If you read our previous blog Eat to Live … Thrive and … Find Balance, we discussed how Yoga and Ayurveda see the human being as being made up of 5 basic elements — fire, water, air, ether and earth. These elements combine in various proportions to make up each person’s prakriti or innate nature.
Depending on the level of each element and how they combine, a person can have a Pitta-dominant (fire) prakriti or a Vata-dominant (air) prakriti or a kapha-dominant (Earth) prakriti. It is more common, however, for people to show a dominance of two elements and at times even three.
Prakriti determines so many of an individual’s aspects and traits — from the way they look, to their nature and personality. However, throughout life, one’s prakriti changes based on age, lifestyle, diet, fitness, climate, stress etc, thus creating doshas (the vitiated elements in one’s prakriti). The factors that result in doshas are termed vikrittis.
Since the aim of both Yoga and Ayurveda is to return the person back to balance and as close to their innate prakriti as is possible, both sciences believe in identifying the dosha that has occurred. If the imbalance is due to pitta, then the Ayurvedic practitioner will diagnose the person as having a pitta dosha. If it’s an imbalance in the vata element, then it is termed as a vata–dosha etc.
Now here let’s introduce yet another term. The gunas — a Sanskrit word that translates to attributes or qualities that qualify one’s prakriti. These can be satva guna, rajo guna and tamo guna.
— Satva (balanced, pure)
— Rajo (dynamic, of movement, high energy)
— Tamo (Inertia, lethargy)
Each of us possess all 3 gunas in differing proportions. And each has their function. For instance, to function with vitality and energy during the day, we need the rajo guna. However, if we continue in this state into the evening and towards bedtime, it’s unlikely that we will be able to sleep. So, here’s where the tamo guna fulfills its role.
However, cultivating satva is considered to be ideal. Because it is this guna that helps us find balance in life. Where we are not swayed by our senses, by our attachments, by our achievements and we are not brought down by our trials and sorrows. We begin to cultivate a sense of equanimity.
Diet is crucial
We mentioned that a factor (vikritti) that can affect one’s prakriti (innate nature) is what we eat. Our diet plays a crucial role in how we think and the peace of mind we either have or we don’t. One might find this hard to believe.
However, Yoga and Ayurveda classifies food according to the three gunas.
- Satvic Food — Lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and pulses and nuts etc. This is considered as ideal for human beings who have embraced a Yogic lifestyle.
- Rajasic Food — This is rich, calorie-laden food that’s spicy, salty, tangy, creamy. Imagine a wedding feast, or a banquet laid out for a king, and you can be sure that most of the dishes will be rajasic. Do you notice how lethargic you feel after a delicious meal that you probably enjoyed so much that you ate more than you should have? You probably ended up sweating after the meal, or very thirsty. After such a meal, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to do anything but sit in front of the TV, or better still lie down for a nap. These are all indicative of rajasic food.
- Tamasic Food —Yoga and Ayurveda always suggest that you eat freshly-cooked food. Cook in small portions so you can finish what you’ve cooked and you don’t have to store it. It’s when you store it for days, and keep heating and re-heating it, that food becomes tamasic. It no longer retains the power to nurture you.
From this short explanation it’s pretty obvious why Yoga and Ayurveda recommends a satvic diet. Portion control, eating seasonal fruits and vegetables and cooking with happiness and peace are all believed to boost prana (life force). In fact, satva does not just pertain to food, but it’s a lifestyle that Yoga and Ayurveda endorse wholeheartedly.
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