“Sattva Guna being pure, is illuminating, and it frees one from all reactions of bad karma. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.”
– Bhagawat Gita
In Hindu philosophy, all matter arises from Prakriti, the fundamental substance of the Universe. From Prakriti arise the five Panchabhutas (elements – space, earth, fire, water and air) and three gunas(qualities). These constitute the whole of nature: energy, matter and consciousness pervading all objects and beings in relative amounts.
The three gunas are sattva (pure essence), rajas (activity) and tamas (inertia). Each of these gunas are present in our lives in mind, body and spirit.
Sattva is the most superior of all gunas. In the universe it is Sattva that is responsible for creation. Sattva is the quality of intelligence, virtue and goodness and creates balance, harmony and stability. It is light (as opposed to heavy) and also light-giving (luminous) in nature. Sattva possesses an inward and upward motion and is responsible for bringing about the awakening of the soul. It provides happiness and contentment of a lasting nature. It is the principle of clarity, wideness and peace, the force of love that unites all things together.
A sattvic person has mental clarity and is pure in thoughts, words, and actions.
If an analogy were to be made with an animal, Sattva would be an elephant -intelligent, strong and gentle.
Rajas denotes activity. In cosmic terms, Rajas is responsible for maintenance and nurturing of what has already been created. Rajas is the quality of movement, change and turbulence. Rajas possesses a chaotic movement in all directions with no fixed actions. It is very helpful in offering motivation, giving shape to dreams and acts as a call to action.
A Rajasic person has a restless and highly active mind while always seeking to be involved in activity, focussed on material achievement and social progress.
A good example of a rajasic nature would be that of a tiger’s – its fierce, aggressive, strong and restless, always on the move.
Tamas stands for inertia. In the context of the Universe, Tamas denotes destruction. Tamas is the quality of darkness (as opposed to light) dullness and non-activity. It possesses a downward motion that causes decay and disintegration. It helps us by giving us the ability to complete the tasks that are initiated by Sattva and Rajas.
A tamasic person is slow moving, bulky, lethargic and most likely to be depressed and ungrateful.
In the animal kingdom, a good example of tamas would be a jackal. Lazy, brooding and cunning, the jackal finds ways of reducing its work by feeding off left overs from other animals.
As humans, we have the unique opportunity to consciously influence the three gunas in our minds and bodies. Even though we cannot separate or fully eliminate one or the other of these gunas, we can choose to increase or decrease the relative amount of each one by our conscious actions. The concept of swasthya (good health) in Ayurveda highlights the importance of leading a sattvic or balanced life. In our lives, most situations are tamastic or rajasic in nature. Sattva is the result of harmonizing these skilfully and maintaining a balance.
A balanced personality is a combination of all gunas in different measures but the most positive and content personality will display more Sattvic qualities. We are told repeatedly in the Vedas that our basic nature is satchitananda (ever blissful). As a result of our interactions with the external world, we sometimes become disconnected from the silent and peaceful source of our Atma because of an imbalance of the gunas.
It is possible to bring more Sattva in our lives by making conscious and mindful choices about all that we come into contact with by focussing on making alterations in two aspects of our daily lives:
- Aahara or diet
- Vihara or lifestyle.
“By changing dietary habits the human organism may be cured without using any medicine, while with hundreds of good medicines, diseases of the human organism cannot be cured if the food is wrong. Right food is the only key to good health.”
– Sushruta Samhita
Health is the state of harmonious chemical balance in a living organism. Our health depends on the chemical environments inside and outside of our bodies. Food plays an important role in creating the internal chemical environment. Food, when cooked properly, is appetizing, flavourful and aromatic. Food that is cooked with love, guided by knowledge of the ingredients being cooked and served in an inspiring atmosphere becomes healing.
