Through centuries of observing both cosmic and human behavior, ancient Ayurvedic experts defined three basic gunas or qualities that influence everything that happens in the macrocosm of the universe or the microcosm of our minds. It's the quantity of these three gunas—Sattva, Rajas and Tamas —that Ayurvedic experts believe can create or destroy harmony in our lives.
While a balanced personality blends all three gunas in equal measure, the most positive personality is that which is high in Sattva. Is it possible to cultivate more Sattva in our lives? Certainly, says Ayurveda. Vaidyas (Ayurvedic experts) suggest paying attention to Aahara (diet) and Vihara (activity or lifestyle). First, let’s define the three gunas.
The three gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
Sattva is the most superior of all gunas. Sattva in the universe is responsible for creation. Inside our own self, it gives us the ability to visualize well, think right, do good and act in accordance with the laws of nature.
Rajas stands for action. In cosmic terms, Rajas is responsible for maintenance and nurturing of what has been created. In human beings, the Rajasic guna or quality means giving a concrete shape to dreams, being motivated and taking action. Excess of Rajas, however, leads to an unsettled and perpetually restless mind.
Tamas supplies us with the ability to finish or complete what was generated by Sattva and Rajas. In the context of the Universe, Tamas stands for destruction. While some may see Tamas as a negative guna, Ayurvedic philosophy says Tamas has its own role in the scheme of things. It weans us from the old and the lifeless, urging us to move on and invest in that which is still alive.
A Maharishi AyurVeda expert from the Council of Maharishi AyurVeda Physicians shares his tips on how to cultivate more Aahara and Vihara.
Aahara: Eat a sattvic diet
He begins with the oft-quoted saying, ‘you are what you eat.’ "Ayurveda," he says, "believes this simple statement holds infinite meaning and truth." To illustrate this point, experts use the example of the elephant, the tiger and the jackal.
The elephant is a pure vegetarian. He is strong, gentle and intelligent enough to work well in a human environment. The elephant represents the Sattvic mind.
The tiger represents the Rajasic nature. He kills and eats other animals, and this carnivorous nature makes him fierce and aggressive. Restless and strong, the tiger is always on the prowl.
The jackal symbolizes the Tamasic mind. He is cunning, fearful and lazy, shunning daylight and surviving on food left uneaten by other animals.
Your goal should be to acquire the Sattvic qualities of the elephant. This can be achieved by analyzing your eating habits and improving them in keeping with the following guidelines.
Favor vegetarian food
Use ghee as your medium of cooking. Ghee is clarified butter, free of milk solids, proteins and water. It has amazing nutritive and medicinal qualities, besides being extremely flavorful and aromatic. Its penetrative qualities make it an excellent medium for aiding the absorption of nutrients by the body, while also lubricating the tissues.
Avoid refrigerated, processed, artificially colored, canned and chemically preserved foods as far as you can. They increase ama, or toxic undigested matter in the physiology; tax the body's agni, or digestive fire; lack vitality; and do not stimulate your Sattva.
Eat cooked food instead of raw. Ayurveda believes that the essential nutrients of food are not available to the body until agni, or fire, is applied to them in the form of heat. For Ayurvedic recipes using ghee and healing spices, see our recipes section.
Avoid fermented foods, in which the disintegration of nutrients has begun even before they are consumed. These foods, such as vinegar, ketchup, yeast breads and alcohol, increase Tamas, or dullness in the mind.
Always eat slightly less than what your hunger demands. Eat all meals at regular times.
Vihara: Follow a sattvic lifestyle
Vihara is essentially your behavior and action, as influenced by the quality of your mind. Take the example of a burning train. When a train catches fire, the three minds respond in very different ways:
The Tamasic mind, being dull and weak, faints or panics—unable to act or react in an appropriate manner. The Rajasic mind is naturally reliant on action, and therefore immediately starts hunting for the nearest fire extinguisher or exit. The Sattvic mind, being calm and steady, takes a moment to analyze the situation and acts only after weighing the right response to the situation.
Though each of us is born with one or more dominating gunas, it is in our power to increase the guna we want. How can the mind be led toward Sattva? The answer is simple. You train the mind to act in accordance with the laws of nature. The Vaidya's tips on how to do this are practical and logical. Among other things, the vaidya strongly recommends the following.
Focus on activities that bring you joy. Do not restrain natural urges such as sneezing or yawning. Go for walks. Retire early and make sure you get a good night's sleep. Be gentle and forgiving of yourself. Practice moderation in everything—be it diet, sleep, or exercise. Keep the company of the wise. Fine-tune your senses, so that your indriya, or senses, learn to obey your manas, or mind. This will help you make healthful and happy choices, leading to increased Sattva in your life. Twice a day for 20 minutes, practice the Transcendental Meditation® program, which is a scientifically proven way to heighten creativity, expand consciousness, improve relationships and increase Sattva.
In conclusion, the Sattvic mind chooses thoughts and actions that promote fulfillment and joy. Cultivate Sattva in your life, and you will be able to reconnect with the limitless power of your Atma, or Self. For a deeper look into your personal constitution, take our Dosha Quiz.
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