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An Examined Life

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Food and the Three Gunas

Earlier post: Food and Memories

At this point, it is good to explain what the three Gunas are. As always, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar does a great job of that. So here’s a video where he details what the three Gunas are, what the specific characteristics of each Guna are, and how they affect the mind and body.

Now let me explain what I understand by it. Sattva is characterized by simplicity, harmony, innocence, joy. How do you feel after playing with a child? So light, so playful… that’s Sattva. Walking by the ocean, trekking in the mountains, gardening – the feeling that arises as one goes about these activities is pure Sattva. Contrasting with the simple joy of Sattva is the restless drive of Rajas. The innate nature of Rajas is restlessness, ambition, anger, greed. Think of it as the energy that drives us to do, to accomplish, to gain. Then there is Tamas, characterized by dullness, delusion, slumber, sloth. Quite the polar opposite of Rajas, I think.

It is important to understand that each Guna is essential in its own unique way. If not for Rajas, we would not stir to do our duties, go out and earn money, get out in the world. If not for Tamas, we would not ever take a break or fall asleep. As much as we would like to remain in the Saatvic state of mind/body, Tamas and Rajas are equally important for the system. Life is a graceful dance of the three Gunas and these qualities surround us wherever we go. They are in the places we frequent, the people we interact with, the activities we engage in, and last but not least, the food we consume.

Canned food, stale food, processed food, excessively vinegary foods, etc. come under the category of Tamasic foods. They induce dullness, lethargy, sleep. Meat also counts as Tamasic. Food that is overly spiced, greasy and/or pungent is what goes as Rajasic food. Saatvic food is light, flavorful, nutritious, nourishing and easy on the digestive system. This is the kind of food that brings up the life force in us, keeps the awareness high, leaves the body nourished and mind alert. Think green salads, fresh fruits and juices, steamed/lightly sauteed vegetables, etc.

These are basic guidelines but it is not difficult to figure out what foods fall in what category.

Back to the question raised in the earlier post about ridding the system of cravings… Meat induces Tamas. It is not simple to digest i.e. considerable energy is required by the body to digest meat. Meaning meat may help in building muscle but the body expends a lot of energy simply in assimilating it into the system. Not to mention the toxins generated in the process of digesting meat that also have to be expelled. No wonder that meat is classified as Tamasic. But all this is useless info for the individual who enjoys the taste of meat, for the one who has happy memories associated with it. How does this person work his/her way to a meatless diet?

Simple. By raising the Sattva in life.

Face it, all of us would like to lead simple, healthy and joyful lives. However, we tend to get drawn into the busy-ness and restlessness and ambition of the world. I suppose the world today is largely Rajasic in nature. We seem to be moving in the direction to gain, to buy, to accomplish, to do something. Obviously, this constant restlessness results in total fatigue and exhaustion, then slumber – that’s Tamas. Where and how does one find his/her way to Sattva? Meditation is the start of it. As we meditate on a regular basis, we are able to raise the level of Sattva not only in our individual mind/body but also in the surrounding environment. As we become more Saatvic in and around ourselves, we begin to move in the direction of more Sattva. This reflects in all decisions and activities be it work, play, fun, hobbies and food. Ask any spiritual practitioner if they see a shift in their life’s focus after they began their practices. It is inevitable, a natural consequence of the Sattva rising.

As we move towards Sattva, we begin to choose foods that are harmonious and life supporting. We start moving away from foods that don’t support our life force. None of this is deliberate, it is simply the body selecting what it knows as best for its growth and the mind acceding to the wish of the body instead of the other way around. With time, more and more Sattva enters our life, enriching it in every way possible. There is more simplicity, greater harmony, more energy, joy and enthusiasm. And love.

Meditate. Find a teacher, join a class, practise regularly. It is a start and as comically simple as it may sound, it can make all the difference in your life.

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