resulting in a drying effect on the tissues – a vitiating quality for Vata. Under the loving guidance of my beautiful mentor “black pepper can of course be used, but this preparation then, cannot be called panchakola” - Dr Roopa Rao.
Panchakola is my principle remedy in postpartum care. Panchakola ghee is the number one first thing for Mamas to consume post birth, reason being it has all qualities to ignite agni’s flame. I use panchakola as a ground spice in every postpartum meal for the first 10 days, as an asavam tonic for Mamas at lunch and, recommend a teaspoon of panchakola ghee in a cup of milk for Mamas at night. This intake targets all levels of cellular healing.
In addition to dipan/pachana principles, a sequential diet is also recommended during the first 2 - 5 days as a minimum. Known as Peyadi Samsarjana Krama – meaning proper sequence and gradual intake of food, we use this dietary healing protocol to increase agni after depletion and provide gentle, sequential nourishment to the tissues whilst gradually stoking Agni.
Ritucharya (seasonal) principles are also of great importance in terms of honouring Mamas agni during postpartum healing and always need to be considered when healing Mamas post birth. The gunas and elemental influences can increase or decrease agni significantly. Eating for the seasons and understanding how the doshas show up in digestion is really important.
Recognising digestive imbalance during sutikakala;
As AyurDoulas, we must understand the different types of agni expressed by imbalanced doshas in the digestive tract and have the knowledge to remedy these symptoms through the assessment of agnibalas; samagni, vishamagni, mandagni and tikshnagni – or a combination of these. ie tikshnagni appetite and mandagni digestion, vishama agni appetite, tikshnagni digestion.
Agni when in balance is defined as samagni – it is the normal harmonious digestion of the three doshas. With any doshic imbalance or accumulation, ama is formed and digestion is compromised. We first see the signs of imbalanced agni in Mama’s appetite and in purisha mala – or the stool.
Vishamagni is weak, irregular digestion as a result of excess vata qualities in the body. Digestion becomes irregular and we see a lot of variation in the appetite and stool. We may see gas, bloating, hard stools or constipation.
Mandagni occurs when the digestive fire is low and from excess Kapha, making digestion slow and food difficult to digest. This results in dullness, lethargy, heaviness in the body, swelling of the eyelids and painful accumulated indigestion.
Tikshnagni can occur during summer months and in Mamas with naturally high Pitta constitution. Excess pitta burns food up quickly and Mama may have symptoms of acidity, thirst, indigestion and symptoms similar to IBS. Excess pitta can also burn up nutrients, leading to malnutrition. We tend to see tikshnagni in Mamas after the first two weeks when agni has been ignited however, pitta is too high and agni therefore digestion is too fast and too hot.
Postpartum Mamas can have a combination of any of these agnibalas (strength of agni). As we begin to nurture a new Mama back to health, we look to these signs and symptoms inher digestion, we look at her Agni - in order to ensure her health is established, balanced and steady during the first 42 days and beyond.
In Ayurvedic Practice, samprapti (or pathogenesis), can always be traced back to an imbalance first occurring in the digestive system. Being able to recognise the qualities of Agni and educate new mamas on these principles ~ empowers all and ensures solid support for a strong foundation in rebalancing all the tissues. As well we educate understanding on how to have autonomy over our own health and digestion.
Proper detox and cleansing measures cannot happen before 2 years after a child and postpartum healing does not end abruptly at 6 or 8 weeks after birth. Postpartum healing is a journey of rejuvenation of up to 2 years. If we truly ensure reverence for every Mama's Agni and digestive health, we will avoid imbalance, improve immunity and eliminate the need for detoxing excess doshas and ama down the track.
To nourish new Mamas is to nurture and nourish her Agni …
References and further self study:
Kristy is a certified Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioner, AyurDoula, alternative fertility specialist and panchakarma physician residing in the city of Perth, Western Australia. Running an Ayurvedic wellness practice for women and sharing 1:1 education programs in person and online, Kristy weaves holistic healing methods for complete mind-body medicine through the Ancient Vedic Sciences of Ayurveda, Jyotish, Yoga & Vibrational Sound healing.
Deeply passionate about guiding women back to their true path and birthing a new earth paradigm, Kristy supports women to embody their moon cycle and natural fertility, coaches couples throughout their conscious conception journey, nurtures and nourishes new mamas in bloom, and educates conscious women in postpartum healing and raising awakened, enlightened souls. She holds a strong vision for sharing the deep wisdom of Ayurveda with modern-day women to empower them to balance their own health and expand through their own inner wisdom.