Ayurvedic tradition holds that there exist three gunas, or universal energies, that circulate through all matter and all beings. Each individual possesses his or her own unique proportion of the three gunas. Like doshas, gunas are subject to disturbance as a result of poor diet and lifestyle habits. In order to live a Sattvic lifestyle, or a healthy, wholesome life, one must work to balance the three gunas.
Unlike the doshas, though, there are some gunas that are considered more positive than others. While Sattva is inherently good, and its indefinite increase poses no danger, an excess of Rajas or Tamas is detrimental to physical and psychological health. It is therefore most beneficial to life a Sattvic lifestyle.
To understand why, we must first explore the properties of each of the three gunas: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas.
The energy of Sattva embodies the principle of creation. Sattva is wise, noble, grateful, joyous, and generous in character. A Sattvic state of mind indicates emotional and intellectual equilibrium and positive thinking. Sattvic action is that which perpetuates good in the world, generating positive energy and healing others. To be of service of others is to act with Sattvic intention.
Sattva is a sacred, divine energy. To increase your Sattvic energy and live a Sattvic lifestyle is to become more enlightened to your place in the universe, to your role as part of a larger whole with its own beautiful intention. Becoming Sattvic means becoming clear and unfettered, accepting of pain and the lessons it carries. A Sattvic person is open to and trusting of the world because he or she does not allow external negativity to govern his or her internal space.
The energy of Rajas embodies the principle of preservation. Rajas is not an inherently negative energy. Indeed, Rajas governs motivation and action, activity and change. Without Rajas, we would not have the passion and drive to fulfill our personal mission in the world and work for positive change.
However, Rajas has a dark side, and is physically and psychologically distressing in excess. Rajas ignites the power of the ego. When Rajasic energy becomes excessive, an individual becomes egoistic and selfish. No longer driven by the drive to create positive change, a Rajasic individual acts for the sake of prestige and power. Thus, a Rajasic individual is inclined to dominate, control, and even abuse others.
Rajasic individuals can also be hedonistic, excessively indulging the senses in unconstructive pleasures. Rajas fosters attachment to control. When we feel angry or distressed about a situation we cannot control, we know that our Rajas has become too powerful. This type of anger indicates a selfish egocentricity paired with a lack of trust in the natural order of things. Restlessness and impulsivity, too, suggest that your Rajas has become too strong.
Excessive Rajas tends to disproportionately afflict vata and pitta types; vata is prone to anxiety and egoistic distress, and pitta is more likely to suffer from rage and impulsivity.
Tamas embodies the principle of destruction. Despite its underlying principle, Tamas is not inherently negative. We require all three gunas for health and happiness. Tamas is the energy that encourages us to slow down and rest when we are overworked, or to absolve or abandon that which no longer serves us.
But an excess of Tamas, like Rajas, will inevitably disturb the body and mind. Tamas is associated with darkness, breakdown, dullness, and closure. Tamasic individuals are sometimes obstinate, hateful, and even violent. Conversely, Tamas can also induce laziness, slowness, fatigue, and confusion. Individuals that suffer from excessive Tamas tend to be depressed, ignorant, fearful, and melancholic.
Unlike excessive Rajas, which tends to afflict vata and pitta types, excessive Tamas tends to plague kapha types. Tamasic individuals are slow and lethargic, lacking the motivation to care for themselves and fulfill their purpose in the world. Oftentimes individuals become too Tamasic because they are dwelling on a fear or trauma that is stunting their growth.
Becoming More Sattvic
It is important to maintain sufficient levels of both Rajas, to stay motivated, and Tamas, to be able to rest. But either of these gunas in excess will produce profound psychological distress that often manifests in the physical body. Sattva, however, is incredibly healthy in abundance. Focusing on increasing your Sattva will actually help you balance both Rajas and Tamas for a happier, healthier life.
Per the stipulations of Ayurveda, diet and lifestyle are the most powerful forms of medicine. Thus, increasing your Sattva and balancing your Rajas and Tamas requires dietary and lifestyle adjustments. Today we explore a few of the adjustments you can make to increase your Sattva and improve your quality of life.
