In Ayurveda, the concept of fire, or agni, is of central importance. In fact, the strength of agni in the body is among the most critical factors in determining overall health. By contrast, ama is a toxic, disease causing substance that forms as a result of impaired agni, and that, in turn, destroys agni. In this way, impaired agni and the creation of ama routinely enter into a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle.
Unfortunately, the accumulation of ama is extremely detrimental to our health; it can lead to all kinds of imbalances and is a causative factor in any number of diseases. As a result, understanding ama as the antithesis of agni—learning what it is exactly, how to recognize it, how to rid the body of it, and how to kindle agni in its place—can be a very helpful step in the journey toward optimal health.
What is Ama?
Ama is a Sanskrit word that translates literally to mean things like “unripe,” “uncooked,” “raw,” “immature,” or “undigested.”1 Essentially, it is a form of un-metabolized waste that cannot be utilized by the body.1 To some degree, the formation of small amounts of ama is a normal part of the digestive process, provided it is efficiently removed. But when it is not regularly cleared and eliminated, ama becomes hugely problematic.
In fact, ama is said to be the root cause of all disease, and amaya, a Sanskrit word for disease literally means “that which is born out of ama.”2 The connection between ama and the disease process makes perfect sense because the qualities of ama are in direct opposition to those of agni. And remember, strong agni is essential to the maintenance of proper health. In other words, when agni is compromised and when ama accumulates, our health suffers, and the two situations are mutually reinforcing.
Is it Really That Bad?
Ama is fairly easy to clear from the digestive tract, but once it spreads into the deeper tissues, it becomes much more difficult to eliminate. As ama accumulates in the body, it inevitably clogs the channels of the body (srotamsi) and disrupts tissue nutrition.
This alone is problematic, but ama can disturb physiological processes at the cellular level as well. When ama finds it’s way into the deeper tissues, it coats and clogs individual cell membranes—inhibiting cellular communication and weakening the immune response. This eventually leads to a loss of intelligence at the cellular level, which can cause much more serious diseases such as autoimmune disorders, or cancer.
Signs & Symptoms of Ama
Generalized signs and symptoms of ama in the body include:
Clogging of the channels (may cause symptoms like sinus congestion, lymph congestion, constipation, fibrocystic changes, etc.)
Abnormal flow of vata (there are many ways this can manifest in the body, but examples include excess upward moving energy causing heartburn or excess downward moving energy causing diarrhea)
Abnormal taste, muted taste, or poor appetite
Depending on where ama is in the body, it can cause more specific signs and symptoms such as a thick coating on the tongue, all kinds of congestion, loss of strength, dull eyes, skin blemishes, fevers, excess weight, poor circulation, edema and swelling, stiffness or inhibited movement, soreness at the roots of the hair, or generalized aches and pains.
In the digestive tract, ama tends to cause changes taste perception, loss of appetite, indigestion, malabsorption, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, sticky stools, or itching at the anus.
Ama is also often responsible for foul smelling breath, mucus, urine, and stools.1 Mentally and emotionally, ama leads to a distinct lack of energy and enthusiasm, low self esteem, anxiety, worry, depression, fear of the unknown, a foggy mind, and unclear thinking.1