Ayurvedic texts emphasise that “ahara” or proper diet is very important to promote health and happiness. Food creates health by enlivening the body’s inner intelligence to create harmony. When we eat foods that are right for us, we provide balance to each cell, thereby ensuring optimum functioning of all the organs. Western nutritionists propound theories which are meant to be common to people of all ages and medical conditions. In Ayurveda, it is believed that there is no single diet or food that is healthy for all individuals. It is only by following a diet that is prescribed for our particular constitution that will lead us to a state of good health.
Vegetarian food cooked with healing herbs and energizing spices can eliminate many toxins that have entered the body through polluted water and air, or even noise. Toxins also enter our bodies through radiation or chemicals that are supposed to prevent our food from decay and that are used freely on vegetables, fruits and all types of edible foodstuffs. Spices- concentrated “ chemicals” that are converted into cleansing and vitalizing frequencies by our electrochemical system- save our body from chemical imbalance.
All foods that we eat have a chemical nature. Although these foods may contain many different chemicals, they produce only six different tastes. Ayurevda therefore categorises all foods as having one of the six tastes:
Each of these tastes is a combination of two of the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Akasha. These tastes are directly responsible for the operation and balance among the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each of these tastes have special health giving properties and are beneficial if they are administered in proper dosages. An Ayurvedic meal should provide all six tastes in one meal. Unless all these tastes are used in turn, some taste buds will remain unsatisfied and the system will experience a chemical deficiency. A balanced should include all tastes- some in large quantities, some in smaller, according to their potencies.
These 6 tastes affect the doshas as well. Different foods cause specific doshas to increase or decrease. Doshas increase and decrease on the principle of “ like attracts like”. If your prakruti is predominantly pitta, you will show a marked preference for foods that tend to aggravate pitta. Foods that decrease a particular dosha are said to pacify the dosha, while those that increase the dosha are said to aggravate it.
Foods for various constitutions
|Taste||Sweet, sour, salty||Sweet, bitter and astringent||Bitter, pungent and astringent|
|Grains||Rice, oats, wheat||Barley, rice, wheat||Buckwheat, millet|
|Vegetables||Cooked well||Cooked or raw||Raw vegetables|
|Carrots, sweet potatoes, celery, leafy greens, cabbage, cucumber,||Cauliflower, mushrooms, beans, Okra, potatoes, sprouts, leafy greens||All vegetables except potatoes, tomatoes and cucumber|
|Fruits||Bananas, dates, figs, mangoes, melons, papaya, pineapple, plum||All sweet fruits- avoid sour and very juicy fruits. Apples, dried fruits, oranges, melons, pomegranates||Avoid very sweet and very sour fruits. Dried fruits are the best. Apples, apricots, mangoes, peaches and pears|
|Meat||Vata types need flesh foods. Eggs, goat, chicken and fish may be consumed||Avoid seafood and all flesh foods as they encourage aggression and irritability||Kapha types rarely need flesh food. If they do eat, the meat must be roasted or baked, never fried.|
|Nuts and seeds||Almonds||Coconut||Avoid nuts and seeds|
|Oils||Sesame||Almond, coconut and olive oils||Avoid use of oils. Corn and sunflower oils|
|Dairy Products||All dairy products||All sweet dairy products||Small amounts of ghee, goats milk|
|Sweeteners||Sweet reduces Vata, so sweets can be taken in any form moderately||Pitta is relieved by sweet, so sweets may be consumed in moderation||Kapha is increased by sweet, avoid all sweets except raw honey|
|Spices||Garlic, ginger||Cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, turmeric, small amounts of cumin and black pepper||Can use all spices except salt.|
Some tips on following Sattvic diet
- Seek foods that are rich in Prana (life force). Pick foods that are organic, fresh, in season and locally produced as they are nutritionally the richest, coming from healthy soil and thus carry the strongest, vital energy.
- As far as possible stick to eating vegetarian food. Fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lentils, nuts and spices enhance Sattva.
- Adopt a diet that consists of foods which suit your prakruti
- Consume food when it is warm as the warmth stimulates the digestive enzymes and facilitates digestion. Avoid excessively dry foods.
- Allow alteast 6 hours between each meal. Ensure that the previous meal is completely digested.
