Gunas of the Mind - Sattva, Rajas & Tamas

Jan 11 2011
Gunas of the Mind - Sattva, Rajas & Tamas

According to Ayurveda, Samkhya philosophy and Yoga, all of creation is made up of three qualities called sattva, rajas and tamas. These qualities (gunas), along with our physical constitution, influence our mental state.

Sattva – creative; clear; harmonious

Rajas – activity; movement

Tamas – inertia; dullness; lethargy

We each contain all of the gunas in varying degrees and they are in constant interplay with each other. Excessive rajas and tamas have a disturbing influence upon the mind, so the aim is to reduce them and increase sattva to about 70%.

The good news is that we can make choices via our diet and lifestyle, and in this way influence which guna we allow to predominate in our lives.

Gunas and Food

In Ayurveda, foods are categorised in a variety of ways. One of these ways is observing if the food has a sattvic (harmonising), rajasic (agitating) ortamasic (dulling)influence upon the mind.

Sattva is creative, clear and manifests life. Harmony, peace, truth and love are all sattvic qualities. People who are predominantly sattvic tend to be quietly spiritual and steady in their faith, without being fanatical. They are happy, humble, content and not easily prone to anger. Their minds are alert and their perceptions are clear. They are creative, curious, inspiring and pleasant.

With sattva we know the most beneficial action to take and we take it.

Sattvic Foods are full of prana, easy to digest and light, such as lightly cooked organic vegetables, ripe fruit, nuts and seeds, raw honey, ginger, fennel seeds, cardamom and small amounts of ghee (clarified butter). Pure cows’ milk is considered sattvic in Ayurveda, if taken from cows raised in a peaceful environment. In cases of increased toxins including lymphatic congestion and high cholesterol (common in kapha dosha types), care must be taken in consuming dairy. In Ayurveda, milk is taken warm, not cold, as cold dairy increases phlegm. If dairy doesn’t agree with you, alternatives include rice and oat milk, which are good substitutes, although not listed as sattvic.

To Increase Sattva we need to engage in sattvic foods and activities. These could include gentle Yoga, pranayama, meditation,chi gung,tai chi – all performed in a peaceful and non-goal-oriented way - walking in a peaceful environment, and listening to relaxing and uplifting music. Another important consideration is limiting our exposure to those situations, substances and people, which we know will disturb the mind.

Rajas: All forms of movement and activity are influenced by rajas. We need movement to get things done in life, but excessive rajas brings restlessness and hyper-activity. The mind cannot rest, resulting in fear, anxiety and agitation.

When imbalanced, rajas leads to excessive pride, competitiveness, aggression, and jealousy. People with a lot of rajas tend to value power, prestige, business and success on the material level. Impulsive actions are taken that are later regretted and which disturb the mind.

People with rajasic temperaments tend towards fanaticism. While they hold their beliefs, they hold them very strongly, trying to convert others. There is often frenetic activity and drama surrounding them. Their minds are so full that they don’t really listen to any advice they may seek.

On the positive side, we need some rajas to get things done and to set and achieve our goals.

When rajas is in excess, we know in our hearts what is the most beneficial action to take, but the mind chooses to take us elsewhere.

Excessive exercise to the point of over-exertion is rajasic and disturbing to the system, as is excessive thinking, talking, travelling, working or any kind of over-stimulation. Talking on the telephone, hours on the computer, exposing ourselves to anything violent including on screen, will all have a disturbing effect upon the mind.

Rajasic Foods stimulate and irritate the system. Junk foods like potato chips and chocolate bars, excessively sweet, salty, spicy or pungent foods (such as raw onions and garlic), can cause the mind to become agitated and disturbed. Most legumes and beans increase rajas slightly, creating wind; to make them easier to digest, they need to be taken with appropriate oils and spices.

To Balance Rajas means limiting our exposure to foods, people and situations that disturb our minds and increasing exposure to more sattvic foods, lifestyle and people. Anything that increases sattva will decrease rajas.

Tamas is the way nature completes or destroys things. Although we do need some tamas to help us sleep and rest, excessive tamas dulls the mind, making us inert, lazy and depressed. Individuals with a strong tamasic nature engage in a self-destructive diet and lifestyle. They tend to eat, drink and have sex excessively (gluttonous). They likely take drugs and drink alcohol in large quantities. As the tamasic mind becomes dull, heavy and confused, the individual becomes increasingly less caring about themselves and others.

The mind becomes so dull, that they can’t articulate clearly, and need assistance to help themselves. It is unlikely that they will read an article like this, or show up to Yoga class unless dragged there by someone else.

When tamas is in excess, the individual truly needs help, as the ability to discriminate between what is beneficial or not, is weak. The mind has become so unclear, that it can no longer be relied upon to make good judgment calls.

Tamasic Foods are lacking in prana and do not support life. These include old and leftover food, deeply fried food, excessive meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, hard cheeses. Alcohol and drugs are tamasic and can also have a rajasic effect. Certain herbs and spices, such as nutmeg have a dulling effect upon the mind, which is why in cases of insomnia, nutmeg is used as a traditional aid to sleep. Although nutmeg is tamasic, it is relatively less tamasic and damaging than a heavy drug.

To Balance Tamas means clearing out the cobwebs in the brain. Fresh air, peaceful yet dynamic exercise and sattvic food, lifestyle and environment will all help.

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About Rachel Hull

Rachel Hull has been practicing Yoga for 26 years and additionally trained for 2 years with an Ayurvedic Dr as an Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant. Having run the Shakti Spirit Yoga and Ayurveda Teacher Trainings in Goa and Bali for 6 years, she is currently a full time student, based in Sydney, Australia. In her first year of a 4 year 'Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine' (Acupuncture and Herbs) at UTS, she hopes eventually to merge these worlds together into something interesting. For now, she is busy learning acupuncture meridians and points, studying hard and teaching occasional Yoga classes.

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This was a great explanation

This was a great explanation and description I can share with my students. Thank you.

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