What’s Your State of Mind?
Ayurveda and yoga follow Samkhya Philosophy which divides the world of existence into two polarities of being: Purusha and Prakriti. This article won’t go into Samkhya Philosophy, as that is a whole other ball of wax. But, it is helpful to know that both Ayurveda and yoga follow the basic philosophical structure.
Purusha is ultimate reality, all things that are unchanging in the world. What does that even mean? Doesn’t everything constantly change moment to moment? Well, again, that is an article for another time, but the basic idea is that the physical world we experience does in fact change moment to moment, but that which is beyond us, ultimate consciousness, God, soul, true Self, is constant and never changes. That is purusha.
Prakriti is the changing state, often referred to as the illusion of reality, or maya. Prakriti is the way we experience the world through our senses, perceptions, stories, experiences, and feelings. These are things that change and are effected by the colorings of our mind from life experience. Now, experience of life is not bad. That’s what we are meant to do here. It’s how we experience life and how our mind reacts, perceives, or feels about the experience.
Everything that exists within the tangible world we experience, prakriti, consists if the three maha gunas, or the great qualities; sattva (purity), rajas (activity), and tamas (inertia).
Three Maha Gunas (Great Qualities)
Sattva is balance or harmony. It is neutral and moves with ease and calm. Sattva is a clear mind free of anger, fear, distressing thoughts, and full of love and compassion for all beings. This is quality of pure goodness, peace, forgiveness that allows us to deal effectively with the world. Physically is it clear skin, healthy weight, vibrant hair, clear eyes, etc. This isn’t to mean we should all look like super models, because let’s be real, that would be a huge imbalance in of itself for so many reason we aren’t going to go into here. What this means is we are our most healthy version of us with the genetic cards we were dealt. Sattvic foods are most vegetables, dates, almonds, legumes, but most of all what your body can easily digest.
Rajas is pure energy, motion, and heat. It is the yang and masculine energy of the gunas. In balance, rajas is the zest for life, ability to set goals and work toward them, and a sharp, resolute mind. Out of balance, rajas appears as anger, hate, frustration, manipulation, rashes, heat flashes, moving excessively fast. Rajasic foods are heating and sharp like garlic, onions, chilies, cinnamon, alcohol, fermented foods and drinks, caffeine, and sour foods like citrus.
Often viewed as ignorance, tamas is inertia, or stillness. It is the yin and feminine energy of the gunas. In balance, it is the ability to go with the flow, rest with ease, and be stable and dependable. Out of balance tamas appears as depression, sadness, a dull mind, lethargy, over eating, laziness, and lack of desire to be or do in the world. Tamasic foods are heavy and dull like leftovers, microwaved foods, fried foods, meat, cheese, milk, potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables.
Often, One Guna is Predominant
The states of sattva, rajas, and tamas are inter-related and cannot exist without each other. In the same sense, one is not better than the other and it’s important to remember we need a healthy balance of all three so we have passion for life (rajas), the ability to stop and smell the roses (tamas), and can love in the place of the Self or the soul of our being (sattva). Additionally, the gunas are not just confined to people, and exist in some way in everything we come into contact with. Think of yogurt. It is dense, cold, wet, heavy, slippery, slow. All qualities of tamas, so we could infer eating yogurt will increase tamas. What about watching Game of Thrones? Well, lots of gratuitous killing, dark imagery, anger, hatred, and competition at the expense of others. These are all qualities of rajas, so we could infer watching Game of Thrones will increase rajas. Qualities of listening to a babbling brook are peaceful, calm, beautiful, serene, and relaxing. These are all qualities of sattva, so we could infer listening to a babbling brook with increase sattva.
Some of this is open to interpretation based on personal experience, likes and dislikes. Because we are limited to experiencing the world through our senses, all things are colored in our mind based on individual experience, inference, and preference. We are living in the world of prakriti, illusion, so we appear separate from others.
This also doesn’t mean you can’t watch things like Game of Thrones or eat yogurt. What is important is to balance those out with sattva boosting activities or foods to return to a balanced state.
It’s important to remember we need a healthy balance of all three gunas so we have passion for life (rajas), the ability to stop and smell the roses (tamas), and can love in the place of the Self or the soul of our being (sattva). Noticing when one of the three gunas is predominant or out of balance can help us make decisions to create better balance in our diet, mind, and overall way of being. Typically, rajas or tamas are the culprits of imbalance since sattva itself its a state of balance.
In Ayurveda, opposites balance and like increases like. If there is a predominance of rajas, we may see things like excessive activity, anger, heat, mobility, energy, aggression, shame, physically or mentally moving too quickly. Imbalance can show up as digesting food to quickly which creates loose stools, indigestion, heart burn, sour burps, or perhaps as skin flushing, red eyes, getting hot when trying to sleep. Here are some things to consider to boost sattva and reduce rajas.
- Incorporate slow, fluid movement or statice practices like restorative yoga or Thai Chi
- Start a gratitude jar where you write thing you are grateful for and can read them in times of need
- Focused meditation like yoga nidra or loving kindness
- Take a cool bath or shower
- Eat foods that are less heating and more grounding
- Use cooling spices such as cilantro, mint, coriander
If there is a predominance of tamas; lethargy, slowness, heaviness, dullness, darkness, fear. Imbalance can show up as slow digestion with constipation or hard stools, depression, hoarding, couch potatoism (this is now a word), lack of desire to do day to day activities and things normally enjoyed. here are some things to consider to boost sattva and reduce tamas.
- Incorporating movement such as vinyasa yoga, jogging, swimming
- Meet a close friend of family member for coffee/tea or a peaceful walk
- Consider you’re physical surroundings and use warmer colors for paint and clothing choices
- Snuggle in your warmest blanket or sweater with a warm cup of chai
- Eat foods that are less cooling and are lighter
- Use warming spices such as cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon
Not Sure What’s Out of Balance?
If things aren’t quite right and you aren’t sure what’s up, the best thing is to boost sattva which is the qualities of purity, knowledge, hope, and harmony. This will ensure excess rajas or tamas won’t be increased and still work to bring harmony into life. Here are some simple ways to boost sattva.
- Listen to a babbling brook 🙂
- Take in a lovely sunrise or sunset
- Read an inspiring book
- Journal about goals, hopes, dreams
- Hug someone you love
- Eat sattvic foods like ghee, seasonal fruits and vegetables, broths
- Eat something sweet and brings joy (Don’t eat an entire chocolate cake)
- Walk barefoot in the grass
- Use of essential oils or herbs that are pleasant and calming
- You get the idea – all the warm and gushy stuff
When we can find balance of the maha gunas, we can begin to connect more deeply to the purusha, the soul and deep inner knowing of truth to live a life of joy.
Next Self Care Sunday is October 18, live on Facebook, and we’ll discuss the transition from summer to fall and ways to change routine to support better wellbeing. You can get even more information and sign up for my online classes, blog, or newsletter at www.yogawithangelina.com