Yoga, the gunas and food

What are the gunas?

In yoga philosophy, it is explained that there are three principle energies that govern all of creation: rajas, sattva and tamas. Samkhya philosophy details how everything is manifest by these influences while the Bhagavad Gita goes into detail about how these energies work in the world and how they influence our behaviour.

Absolutely everything contains one or a combination of these energies. The environment we live in, the lifestyle we choose and the food we eat determines how much influence each guna, or energy-quota, has on our physical and mental makeup and our lives.

By changing our environment, lifestyle and diet we can shift from being governed by one guna to another.  Yoga recommends a sattvic diet and way of life.

The gunas in food

Food has specific properties that identifies which particular guna is predominant in it. The characteristics of each guna in food are as follows:

Rajasic food

Rajasic food contains predominantly the mode of passion. These foods can over-stimulate basic instincts and cause passionate likes and dislikes, a restless mind and even bad temper. They topple the mental-physical balance and cause stress and circulatory disorders.

Rajasic foods include red meat, onions, garlic, tea, coffee, chocolate, spicy food, salty food and refined food. Eating quickly or on-the-go is also rajasic. People who are governed by the rajasic nature are naturally attracted to rajasic food.

“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

Tamasic food

Tamasic food contains predominantly the mode of ignorance. These foods withdraw prana, reasoning becomes clouded and inertia sets in to produce feelings of lethargy and heaviness. They clog up the system and produce a feeling of dullness, laziness and lack of motivation. The body’s immunity is reduced and the mind is filled with dark emotions such as fear and disconnection.

Tamasic foods include meat, alcohol, tobacco, onions, garlic and mushrooms as well as fermented, stale or overripe food, heavy food, packaged food and overcooked and reheated food. People who are governed by the tamasic nature are naturally attracted to tamasic food.

“That food which is stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse is the food liked by the tamasic.” ~ Bhagavad Gita

Sattvic food

Sattvic food contains predominantly the mode of goodness. These foods are pure, healthy and wholesome, with no artificial flavourings or additives. They are easily digested and nourish both body and mind. They give the body maximum energy and vitality and promote cheerfulness, clarity and nervous equilibrium.

Sattvic foods include fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, honey and dairy products. People who are governed by the sattvic nature are naturally attracted to sattvic food.

“The foods which increase life, purity, strength, health, joy, and cheerfulness, which are savoury and oleaginous, substantial, and agreeable are dear to the sattvic people.” ~ Bhagavad Gita

The yogic diet

If we understand that the purpose of eating is to supply our being with prana, the vital life force energy, then we see that the best nutritional plan for the yoga practitioner is a simple sattvic diet made up of fresh, natural, vegetarian food. The practice of yoga itself will lead one to naturally gravitate towards sattvic food.

What is good for your body, mind and spirit is also compassionate towards other sentient beings and good for the ecology of the planet. Adopt a sattvic lifestyle and diet and everyone will benefit.

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