- Avoid food which has been refrigerated or microwaved as they tend to lose prana. Keep away from processed, artificially colored, canned and chemically preserved foods as they increase ama, or toxic undigested matter in the body.
- Ghee (clarified butter) is one of Ayurveda’s most treasured foods as it plays a key role in balancing hormones and maintaining healthy cholesterol as it contains omega-3 fatty acids. Ghee has a high heat point, which prevents it from producing free radicals that damage cell function. Incorporate ghee in your diet in moderate quantities without guilt.
- Eat foods which are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. These foods provide lasting energy throughout the day. Fiber also helps to maintain a toned digestive tract by providing bulk, which helps toxins and excesses to be evacuated. When the intestines are regularly cleaned, the body does not become overloaded with digested material that would otherwise seek elimination through the skin.
- Avoid consuming excess amounts of salt as it leads to water retention and elevates blood pressure. Use pink Himalayan rock salt or lime juice to add flavour if non-salted foods seem unpalatable to you.
- Avoid refined sugars which provide empty calories. Refined carbohydrates give the body a quick boost of energy but puts considerable stress on the pancreas and adrenals, devitalizing the body. Refined carbohydrates deplete the body of minerals, which are so important for all vital functions.
- Ensure that you get the right amount of proteins. It is better to eat vegetables which are rich in proteins. Diets high in animal proteins increase the toxicity of waste products in the body due to their slow transit time (it takes meat about three days to completely be digested and leave the system.) This slows digestion and depletes the body of minerals. Vegetable proteins, on the other hand, fully nourish the body, being quickly and efficiently metabolised. If you have to eat meat, make sure that it made more digestible with such spices as garlic, ginger, cumin, and black pepper.
- Eat foods which are high in mineral content as they keep the body looking alive and charged with energy. Minerals greatly contribute to that intangible radiant, fresh, and magnetic look of a person in good health.
- Use Sattvic spices such as basil, mint, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, fresh ginger and turmeric liberally in cooking and serving. Use rajasic spices such as black pepper, red pepper and garlic in small quantities.
Vihara – Lifestyle
Ayurveda lays a great deal of importance on routine whether it is a daily one (dinacharya) or a seasonal one (ritucharya) Routines help in harmonizing our lives with the rest of the Universe. The ancient rishis considered routines to be a stronger healing force than any curative medication. Adherance to the routine prescribed by dinacharya keeps the tridoshas (vata, pitta and kapha) in a healthy state of balance. Cultivating daily rituals is an important part of living a conscious life.
- Rise early
Arise at least 45 minutes before dawn as there is a surge of energy on the planet just before dawm. The Sanskrit texts call this time Brahma Muhurta and it is believed that there is more prana and more sattva in the air at this time. By being awake to receive this positive influence, we can gain greater freshness, strength and inclination for work.
- Focus on your body
Upon waking, spend a few moments focusing on your body and mind. Say a short prayer thanking the forces of nature for having given you another chance to start afresh. Plan for the day ahead of you and avoid getting into conversations until later. Walking outside for a few minutes will help you make the most of the fresh morning air, filling your system with prana or vital energy.
Establish a routine to evacuate the bowels at the same time each day and ensure that you do not consume any food or drink before you cleanse your bowels. Specially avoid coffee or tea first thing in the morning as as they stimulate the body even before it has a chance to detoxify itself.
Also eliminate all unnecessary and negative thoughts by positive affirmations such as “Today, I will have an awesome day” or “Today will bring only goodness into my life”.
After evacuation, clean the teeth and also scrape the tongue with a silver tongue cleaner. Wash your face with cool water. You can bathe the eyes with rose water or honey. Put three to four drops of warm Ghee in nostrils. This cleans the sinuses, improves vision and mental clarity. In dry atmosphere it will keep the nostrils lubricated, thereby keeping infections away. Gargle the mouth with herbs such as mint water or neem water or coconut oil. This strengthens the gums and teeth and also prevents bad breath.
