Ayurveda and Yoga improve our natural health and vitality, and diet plays an important part in this process. In previous blog post (i.e., Holistic Lifestyle and Ayurveda), we have already discussed how the three doshas (i.e., our mind-body type or constitutions) determine our physical appearance, thought patterns and behaviors, and how to balance them with diet. Now we look at how the Yogic scriptures divide food into three types according to their energies, the three gunas (i.e., rajas, tamas, sattva): rajasic or stimulating; tamasic or impure or rotten; and sattvic or pure. The Sattvic diet is based on a balanced vegetarian diet dominated by foods that promote health and harmony within the body. What happens if we eat too much from the other two groups, namely the rajasic and tamasic foods?
Rajasic Foods – Stimulating causing overactivity
The Yogic diet avoids substances that are over-stimulating, or rajasic. Coffee, black tee, onion, garlic, chili, and tobacco are rajasic, as are heavily spiced and salted items, and many ready-prepared or processed convenience foods and snacks. Simple carbohydrates, like sweets, refined sugar, soft drinks, and chocolates are also rajasic. Rajasic foods and drinks bring a restless state of mind, and make the person over-active. They destroy the mind-body balance that is essential for happiness.
“The foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning, are liked by the Rajasic and are productive of pain, grief, and disease.”
Bhagavad Gita, 17-9
Rajasic foods overstimulate the body and mind, cause physical and mental stress, and encourage circulatory and nervous disorders.
Tamasic Foods – Promotes heaviness and laziness
Tamasic substances are avoided in the Yogic diet because they produce feelings of heaviness and lethargy. Meat, fish, eggs, and alcohol are tamasic, as are overcooked and packed, processed foods. Other tamasic items include those that have been fermented, burned, fried, barbecued, or reheated many times, as well as stale products or those containing preservatives. Mushrooms are included into this category, as they grown in darkness.
“That food which is stale, tasteless, putrid and impure refuse, is the food liked by the Tamasic.”
Bhagavad Gita, 17-8
A tamasic diet benefits neither body nor mind. It makes a person dull and lazy, lacking in high ideals, purpose, and motivation. Such individuals tend to suffer from chronic ailments and from depression. Over-eating is tamasic.
Sattvic Foods – Promotes tranquility and awareness
The Yogic diet consists of sattvic foods that calm the mind and sharpen the intellect. These are pure, wholesome, and naturally delicious, without preservatives or artificial flavorings. They include raw or lightly cooked vegetables, salads, fresh and dried fruits and berries, pure fruit juices, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole meal grains, honey, fresh herbs, herbal teas, and moderate amount of dairy products. A sattvic diet is easily digested and supplies maximum energy, increasing vitality, strength, and endurance. It will help to eliminate fatigue. Yogis believe that people’s food preferences reflect their level of mental purity, and that these preferences alter as they develop spirituality.
A sattvic diet brings purity and calmness to the mind, and is both soothing and nourishing to the body. It promotes cheerfulness, serenity and mental clarity, and helps to maintain mental poise and nervous equilibrium through the day.
“The food which increase life, purity, strength, health, joy, and oleaginous, substantial and agreeable, are dear to the sattvic people.”
Bhagavad Gita, 17-8
The Rules of Mindful Sattvic Eating
“Purity of mind depends of purity of food.” – Swami Sivananda
- Try to keep your meals simple and healthy. Eat on regular schedule, but if you do not feel hungry at meal time, do not force it, eat when you are hungry.
- Before you eat, remember to give thanks. Connect with mother Nature and think about where your food comes from and be grateful.
- Eat slowly, and savor your food. Maintain a peaceful attitude during the meal. Try to eat in silence. Do not watch TV, nor read news or scroll your phone. Be present while you are eating.
- Chew it thoroughly, remembering that digestion begins in the mouth. Avoid stressful situations during meal time.
- Eat only four different natural food types (e.g., vegetables, whole grains, beans or lentils, and nuts) at one meal. Complex mixtures (like meat, animal fats and carbs) consumed at once are difficult to digest. When you eat try to reduce the amount of the animal derived protein and fats.
- Do not snack between meals and avoid processed food. Drink pure water or herbal tea between meals.
- Do not overload your system. Fill half the stomach with food, one quarter with liquid, and leave the rest empty.
- Change your diet gradually to a healthy well-balanced diet.
- Try to fast one day a week or at least once a month. Juice fasting is excellent way to detox and rejuvenate your body. Try to choose days when you can remain focused, peaceful and mindful.
- Eat at least three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit every day.
- Eat to live – don’t live to eat. Balance your diet and eat mindfully.
It is key to note that none of these gunas is inherently bad. The word guna roughly translates to ‘rope’ or ‘strand’, speaking to the idea that all three are interwoven and depend on each other for their existence. Tamas can be seen as the energy of lethargy, rajas the energy of passion and sattva the energy of balance. While it might, therefore, seem that sattva is the only desirable guna, we must remember that, without tamas, we would never rest and would burnout; without rajas, we would have no drive to make things happen. Most of us will find that we are dominated by one of the three gunas. This is our natural disposition. But regardless of our dominant guna, we will inevitably cycle through the others continually. The gunas are constantly interacting with each other and flowing through everything. This is nature. We cannot rebel against it. Instead, we must continually work to ensure we find a balance between the three gunas; in our bodies, in our minds and our lives.
Immerse yourself in the teachings of Ayurveda, the theory of the three gunas, and natural remedies with our Holistic Health Coach online course. Enroll and learn how they manifest themselves in our lives and how can you balance them.
Be mindful and cultivate mindful nutrition 😀
Dr. Suzanna Braeger
Holistic Health Coach and Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher
Lecturer (B’n’S Holistic Health Coach, Nutritionist and Wellness Consultant, Yoga Teacher Course)