WHAT IS THE YOGIC DIET + THE 3 GUNAS OF NATURE
Recently, the amazing yoga studio I teach at, Yoga Village, held an Open Day to celebrate its first birthday. It was an awesome day, filled with free classes before we finished with a ‘lil yogi party of chanting, chai and meaningful connections.
Nadia, the studio director asked me to run a workshop on the Yogic Diet – an opportunity I jumped at. The food philosophy of this practice – yoga – is really fascinating. For those of you that couldn’t be there I’d love to share some info with you.
It’s such an interesting concept because the Yogic Diet is based on spiritual philosophy and an understanding of energy – not just looking at what food is good for the body on a physical sense, but also energetically.
First thing first. The Yogic Diet is based on the Gunas. The Gunas are three different ‘energies’ that, interplayed together, make up all of nature. Part of our work as yoga practitioners is to go beyond the limitations of what we see, hear and touch and understand the underlying quality of all things.
Our perpetual strive for Balance is possible about once we understand and recognised these three Gunas within our life; Sattva, Rajas, Tapas.
So, what are these Gunas all about?
Sattva – Clarity/Cooling
- A calm, peaceful and clear energy.
- The Sanskrit word is based on the principle “Sat” or “being, as it should be, perfect”
- People that are Sattvic are calm, centered, compassionate and unselfish.
Rajas – Fire/Stimulating?
- A passionate, frenetic, creative, tumultuous energy.
- The Sanskrit root means “impure”. It is also related to the root rakta, “redness”. And raga, “passion.”
- People that are rajasic are full of desire, thirsting for life, and even at more extreme ends of the scale, fueled by competition and ambitiousness.
Tapas – Inertia/Stale
- A dull, insensible, gloomy and dark energy.
- The Sanskrit word literally means “darkness, dark-blue, black”.
- People that are tamasic are gloomy, sluggish, dull and blinded by greed. But it is also grounded and heavy
So how do these Gunas relate to the Yogic Diet?
By looking at the characteristics of each individual Guna, from a yogic perspective (both the physical and spiritual practice) it seems clear that we’d want to cultivate the Sattva or Sattvic energy. It is a light, calm, clear and open energy. Exactly what we want when we practising asana, meditation, chanting, pranayama. We don’t want to feel heavy, slow, sluggish nor do we want to be filled with too much fire, heat and rage.
We do need Tapas and Rajas for different situations and experiences in our life. But ultimately, the Sattvic energy is the closest thing to ‘enlightenment’ within our everyday human existence.
Now, in relation to food – different things cultivate and stoke different Gunas.
Some foods leave us feeling tired and sluggish. Such as stale, under or over ripe fruit and veg, heavy meats. canned, reheated or eating too much. This is called the tamasic effect.
Other foods leave us feeling agitated or over-stimulated such as spicy, sour, acidic foods like coffee, hot peppers, onions, this is the rajasic effect. If you find yourself eating really quickly too, this too can be rajasic. According to the yogic diet, the ideal foods leave us feeling calm, alert and refreshed. This is the sattvic effect.
So, SATTVIC diet it is, what does that look like?
The yogic diet is a sattvic diet – pure, clean and wholesome food that gives life, strength, energy, courage and self-determination.
The sattvic diet is more than protein, carbs and fats – although that is important. – but it is about nourishment for vitality and consciousness.
The yogis believe that food is the vehicle that carriers our life force – pranic force (kind of like the Chinese Chi). So, we need to be mindful of the quality of food as it affects our pranic force.
“When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body” (BG 14: 11)
The Sattvic Diet Rules
1) Organic foods – should be fresh and freshly prepared.
2) Light in nature, easy to digest, mildly cooling, refreshing and calming
3) Prepared with love and awareness and eaten mindfully without distractions – become conscious of the power of your mind. If you are eating something flawlessly healthy with negativity, anger or frustration in your heart and mind, then your body is going to absorb that powerful energy and not necessarily the positive effects of your food.
- Fruits – especially apples, apricots, bananas, berries, dates, grapes, melons, lemons, mangoes, oranges, peaches and plums, are considered especially sattvic.
- Fresh Organic (RAW!) Dairy: A controvesial topic but the yoga tradition insists on the value of this wholesome food. The best quality in milk, butter, ghee and fresh homemade yoghurt, whey all require careful preparation.
- Milk can be made less mucous forming when mixed with with mild spices (i.e. fresh ginger, cinnamon and cardamom). Advanced yoga practitioners are advised to enjoy dairy as it provides grounding, nourishment and lubrication
- Nuts, Seeds and Oils: Fresh nuts and seeds should be activated and Oils should be of highest quality and cold-pressed. Good choices are olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil and flax oil.
- Organic Vegetables: Most mild organic vegetables are considered sattvic. Some veggies are excluded as they are cause digestive problems (gas, bloating) – mushrooms, potatoes, hot chillis, garlic and onion. But there is a place for them in your diet when you need some Rajas to create heat and open the channels.
- Green Smoothies are a fantastic way to get yogic on your diet as they are pumping with prana, enzymes, fibre and life. Not to mention easily assilimated!
- Whole Grains: Another controversial topic. But the yogis consider whole grains as an excellent source of nourishment when well cooked. Organic brown rice, spelt, steel cut oats and barley or sudo grains like quinoa and buckwheat. A popular sattvic recipe is Kitchari (basmati rice cooked with split mung beans, ghee and mild spices). And Sourdough and other yeast-free breads are ok
- Legumes and beans: They must be soaked and prepared properly to ensure they are absorbed properly. Legumes combined with whole grains offer a complete protein combination.
- Sweeteners: Yogis use raw honey especially with dairy
- Spices: Sattvic spices are the mild spices including basil, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, fresh ginger and turmeric.
- Animal-based Protein: So this is where I fail. Yogis are advised not to indulge in meat. It is said that the fear of the animal is transferred to the person eating it. As a meat-eater, even though it probably only makes up 20% of my diet (the 80/20 alkaline rule!) I make a point of only eating grass-fed/pastured /free-range/organic. I know this doesn’t neutralise the reality that an animal had to die to feed me, but I’m forever grateful and always thank my food! Alternatives: Eat high-quality fish, poultry or eggs and the yogic diet recommends a vegetarian diet for minimum of three days per week and two extended detox periods each year.
When you look at the Sattvic Diet, ancient wisdom from ancient yogis, it’s very similar to modern information around healthy eating. As with all diets I recommend you cherry-pick what works for you and not get weighed down by trying to eat in a particular way.
Here is another little post on MindBodyGreen about the Sattvic Diet that summarises the Do’s and Don’ts.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Yogic Diet and if you are already eating this way does it work for you?
Saha to you,
*Image: Source: sisters-at-heart31 and http://www.fitnessrepublic.com
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