- Choose your sensory inputs judiciously (reading, television, internet)
- Maintain pleasant human relationships with minimal friction
- Live in harmony with the rhythms of the day and seasons. Regulate your daily events, eating at similar times each day and sleeping at regular times to ensure that you have enough sleep 6 – 8 hours on an average. Increase interactions with nature.
Do some form of exercise. Walking for 45 minutes each day would be ideal. However, if you do not have the time, you can split it into 4 sessions of 10 minutes each. You can also practice some asanas which will lend your body strength and flexibility. Learn how to do the Surya Namaskar as it provides a whole body workout.
Meditation is a wonderful way of centering our body, mind and soul and contrary to popular belief, it is very simple and easy to do. Meditation leaves you feeling calmer, more balanced, more creative and healthier. You can start meditating by merely focusing on your breath and noting the thoughts that flit past your mind. The idea behind meditation is not to have a completely blank mind but to clear the mind of thoughts for that time alone. Just watching your thoughts and not zeroing in on one thought and letting go of the thought once it has arisen in the mind is one of the ways of meditating. You can also use a mantra or an affirmation to bring you into a meditative frame of mind. It is also very important to meditate on the thought of death each day. This will help you overcome your fear of death as you slowly come to the understanding that if death comes, you will merely be shedding this mortal body.
Apply warm oil on the head and massage the body for around ten minutes at least once a week. Massage promotes healing by releasing toxins, increasing blood flow and delivering nutrients to all parts of the bosy. Self-massage also helps to make us more aware of our own bodies. Take a bath after the Abhyanga but avoid the use of soap as all soaps contain animal fats which only deplete the skin of necessary oils.
Once a week, use a good exfoliant (such as besan mixed with sugar crystals,) to remove all dead tissues. It leaves your skin feeling fresh and revitalized.
Take a teaspoonful of Triphala powder each day as this is a powerful detoxifier and also acts as a safe and gentle colon cleanser. Take a Panchakarma, Ayurveda’s most potent detoxification programme from time to time. To enable your mind to let go of all negative emotions, keep a diary recording all your thoughts and feelings. This will act as a catharsis and enable you to overcome hurt and disappointment. Forgive all those who you feel have hurt you. Do this to free yourself of all negativity so that you can experience peace of mind.
- Care for your environment
We have a deep and abiding relationship with the Universe. It may not be very evident to us at all times but the environment id constantly influencing us and we are exercising our influence on all things around us. It is therefore imperative that we care for our environment. You can do your bit for the environment by sticking to a vegetarian diet and eating organic foods. Avoid using silks and leather products. Avoid wasting precious resources such as water, petrol and power. Limit the use of soaps and detergents and stop the use of plastic bags. Mother Teresa once said “If we cannot live for others, life is not worth living”. Care for others and all that which surrounds you and you will be cared for and nurtured in return.
- Cultivate a Sattvic attitude
The simplest way to cultivate sattva it is to develop a sense of gratitude. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present by being thankful for all that we possess. It magnifies positive emotions and blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret.
- Live mindfully and in the present moment
Our efforts to be more sattvic in our living will lead to us having a clear mind, with positive and pure thoughts most of the time. Our perception of the world around us becomes less judgemental as we accept people and situations for what they are, rather than what we think. It is important to keep in mind that in our striving towards a sattvic life, we should not be overly goal oriented or become too attached to the concepts of right and wrong and do’s and don’t’s of the process. If we become too dogmatic in our pursuit, then the outcome would be rajasic in nature, leading to tamas as we tire of needlessly putting pressure n our selves to conform to a set of guidelines. The key to evolving into a sattvic person lies in making small changes in our day-to-day lives which translates in big changes when they become habits. With time, these habits lead us to a life of greater balance, clarity and peace while allowing us to lead fuller lives with a heightened awareness of ourselves, well developed intuitive faculties and with a sense of deep connection with the Universe. In this state of “Satchidananda”, we find that our spiritual destiny is fulfilled as we become capable of manifesting all that we truly desire to enjoy our lives fully in body, mind and soul.
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