Eating for a Sattvic Body-Mind  

veggies-yogaBy Ioana Dumitrescu

from East of Kitchen

 

I’m quite passionate about food. I love spending time in my kitchen, cooking for my family and friends and enjoying their company over a meal. I find that food is a wonderful way to connect with ourselves and with others and if it is something regarded with intent and granted meaning, then I think it can become one of the things that we do that enriches our lives and helps us stay present.

Food can play a very important part in our yoga practice, it can be a gateway to harnessing and guiding the force of life, or “Prana” as it is referred to in Sanskrit, and it can help one cultivate a Sattvic* mind.

Sattva is one of the three qualities, or gunas, of the mind. As it is in this state of mind that truth is generally expressed, one of the goals of yoga is to encourage a Sattvic mind. Even though Sattva is an aim, this is not to say that the other gunas are negative. They are in fact very necessary, they exist in equilibrium at all times, in all that there is. And to better illustrate this, I love the example of the apple tree, where some of the fruit are ripe (Sattvic), some are ripening (Rajasic) and some are overripe or rotten (Tamasic). But no matter which quality prevails, an element of each of the other two will always be present as well. When you look at an apple, it will be ripe, but part of it will be rotten, even though the naked eye cannot see it, and part of it will be in the process of changing from one state to the other. The three gunas encompass all existence, all actions, they are always present, in every living organism, in different amounts that are ever changing. For people, these three qualities are unstable and they fluctuate. However, as Sattva is a state of harmony, balance and joy and it is what yogis strive towards because it reduces Rajas and Tamas and makes freedom possible. A Sattvic mind can be cultivated by the interactions and influences of lifestyle practices and thoughts.

As someone living with anxiety and mild depression, my mind is at times in a Tamasic state. Of course, prior to beginning practicing yoga, I did not know how to identify it as such and I wasn’t very aware of the state my mind was in at different moments in time. After learning about the three gunas, I started to be very aware of them, noticing when my mind was more busy and worried (Rajasic) or at other times, murky and dark (Tamasic), as well as more quiet and peaceful at other times (Sattvic). Without judging, I just turned my awareness to the quality or as Carlos puts it, the “operating mode of the mind” in a specific moment.

From there, I started noticing the way in which food was directly affecting my mind. I’m a big proponent of eating a wholefood diet, but I do not have a specific diet. However, while I sometimes enjoy meat or fish, I make sure, as much as I can, that it comes from organic farming or small sustainable and ethical farms or fishmongers and I balance them with seasonal, local and if possible, organic vegetables and fruit. I also enjoy a little wine now and then and I’m quite the dessert lover; even though I’ve given up on using refined sugar, I’ve found many sugar-free ways in which I can satisfy the occasional sweet tooth.

I started noticing that when I’d have too much to eat or to drink, it would affect my mood and state of mind. For example, an extra glass of wine in the evening, that would seem like an excellent idea, a heart-opener and a great way in which my introvert self would become comfortable enough to open up some more towards others, would often bring on a sense of dread in the morning, with heightened levels of anxiety and depression. And the same pattern would apply for heavy meals or sweets. I even started to have an inside joke about this: “Rajasic in the evening, Tamasic in the morning”.

So, I decided and was willing to try a different path. I started reading more about cultivating Sattva through diet and I started practicing what I read. Sattvic foods are vegetarian foods and do not include anything that has been derived from animals that have been harmed in any way. It is important that foods are grown naturally and do not contain preservatives, artificial flavors, or additives, so organic is ideal. In this way, I started adding more fruits and vegetables to my everyday diet, whole grains such as oats and rice, legumes such as beans and lentils, nuts, seeds, natural oils, herbal teas and healing spices, such as turmeric and ginger. I noticed soon enough that by balancing my diet so that it included more Sattvic foods, I was becoming more open, as if a space had opened where more peace was allowed. I started intensifying my yoga practice, if time wouldn’t allow for me to make it to class, I would practice at home, I began meditating regularly and I even realized that I could use yoga breathing techniques to help my daughter better understand her emotions and reactions that normally arise in two year olds, also known as temper tantrums.

In addition to fresh, organic, whole foods, a Sattvic diet requires that the one who prepares the food brings energy and intention into their kitchen and cooking ritual, so that there is a calm and pleasant atmosphere in which the food is being prepared. Preparing your food with presence, intention and love is the best way you can feed yourself and others with love, truly. For me, this has always been quite obvious, I’ve always approached food preparation in this way, seeing more in it than nourishment for the body, which alone is important as well. But further than feeding the body, I felt that food prepared and shared with love is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and to others. Food really can be a wonderful expression of self love and consequently, love for others and for all. My yoga practice has only strengthened this belief and has made me more aware of it.

As an introvert, I greatly cherish these moments when I am alone in my kitchen and when I get to cook a meal, undisturbed. I sometimes meditate when I cook alone. Other times, I’ll share the process with my husband or friends that I know I can have this energy with. But I know not everyone likes cooking, nor should they. Things are as they are for a reason and the way they are is just fine. And I’m not saying you should start loving to cook, because it’s not a switch you can turn on as you please. But you can regard the process of cooking as one of healing or generating love and starting from there, you could perhaps plan better for it, treat it as part of your practice and who knows, perhaps you’ll even learn to love doing it.

A Sattvic diet also means foods shouldn’t be eaten in a rush or in a disturbed environment. I realize that most of us probably work in offices, with tight schedules and lack time for a proper meal. But I believe that if there is a will and an intention is set, food can be planned and prepared before-hand. It is probably not easy, but it is one of the best things you can do for yourself. The great thing with preparing the meals you are going to have with your own hands is that you know exactly what goes into them, from ingredients to energy. Perhaps, you could set the intention every weekend, buy the ingredients in your free time and prepare your lunch the evening before. You’ll be grateful the next day, for sure.

If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, than eating for a Sattvic mind is easier to achieve, you’re already on that path. But this is also possible for meat lovers: if you turn your attention to what you eat, than a balance can be achieved. It’s like a process of fine tuning, where you need to really look and listen to your body and your mind and care for it accordingly.

In time, I have found that the love you put in the process of cooking, preparing a meal, the awareness one has when eating food that is good for you and the love this food brings to your body is like a continuous self-love process, like the gift that keeps on giving.

 

– For a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid, please click here.

– For some recipes made with Sattvic ingredients, please click here.

 

*In Samkhya philosophy, a guṇa is one of three “tendencies, qualities”: sattvarajas and tamas.

  • Sattva is the quality of balance, harmony, goodness, purity, universalizing, holistic, constructive, creative, building, positive, peaceful, virtuous.
  • Rajas is the quality of passion, activity, neither good nor bad and sometimes either, self centeredness, egoistic, individualizing, driven, moving, dynamic.
  • Tamas is the quality of imbalance, disorder, chaos, anxiety, impure, destructive, delusion, negative, dull or inactive, apathy, inertia or lethargy, violent, vicious, ignorant.

These qualities are not considered as present in either-or fashion. Rather, everyone and everything has all three, only in different proportions and in different contexts. The living being or substance is viewed as the net result of the joint effect of these three qualities.

 

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