With recent research studies showing rising levels of anxiety and stress impacting both physical and mental health, the teachings of ayurveda are more current than ever because they recognise the timeless nature of what it means to be human. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. From Sanskrit, it translates to “the science of life”. Developed more than 3000 years ago, it offers a roadmap for living a balanced life, in harmony with our environment. It is the ancient healing system of India and a corner stone of naturopathic teachings.
Ayurveda recognises that all life, be it animal, plant, human; must live in harmony with nature to survive. All matter in nature arises from three qualities. These are called The Gunas; Sattva, Tamas & Rajas.
The Gunas – the qualities of matter in nature:
Rajas, when translated from Sanskrit means “to accomplish, create or achieve”. This is the quality of movement and change. Seen in nature as storms and earthquakes. It is the energy most prevalent in our rapidly changing, fact paced cities. Let’s call it the “get-it-done energy’.
- Rajasic foods are highly stimulating to the body.
- Chilli, chocolate, coffee, refined sugar, garlic, onions are all examples of foods with rajasic qualities.
- Rajasic activities include extended periods of screen time, flashing lights, loud music and extended periods of hyper-excitement and activity.
Tamas, when translated from Sanskrit means “inertia and decay”. I like to call it “couch potato energy”.
- Tamasic substances include meat, alcohol, processed and refined foods.
- Foods that have no “life” left in them, eg. Left overs, fast food, junk food, especially packaged foods with preservatives added to extend longevity, are all be considered tamasic.
- Sitting at a desk, over-sleeping or laying idle for extended periods without activity are considered tamasic activities.
Sattva, when translated from Sanskrit means the quality of “pure essence.” Also known as clean and light. Let’s call it “pure, balanced energy”.
- A diet rich in fresh, wholesome, seasonal fruits and vegetables, grown organically and eaten in moderation are described as sattvic.
- Activities such as yoga, tai-chi, walking in nature, meditation, sitting under a tree are considered sattvic.
Whilst the qualities of the ‘couch potato’ energy and ‘get it done’ energy can appear to “balance” each other, according to ayurveda, they will never generate the qualities of sattva. For example eating too much meat at night, feeling sluggish the next day and having a coffee – or two – to lift that feeling, may restore us to feeling better, but it won’t create feelings of being calm and centred. The play between tamas and rajas perpetuates the roller coaster, which we ride as our food intake and physical activity determines the ups and downs.
The demands placed on the body to process uplifting sugar, salt and alcohol, cause the pancreas, adrenal glands, liver & kidneys to work hard, just as excess protein, stresses the gut. This strain, when excessive can cause the the body to age prematurely. Ironically, the fatigue brought about from overworking the body’s systems may motivate us to seek the next “pick me up” to lift our weary state… welcome back to the roller coaster.
So, how do we get off the roller coaster?
By choosing foods and activities that possess the qualities of sattva – pure, clean, whole, balanced energy, we can free ourselves from the roller coaster ride. These foods and activities calm our central nervous system. The more we experience this state mentally & physically, the more “sattvic” we become and in turn, the more sattva we perpetuate. It has a feedback loop of effect – what we choose, we experience, what we experience, we choose. We start to hum at a different frequency and move to the beat of a different drum.
Choosing sattva doesn’t mean that life becomes void of its highlights and challenges, but it does mean that we become less reactive to what life presents to us and we manage it with equanimity.
The qualities of the gunas exist within each of us, in mind-body types, called doshas; Pitta; Vata; Kapha. The ayurvedic system emphasizes the importance of balancing doshas through diet and lifestyle choices informed by the gunas, so that we can enjoy optimal mind-body health.
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