Eat Whole Foods
In true Ayurvedic fashion, we recommend a diet of whole foods to increase Sattvic energy. Because Sattva is non-violent, eating to boost Sattva requires adopting a vegetarian diet. A Sattvic meal plan should be rich in whole, organic, local foods. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats are integral to a holistic Sattvic diet. Ghee, in particularly, is incredibly nourishing and Sattvic. Though a Sattvic diet does encourage the consumption of local dairy products and natural sweeteners, it does not include any refined sweeteners or animal products.
What you omit from your Sattvic diet is just as essential as what you include. Meat, stimulants, and foods that are fried, spicy, or fermented can aggravate Rajas, causing restlessness and irritability. Alcohol, sugar, processed food, fatty meats and cheeses, and food additives trigger excessive Tamas, causing depression and lethargy. Omitting these foods and including Sattvic ones will help you balance your gunas for a happy mind and harmonic Sattvic lifestyle.
Embrace Positive Relationships
Many of us turn to food and exercise to improve our health without considering the impact that our social relationships can have on our minds and bodies. Fostering healthy relationships is a critical element of leading a Sattvic life and, by extension, pursuing good health.
To lead a Sattvic life, surround yourself with positive people who increase your self-esteem and support your life’s purpose. Truth, kindness, and mutual support should serve as the foundational elements of all of your relationships. These relationships will foster empathy and passion in your life, provided you practice good listening. You should live in a community that gives to the world with love and generosity, inspiring you to do the same.
Don’t be afraid to sever ties with people who are negative and angry, or who make you feel worthless. Individuals that trample your speech, denigrate your ideas, and lack empathy for others are not worth sacrificing your physical and mental health for. Every single one of your relationships should energize you. If you are maintaining a relationship that is sapping your energy, it may be time to walk away from it.
Balance Sensory Input
To say you must control your sensory input in order to lead a Sattvic life may seem complicated and rash. Indeed, we are constantly inundated with thousands of types of sensory input throughout the day. Further, we often have very little control over what we are exposed to.
Becoming Sattvic doesn’t necessarily require rigidity. In fact, that impulse to control is far more Rajasic than Sattvic. But there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you are blocking out negative stimuli.
Sattvic stimuli are balanced. They are not uproarious nor silent, bright or dull, over-stimulating or energetically oppressive. Choosing stimuli conducive to a Sattvic lifestyle may include: choosing a walk in nature over a violent movie; listening to peaceful music instead of heavy rock; clearing your house of mess and clutter and adopting a bright and minimalistic style; and choosing natural lighting and essential oils over heavy perfumes and fluorescent lights.
Align Your Body With Nature
Ayurvedic philosophy dictates that we align our actions with our bodies’ natural rhythms. Doing so requires rising with the sun and going to bed around 10pm, thereby restoring our natural circadian rhythm. Because our digestive fire is strongest midday, bodily alignment also entails consuming the largest meal at lunchtime and choosing a lighter breakfast and dinner.
Having a consistent daily routine is an integral facet of a Sattvic lifestyle. Try to wake and consume your meals at the same time everyday. Adopt a regular exercise routine and commit to practicing it at the same time everyday. Establish a consistent morning routine, be it breakfast and tea, a morning workout, or both. Consistency is more important than content when it comes to routine. And adopting a daily routine is particularly important for vatas, who typically suffer from excess Rajas.
Becoming Sattvic does not mean eliminating Rajas and Tamas. To do so would again warrant a level of fixation and control that, ironically, is characteristic of Rajas and Tamas. Sattva instead demands acceptance. Thus, becoming Sattvic requires accepting your darker Rajasic and Tamasic sides and trying to balance them instead of fighting, oppressing, or ignoring them. It’s not that Sattvic individuals don’t have a dark side, or trauma, or pain; rather, Sattvic individuals accept their pain without allowing it to define them; they extract the lessons from painful situations without attaching to the pain itself.
One of the best ways to begin practicing acceptance is through a regular practice of yoga, meditation, and pranayama. These three practices together align body, mind, and soul in elemental harmony. They foster healthy detachment, peace of mind, and, by extension, acceptance.